Amongst people that I have met from the former Soviet Union, most especially those from Georgia, Stalin is a figure that is applauded in Soviet history. I have had very interesting conversations with Georgians about the legacy of Stalin, and most say that what Russia needs now is another ‘man of steel’, to bring the country back into line. They tend not to beat around the bush when it comes to some of Stalin’s exploits. Of the 1944 deportation of almost the entire Chechen population to Siberia Georgians seem to have little sympathy, an Orthodox country surrounded by Islamic ones lends little support for Islamic populations. And of all the other people exterminated by Stalin, Geogians usually seem to say that they deserved it as they were ‘criminals’.
It all makes this article in Foreign Affairs more interesting. I have puzzled over the lack of resentment for Stalin among all of the former Soviet Union, Sarah Mendelson and Theordore Gerber write about polls carried out in the former Soviet Union over the last few years, it makes for startling reading, especially among younger people:
The rule, therefore, seems to be thorough ambivalence about Stalin among Russia’s youth. Although some people might take comfort in the finding that hard-core Stalinism is not widespread, such ambivalence is itself disturbing. It suggests that Russia badly needs a systematic de-Stalinization campaign — a need that is growing increasingly urgent. Our survey data suggest that young people’s attitudes toward Stalin are, if anything, becoming more positive: in 2005, nearly 19 percent of respondents said they would definitely or probably vote for him, up from 13 percent in 2003 and 2004.
The article suggests solutions, education being the main one, but in Putin’s Russia this appears to be a problem:
Western cheerleaders of Russian President Vladimir Putin are likely to dismiss positive Russian attitudes toward Stalin as a minor growing pain or a speed bump on the country’s road to democracy — just as they downplay the carnage in Chechnya; the festering, potentially explosive conflict throughout the North Caucasus; the Kremlin’s blatant suppression of independent television outlets and nongovernmental organizations that dare to challenge its official line; the sorry state of Russia’s disintegrating military; the predatory and ineffective police; and the massive corruption at all levels of Russian government.
Such willful blindness is dangerous. But so is the opposite perspective of some pessimistic Russia-watchers, who take Russians’ ambivalence toward Stalin as evidence of an authoritarian gene embedded somewhere in the Russian character. In fact, the Russian public’s attitude toward Stalin is neither innocuous (and thus not worth changing) nor inherent (and thus immutable). Our surveys suggest that Russian attitudes toward Stalin owe not to any instinctive authoritarianism, but to the fact that no concerted, effective de-Stalinization campaign has ever been conducted in the country. On the contrary, myths and illusions about Russia’s great dictator have been allowed to survive, and even thrive, often with tacit (if not explicit) encouragement from the government.
Will Stalin be rememberd by his people as a great and wise leader, or as a murderous tyrant?