On the basis of killing 20 million non-combatants, Joseph Stalin can be regarded as the worst killer of the century. He even beats Mao and Hitler, on this basis although they each killed more in total! Yet, according to Foreign Affairs, most Russians under age 30 view Stalin with ambivalence and a majority think he did more good than harm (see here). One-quarter or more of Russian adults would definitely or probably vote for him. While most Russians are not hard-core Stalinists fewer still are not hard-core anti-Stalinists.
Russians see Stalin not as a brutal tyrant but as the man who oversaw victory against Nazi Germany and turned the Soviet Union into a superpower. Stalin is enjoying a revival with several statues planned in his honour and a museum, in his honour, being opened next month in Volgograd, previously Stalingrad: see here, here and here.
Imagine the global response were similar findings found in Germany for Hitler.
Is the world downplaying current events in Russia because it is preoccupied with other things? The West has taken a benign view of recent events in Russia – the economy is growing, there have been several rounds of elections etc. Positive attitudes to Stalin are surely just a ‘speed hump on the country’s road to democracy’. But:
“…the carnage in Chechnya; the festering, potentially explosive conflict throughout the North Caucasus; the Kremlin’s blatant supression of independent television outlets and non-government organisations 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.”
The apparent blindness is as dangerous as is the alternative extreme view that Russians have an ‘authoritarian gene’ so nothing can be done. The fact is that no effective de-Stalinisation campaign has been conducted in Russia. Moreover, the national historical ‘amnesia’ has serious cconsequences. If young Russians treat Stalin with nostalgia they are hardly likely to pursue political transparency and democratic reforms.
Update: 2006 is the fiftieth anniversary of Krushchev’s speech to the 20th Party Congress in the Kremlin denouncing Stalin. This is one of the most influential, and to delegates electrifying, speeches of modern history. A number of anniversary comments on it are here. It is interesting that Krushchev’s reputation has deteriorated with time as Stalin’s improved even though this dramatic speech led eventually to liberalisation reforms.