Russia’s Communists on 130th anniversary of Stalin’s birth: don’t criticize him today

By Simon Shuster, AP
Monday, December 21, 2009

Russia’s Communists mark Stalin’s birthday

MOSCOW — The Russian Communist Party called for a moratorium on criticizing Josef Stalin on Monday to allow the country to celebrate the Soviet dictator’s 130th birthday in peace.

Nationwide, Stalin’s popularity in Russia has been climbing amid Kremlin-backed efforts to defend his image.

“We would very much like for any discussion of the mistakes of the Stalin epoch to be silenced today, so that people could reflect on Stalin’s personality as a creator, a thinker and a patriot,” Ivan Melnikov, the Communist deputy speaker of the lower house of parliament, said in comments posted on the party’s Web site.

The Communist Party is still the second most powerful political force in the country after United Russia, the ruling party chaired by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. At times, the Communists have defeated Putin’s party in regional elections.

But in their efforts to rehabilitate Stalin’s image in the eyes of the public, the Communists are taking at least some of their cues from Putin and the Kremlin, which have been pushing for Stalin’s accomplishments to be recognized at home and abroad.

Putin has lauded Stalin’s victory over the Nazis during World War II and his drive to industrialize the Soviet Union as deserving of respect, despite the purges and repression that killed millions of Soviet citizens in the 1930s.

“In my view, you cannot make one gross assessment. … Any historical events need to be analyzed in their entirety,” Putin said during his annual call-in show with the Russian public on Dec. 3.

A majority of Russians — 54 percent — have a high opinion of Stalin’s leadership qualities, according to a survey released Friday by state-run polling agency VTsIOM, while only 23 percent rate his personal character traits as below average. The survey questioned 1,600 people nationwide Dec. 5-6 and gave a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

In the late 1980s, the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, lifted the taboo against criticizing Stalin as part of perestroika, his sweeping campaign of political and economic reforms that precipitated the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. Since then, the Russian public has been exposed to dozens of documentary films, books, memoirs and biographies detailing the atrocities committed by Stalin’s regime.

A hardcore of his followers, mainly elderly people educated before perestroika, nevertheless uphold the view that Stalin was a great and valiant leader whose repressive grip on the nation was needed to ensure security and industrial growth.

Stalin was born Josif Dzugashvili in 1878 in the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

On Monday in his home town of Gori, now in independent Georgia, about 300 mainly elderly people gathered outside the Stalin museum to wave flags and his portrait as they celebrated his life

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev says there can be no justification for the Soviet-era oppression that left millions dead at the hands of their own state. In a blog posting Friday, he said Russians must not forget the crimes of the Soviet era, and suggested young people were learning too much about the country’s victories and not enough about the bloodbath that reached its peak under Josef Stalin.

The remarks, following critics’ claims that the Kremlin was whi8tewashing history, represent perhaps the Kremlin’s strongest condemnation of Soviet repression since Medvedev’s predecessor, Vladimir Putin, became president a decade ago.

Associated Press Writer Misha Dzhindzhikhashvili contributed reporting from Gori, Georgia.

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