Russia: Role of Stalin Debated on RuNet

In the wake of the 130th anniversary of Joseph Stalin last week, Russian blog posts ratings were dominated by heated debates on the role of this controversial figure in Russian history. Various points of view expressed on those blog posts and, more importantly, several thousands of comments that they attracted illustrated a deep divide in public opinion regarding Stalin.

Most of those blog posts emerged as a reaction to a talk show on the popular Russian TV channel NTV “Stalin s nami” (Stalin is with us) that gathered prominent Stalin's supporters and his well-known critics. The show was largely perceived as an attempt to rehabilitate the image of Stalin and diminish those who criticize him.

Image by x-ray_delta_one/Flickr

Image by x-ray_delta_one/Flickr

The most cited and discussed blog post on the topic was written by the Editor-in-Chief of GQ magazine in Russian Nikolay Uskov (a.k.a. LJ user uskov). Using a good amount of harsh words, Uskov expressed his deep frustration with the talk show, TV channel and country where people still admire Stalin:

Ничего, кроме желания уехать из страны навсегда, это ток-шоу не вызывает. […] Но меня, ей богу, заебал ваш Сталин, выжившие из ума бабки, генералы-козлы и депутаты-пустомели. Все это полный окончательный пиздец. Пиздец России, которая в 2009 году показывает по телевизору уебищных мудаков и видит в обсуждении их мудацкой позиции какой-то актуальный смысл. Пиздец стране, которая вместо удушающего стыда за Сталина испытывает гордость, вместо отвращения – страстную любовь.

This talk show doesn't make me feel anything except a desire to leave this country. […] I am, swear to God, f…ing sick and tired of your Stalin, of crazy grandmas, generals-jerks and senators-windbags. All this is a full and final f…ing [fiasco]. It's a f…ing [fiasco] for Russia that in 2009 still shows f…ing assholes on TV and sees some actual sense in discussing their asshole position. It's a f…ing [fiasco] for the country that experiences pride for Stalin instead of suffocating shame, it's still passionately in love [with Stalin-G.V.] instead of being disgusted with him.

More than 900 comments flooded the post within two days. Many people shared Uskov's feelings and supported him in his frustration with Russian TV and country in general. But a few bloggers defended Stalin and justified his harsh measures by citing his achievements. LJ user muf_dvr, for example, writes [RUS]:

Печально, конечно, что при Сталине пострадали в том числе, скорее всего, и невинные люди. Но были бы мы сейчас свободными, если бы не сталинские жёсткие действия? Существовали бы как нация? Вопрос.
Иногда стоит выбор между плохим вариантом и очень плохим, надо это понимать.

Печально, конечно, что при Сталине пострадали в том числе, скорее всего, и невинные люди. Но были бы мы сейчас свободными, если бы не сталинские жёсткие действия? Существовали бы как нация? Вопрос. Иногда стоит выбор между плохим вариантом и очень плохим, надо это понимать.

It is sad, of course, that innocent people suffered under Stalin. But would we be free now if not for Stalin's harsh actions? Question. Sometimes one has to choose between a bad and very bad scenario and you have to understand that.

Another LJ user vasq recollects [RUS] that people were willing to die for Stalin in the past:

Что вы сделали для России, если имеете наглость хаять Сталина?
Я жил и работал рядом с людьми которые шли в бой с криком – “За Родину, за Сталина!”

What have you done for Russia if you have an audacity to badmouth Stalin?
I lived and worked with people who went to a battle shouting “For Motherland! For Stalin!”
Image by

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Some bloggers pointed out in comments that the constructive role of Stalin had been recently promoted by the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin [ENG] and advocated by the mainstream media. However, LJ user steinkrauz dismissed [RUS] the influence of propaganda on reconstruction of Stalin's positive image in Russia:

Место Сталина на пьедестале обеспечено не пропагандой, а наличием его наследия в реальной жизни. Идёт человек по красивому проспекту — в 9 случаях из 10 этот проспект сталинский. Покупает человек квартиру — дом с нормальной толщиной стен и высотой потолков тоже “сталинка”. Слушает человек оперу — постановки Большого мирового уровня опять таки из того времени. И так далее.

The Stalin's place on a pedestal is ensured not by propaganda but by the existence of his heritage in real life. One walks on a beautiful avenue – in nine cases out of ten, it is Stalin's avenue [build during the Stalin's regime – G.V.]. One buys an apparent with good wall thickness and high ceilings – it's also Stalin's. One listens to an opera, world-quality production by the Bolshoi Theater – it is also from those times. And so on.

A couple of other famous bloggers joined the editor of GQ in condemning the efforts to question Stalin's evil deeds. Famous Russian blogger drugoi hailed Uskov's post and criticized NTV [RUS]:

Вот так не смотришь телевизор месяцами, не смотришь, а потом раз, включишь, и словно в зловонную яму окунешься. […] Интересно, кто додумался вытащить городских сумасшедших, вроде Квачкова, на федеральный телеканал в воскресный прайм-тайм и заставить зрителей слушать эти бредни про конопатого упыря?

You don't watch TV for months and then you turn it on and it feels like you dipped into a stinking hole. […] I wonder who came up with an idea to bring crazy people, like Kvachkov [ex-colonel of the Russian Foreign Military Intelligence Directorate (GRU) – G.V.], to a federal TV channel during weekend prime-time and make the audience listen ravings about the freckled vampire [Stalin – G.V.].

Like in the previous example, drugoi‘s post immediately became a battlefield for numerous Stalinists and their fierce opponents. LJ user 4d_man accused drugoi of “spitting into the soul of the whole generation” and drew attention [RUS] to the poll conducted in 2007 by the Public Opinion Foundation:

[…] по данным опроса общественного мнения 18-19 февраля 2006 г., 47 % жителей России считают роль Сталина в истории положительной, 29 % — отрицательной. Смерть Сталина стала для народа настоящим потрясением. Страна целиком погрузилась в траур. Люди, услышав про данную весть, не могли сдержать слез. Народ действительно горевал из-за смерти своего кумира. 2 миллиона человек пришли проститься с вождём лично.

According to the public opinion poll conducted on February 18-19, 2007, 47 percent of Russians consider the role of Stalin in history positive; 29 percent, negative. The death of Stalin was a real shock for people. The country plunged into mourning. People, after hearing this, couldn't hold back tears. People really mourned the death of their idol. Two million people came to say goodbye to their leader.

But not all popular blog posts related to the anniversary criticized Stalin. A well-known Russian intellectual Anatoly Vasserman (a.k.a. LJ user awas1952) defended Stalin and urged to look at his achievements [RUS]:

Впрочем, лично для меня важнее реальный Иосиф Виссарионович Джугашвили. Который — в отличие от Сталина — сумел предотвратить самоубийственный курс на мировую революцию, означавший противостояние одной страны всему миру и гибель в этом противостоянии. Который — правда, ценой жертв, почти сопоставимых с жертвами Великой Депрессии в Соединённых Государствах Америки — превратил нашу страну из вечно отстающей в одну из мощнейших промышленных держав мира.

The real Joseph Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili [Stalin's real name-G.V.] is more important for me. He […] managed to avoid a suicidal track to the world revolution that meant a standoff of one country against the whole world and the death in that standoff. He – at the price of many victims compared the amount of victims of the Great Depression in the United States – turned our country from always-underdeveloped into one of the powerful industrial empires of the world…

Vasserman presented a list of Stalin's accomplishments and praised his role in preventing the second civil war in Russia in 1937, achieving the victory over Nazi's Germany, initiating debates on economic problems with socialism and finding a “way to harmonize communist utopia with harsh reality.” Many of one thousand comments left on Vasserman's blog expressed an approval of his call to conduct more research of Stalin's personality and come up with an objective evaluation of his achievements and failures.

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Another popular place for discussions on Stalin was the blog of ab-pokoj. In a form of a fictitious dialogue with a professor from India taking place in 1945, ab-pokoj compared Stalin to Winston Churchill [RUS] whose policies allegedly led to suffering of many people in Africa, India and Ireland. Ab-pokoj concluded his post with the following remark:

И никто не осудит преступления черчиллизма. Все будут думать, что он же победил немцев — разве можно припоминать ему всё остальное?

And nobody will judge the crime of churchillism. Everybody will think: “He defeated Germans. How can we remember anything else?”

The 130th anniversary of Joseph Stalin gave a new spin to the painful issue of Russian society. The blogosphere only highlighted the intensity of debates on the role of Stalin that re-emerged, not without the help of the Kremlin, within the last five years. Polarized public opinion regarding Stalin signals deep split between growing older generation of people who dream of the long-lost power of the Soviet Empire and young generation of liberals who would rather look forward than get stuck in the past.


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