In an interview he gave to American filmmaker Oliver Stone, broadcast last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin lamented what he termed the “excessive demonization” of Joseph Stalin, the former General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Any criticism of the dictator, he said, was being used to attack Russia. (Putin’s grandfather, incidentally, served as Stalin’s cook and Putin himself had previously praised Stalin as an “effective manager.”)
But Putin wasn’t alone in essentially calling for a review of how Russians view the man who ruled the Soviet Union with an iron fist from 1924 to 1953 and who instigated The Great Purge which saw the execution and imprisonment of millions of opponents. In fact, over the last decade, public approval of Stalin has grown. But why?
In 1990, a year before the collapse of Communism, polling agency Levada-Centre reported that just 8% of Russians felt favorably about Stalin. Last year, that figure had risen to 24%. Whereas 46% of Russians felt “admiration,” “respect” or “sympathy” for the Soviet leader in February, 2017. They apparently admire the man seen as responsible for the country’s victory in World War II and for the speed with which it industrialized. “Do you want our socialist fatherland to be beaten and to lose its independence?” Stalin asked in a speech in 1931, encouraging the people to build the economy. “Either perish, or overtake and outstrip the advanced capitalist countries.”
Busts and statues of Stalin have sprung up all over Russia—at least 10 since 2012, including one in illegally-annexed Crimea which, controversially, depicts Stalin together with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Sir Winston Churchill.
After Stalin died, Nikita Khrushchev emerged as the victor in a struggle for power to lead the Soviet Union, and he soon began a “de-Stalinization” campaign—part of what became known as the Khrushchev Thaw—during which he released millions of political prisoners and ended decades of repression and censorship.
Half a century on, and certain segments of the Russian population are re-evaluating the Stalin era altogether, viewing it now as something other than a dark stain on history.