PRINCETON – Hitler and Stalin were ruthless dictators who committed murder on a vast scale. But, while it is impossible to imagine a Hitler statue in Berlin, or anywhere else in Germany, statues of Stalin have been restored in towns across Georgia (his birthplace), and another is to be erected in Moscow as part of a commemoration of all Soviet leaders.
The difference in attitude extends beyond the borders of the countries over which these men ruled. In the United States, there is a bust of Stalin at the National D-Day Memorial in Virginia. In New York, I recently dined at a Russian restaurant that featured Soviet paraphernalia, waitresses in Soviet uniforms, and a painting of Soviet leaders in which Stalin was prominent. New York also has its KGB Bar. To the best of my knowledge, there is no Nazi-themed restaurant in New York; nor is there a Gestapo or SS bar.
So, why is Stalin seen as relatively more acceptable than Hitler?
At a press conference last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin attempted a justification. Asked about Moscow’s plans for a statue of Stalin, he pointed to Oliver Cromwell, the leader of the Parliamentarian side in the seventeenth-century English Civil War, and asked: “What’s the real difference between Cromwell and Stalin?” He then answered his own question: “None whatsoever,” and went on to describe Cromwell as a “cunning fellow” who “played a very ambiguous role in Britain’s history.” (A statue of Cromwell stands outside the House of Commons in London.)