The legacy of dead dictators from vanquished totalitarian regimes should no longer be ambivalent. Only Germany’s lunatic fringe dares to commemorate Hitler. Not even the pathetic remnant of the Khmer Rouge celebrates Pol Pot’s memory. Yet, as Russia approaches the 60th anniversary of its victory over Nazi Germany, marking Stalin’s role in that victory is proving to be damnably awkward.
Indeed, earlier this year, Moscow was roiled by debates about whether or not to build a statue to the dead dictator. In large bookstores across Russia, a huge number of political biographies and histories portray Stalin and his era. Some of these, based on newly opened archival material, are critical. But the majority of these books and authors portray Stalin in a positive light. Indeed, when Russians are asked to list the most important people of the twentieth century, Stalin is still tied for first place – with Lenin.
Some see the hand of what remains of the Communist Party behind this. The Party has moved far from its old Leninist ideals, as it seeks support nowadays through a witch’s brew of Russian nationalism, hyper-orthodox Christianity, and “state Stalinism.”
Of course, towns and cities are no longer named for Stalin. In the late 1950’s, countless Stalin monuments were demolished. Yet many symbols of Stalin’s rule have been carefully preserved, including the national anthem he personally approved in 1944. There are seven high-rises in Moscow that Russians still call “Stalin’s vysotki.” Next to Lenin’s tomb is Stalin’s grave and monument, where heaps of fresh flowers are always to be seen on the anniversaries of his birth, his death, and the victory over Hitler.