- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Let's say it's April 20, 2005, the 60th anniversary of Adolf Hitler's death by suicide in his Berlin bunker. Let's say on that day, two years hence, the German Chancellor, his Cabinet, Bundestag members, German newspaper editors, average man-in-the-street interviewees were to praise Hitler, singing his glorious achievements while mildly conceding oh, yes that he had also done some bad things but that overall blah-blah, blah-blah and more blah-blah.
Imagine the world reaction to such a whitewash of one of the great genocidists of all time, comparable to Josef Stalin, Mao Tse-tung and Pol Pot. We would recoil in horror if the Germans were to try to revive a Hitler cult.
Yet here it is, the 50th anniversary of Stalin's death and Russians, leaders as well as the man in the street, are speaking admiringly of one of the worst tyrants in Russian history, a tyrant who makes Ivan the Terrible into Ivan the Good.
They are defending Stalin against what they regard as unjust calumnies. Stalin's approval rating among Russians is going up, according to the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion. A March 4 report of its latest poll shows that more than half of all Russians, 53 percent, interviewed last month in 100 Russian towns and cities in 40 regions approved of Stalin overall, 33 percent disapproved and 14 percent declined to indicate any opinion.
Alexander Yakovlev, chairman of the Presidential Commission for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Reprisals, is infuriated by the many events to mark 50 years since Stalin's death. He is one of the few Russian voices that have been raised against what are really obscene celebrations:
"The worst thing is that Stalin is being pictured as a martyr who was probably poisoned, or probably strangled; now it turns out he was a good guy who smiled at kids and gave them sweets," he said. "It's a shame. This man signed a decree which said that children can be executed from the age of 12. He eliminated all of his relatives and all of his comrades-in-arms who were unfortunate enough to learn what they should not have. This man destroyed the peasantry, the nobility and Russian culture as a whole. Are we Russians so oblivious?"
The answer to the question of Yakovlev, today's conscience of Russia, is yes, they are oblivious from the top down. A Russian publication, Tribuna, has just published a list of quotations from leading politicians about Stalin. Genadii Rykov, head of an important party in the Duma, said: "Despite all his defects, he made Russia great. The country became respected around the world." Nicolai Khitonov, a leader in the Duma, said: "In my eyes, Stalin was first of all a statesman who thought first about the motherland and then about himself." There is an 80-year-old Russian priest, Dmitry Dudko, who said recently: "I treat Stalin with respect, and I think that he was a very wise leader. It is Stalin who established such a powerful country. Russia has never been that powerful since, and there was no czar in Russian history who was able to accomplish the things that Stalin did."
Tatiyana Kurmanovkaya, who last month organized the Stalin exhibition at the Museum of Russian Contemporary History, formerly the Moscow Museum of the Revolution, said: "Russians have an ambiguous relationship to Stalin and he is not easy to judge. There was repression and the dark history of those times, but his propaganda is still alive in the minds of people today."
As for Russian President Vladimir Putin, a career officer in the KGB who once headed its present-day successor, the Federal Security Service, when he was asked on a recent trip to Poland about Stalin's place in Russian history replied, according to Time Magazine, that he regarded the question as "provocative." You ask yourself: Why should such a question be regarded as "provocative"?
Supposing a Russian journalist asked Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder about Hitler's place in German history, would he regard such a question as provocative? Mr. Putin's own words (Agence France Presse, Jan. 16, 2002) explain Russia's refusal to face up to its sanguinary past: "We don't want and we will not equate Nazi crimes with Stalinist repression."
Arseny Roginsky, whose father was shot under Stalin and who now heads the Russian human rights organization, Memorial, is quoted in an interview: "Stalin and the Stalinist mentality is everywhere. The idea that the state is everything and the individual nothing is still all-pervasive."
For Mr. Yakovlev, there is little hope for Russia after a decade of freedom: "Without the de-Bolshevization of Russia, there can be no question of the nation's recovery, its renaissance and its resumption of its place in world civilization. Only when it has shaken free of Bolshevism can Russia hope to be healed."
Or else creeping Stalinism?

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