- The Washington Times - Monday, January 10, 2000

I hold this truth to be self-evident: A former KGB official, no matter of high or low rank, is guilty until proven innocent. That was particularly true of Yuri V. Andropov, ex-KGB chairman, whom media mush-heads called a "closet liberal" when in December 1982 he took power in the then Soviet Union. The same truth applies to Acting President Vladimir Putin, a KGB spy in Germany until 1991.

In the case of Mr. Putin there is an eerie incident, one which has passed virtually unnoticed by a media busy whooping it up for the new regime. On Dec. 21, two days after the parliamentary elections, Mr. Putin received in the Kremlin the leaders of the parties that won seats in the Duma. What was remarkable about this closed-door reception was not its peaceable nature but something else far more sinister, as reported in Novaya Gazeta, a Russian magazine.

On Dec. 21, 1879, Josef Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, later known as Josef Stalin, was born in Gorki, a small village in Georgia. So there they were in the Kremlin, the leaders of the new Russian Parliament on the very day of Stalin's 120th birthday and someone proposed a toast nasdarovye, tovaritchi to the greatest mass murderer in all history. Who proposed the toast, the newspaper doesn't say. It does report that the toast, however, was not to "Stalin" but to "Dzhugashvili," a touching tribute to the sensibilities of the new Russia.

I held off writing about the episode waiting to see what reaction, if any, there would be to this report. The editor of Novaya Gazeta, Yuri Shchekhochikhin, testified several weeks ago before a U.S. congressional committee on corruption in Russia. The newspaper also strongly opposes the war in Chechnya.

On Dec. 30, I found what I was waiting for in another Russian journal, Obshchaya Gazeta. It was an article by Grigoriy Yavlinskiy, leader of the Yabloko Party, which did poorly in the elections, about 6 percent of the vote, with 22 seats. Said Mr. Yavlinskiy:

"When the leaders of the blocs that emerged victorious from the election drink a toast to Stalin in the prime minister's office; when the executive branch is becoming the puppeteer pulling the strings of the legislative; when instead of information people are inundated with lies and mudslinging; when campaign tactics turn into war, it is clear that what lies in our country's past could also lie in its future."

Add to this "toast-to-Stalin" episode the praise for the KGB by Mr. Putin Dec. 20, celebrating another memorable day in Russian history: the Day of Security Bodies, founded 82 years ago, Dec. 20, 1917.

"Several years ago, we fell prey to an illusion that we have no enemies," Mr. Putin told a meeting of top security officials. "We have paid dearly for this. Russia has its own national interests, and we have to defend them."

Now imagine the clamorous reaction were the German chancellor to convene a reception in his office and they all toasted Adolf Hitler on his birthday. An ultra-rightwinger scores big in an Austrian election and cries of alarm are heard in the West. But the Russian Communist Party tops the parliamentary elections with almost 25 percent of the vote and the most seats, 113, and you hear all kinds of cheerful talk about they're not really communists. (Oh. So why do they call their party Communist?)

In 1968, Evgeny Yevtushenko, the Russian poet, wrote a poem called "Stalin's Heirs." It was an apostrophe to the Soviet leadership to prevent a return to Stalinism. Despite Nikita Khrushchev's 1956 anti-Stalin speech and the symbolic act of removing Stalin's mummy from Lenin's Tomb and reinterring it in a Kremlin wall slab, there was growing alarm, strikingly expressed by Yevtushenko's poem, that the spirit of Stalin, who died in March 1953, was alive and well:

And I, appealing to our government,

petition them to double, and treble,

the sentries guarding this slab,

and stop Stalin from ever rising again,

and with Stalin, the past …

Yevtushenko's poem concluded with this refrain:

While Stalin's heirs still walk this Earth,

Stalin, I fancy, still lurks in the mausoleum.

Or in the Kremlin itself.

Arnold Beichman, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, is a columnist for The Washington Times columnist. He is the editor of the forthcoming "CNN's Cold War Documentary: Issues and Controversy" (Hoover Press).

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