In the West, Hitler is set in a class of infamy with no equal. Joseph Stalin did worse.
“Stalin was responsible for the deaths of between ten million and 12 million people in peacetime,” writes Nikita Petrov in Foreign Affairs. “At least five million of these died of starvation and disease in 1932-33, during a famine caused by the mass collectivization of agriculture.” Then there twice again as many intentionally killed under Stalin’s repressive and brutal rule of the Soviet Union.
After Stalin’s death in 1953 the Soviet and later Russian leadership pushed memory of the dictator aside. Today, memory of Stalin is being reawakened in Russia.
Petrov tells of three recent Russian book titles that capture the attempted rehabilitation — The Other Stalin, Stalin the Great, and Stalin: Father of a Nation.
In the United States, we honor Franklin Roosevelt for his leadership during World War II. The whole Western world honors Winston Churchill. Stalin’s wartime leadership is at the crux of the Stalin resurrection in Russia.
“In the eyes of the Stalinists, admiration for the tyrant ought to be public and compulsory,” Petrov writes.
There’s talk of erecting monuments to Stalin. . . .
The monsters of Stalin’s era are coming back from the dead. And some of Russia’s leaders, including President Vladimir Putin, are exploiting the ideology of Stalin’s era to serve their own ends. . . .
In 1987, during the period of liberalization known as glasnost, the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev gave a speech marking the 70th anniversary of the Russian Revolution in which he said that Stalin had committed “enormous and unforgivable” crimes. Today, such a clear statement would be unthinkable. In 2000, during his first inauguration as president, Putin set the new official tone, declaring that “there have been both tragic and brilliant pages in our history.”
. . . in 2015, the government announced a new policy called the Program for Commemorating the Victims of Political Repression. Last October, as part of that policy, Moscow saw the opening of the Wall of Grief, a memorial to the victims of Soviet totalitarianism. This marked an important watershed: official government acknowledgment of the scale and gravity of the mass repressions. But many human rights advocates have expressed skepticism of the Russian government’s ability to properly acknowledge the past. They point to the growing human rights violations in Russia and the fact that the archives containing the records of the security services’ crimes remain closed. . . .
There’s no doubt that Stalin was a criminal, whether or not the Kremlin deems him one. Still, official acknowledgment of the criminality of both Stalin himself and the system he led is important, as it would help prevent the state from reverting to the policies that made Stalin’s regime possible. In modern Russia, with its deep-rooted tradition of authoritarianism, the danger of returning to bad habits is real.
We in the United States have our history of liberal democracy. We also have a history of slavery and racism. It matters deeply what parts of one’s history is celebrated and what parts are condemned.
Russia is shifting course, honoring the leader of an evil past. When you resurrect a demon, there is hell to pay.