I'm thinking a more appropriate title would be "ARE Young People Rehabilitating Stalin?"
Yes, yet another news article discussing Stalin's image in Russia, this time among the younger generation. Alexei Kiva is a professor of history at the Institute for Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences and he wrote this opinion column for Russia Profile magazine.
Based on my own experiences, I am not comfortable saying that Stalin's image is being "white-washed". I would say that mostly Russians, particularly the youth that didn't live or witness that era ... are tired of hearing how bad Stalin was. The attitude I have witnessed seems to be:
"Yep, Stalin was bad, but that was a long time ago and what can you do about it? Things are different now ... and you, as an American should shut up anyway because you have that Hitler-wannabe George Bush attacking everyone in the world and stealing oil, etc. etc."
This would be generally where the conversation would deteriorate - I hate being put into the position of explaining or defending George Bush (of all people) but even I can't abide those sorts of comparisons - these conversations quickly seem to fall into that pattern these days.
So what does Mr. Kiva have to add to the chorus of western news articles discussing the image of Stalin in modern Russia?
Because they know little about the facts about life in the Stalin years, young people perceive even “glamorous” overtones in these programs. The average young viewer sees Stalin as a Shakespearean character of both great evil and great genius.
Add to this the fact that Stalin industrialized the country in 15 years and built a strong defense industry – goals the current government could not dream of realizing.
The simple conclusion becomes: “Stalin was a ruthless man, but the country was strong, and was able to stand up for itself and ensure that others respected it. Stalin would not have allowed what is happening now.”
A deeper knowledge of history would make it possible to show that it was precisely the rigid and inflexible system Stalin put in place that led to the Soviet Union’s downfall. But few young people have this kind of knowledge. This is not because of some governmental decree but of a market-driven mass media that adapts history to the more simplistic perceptions of its target marketing audience – youth.
The term "evil genius" is one that I am quite familiar with in regards to Stalin - when he is discussed at all with my Russian friends, that is the inevitable term that is spoken. In that regard, he almost falls into a line of evil genius leaders in Russian history. Ivan Grozny, Joseph Stalin ... what's the difference? Are Russians going to wring their hands and worry about what has past?
I suspect not. And I have to ask the question - why should they? Stalin's reign was a terrible and difficult chapter in Russian history and lessons should be learned from that time, so as not to revisit those tragedies upon the Russian people. But to Russians today, those times seem like distant memories and they see little parallels to Russia under Putin.
Russia Putin Stalin History