Lawsuit to defend Stalin divides Russia
The Soviet leader's grandson is accusing an opposition newspaper of publishing lies about the controversial figure, in a case that opened in Moscow Tuesday.
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Russian liberals, who back Novaya Gazeta, warn that under Mr. Yeltsin’s successor, Vladimir Putin, Russia has moved sharply in an authoritarian direction – accompanied by a growing tendency to reach back to Stalin-era “achievements” as a source of legitimacy. They point to small signals that seem to whitewash the old dictator, such as the restoration of a Stalinist mural in a Moscow metro station last month, and a new school text that describes Stalin as “an effective manager.”Skip to next paragraph
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More seriously, the Kremlin has established a special commission aimed at combating “historical falsifications,” which critics fear may be used to impose a pro-Stalin orthodoxy on the media and educational establishment.
“I think the authorities intend to change our constitutional system away from democracy towards authoritarianism,” says Lyudmilla Alexeyeva, a Soviet-era dissident who heads Russia’s oldest human rights organization, the Moscow Helsinki Group. She says the Kremlin is praising the positive achievements of the USSR while blocking exposure of the crimes that lay at its heart.
“This is not a simple dispute between generations,” she says. “People of my age remember how things were in Stalin’s times, but the youth doesn’t. It’s easier to deceive young people through propaganda, and some people are making good use of this.”
Lamenting the fall from superpower
Lined up behind Mr. Dzhugashvili is a coalition of old-time Communists and Russian nationalists, who argue that Stalin led the USSR to superpower status and national greatness, and that his successors wrecked the empire and turned Russia into a global laughingstock.
“For more than half a century, lies have been poured on Stalin’s name,” says Leonid Zhura, Dzhugashvili’s lawyer, who says he became an admirer of Stalin by studying the historical record. He says the upcoming trial is not simply about defending Stalin’s reputation, but about affirming his methods as legitimate.
“Russia’s development should be different from the Western, democratic, liberal way,” he says. “The discussion about Stalin’s role going on in society... is a dispute about the future development of humanity.”
A court decision affirming Stalin’s innocence might help the public see the inadequacy of today’s leaders, President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin, he suggests. “What are they as compared to Stalin?” Mr. Zhura asks. “They are so small.”
In a letter written on behalf of his father, Dzhugashvili’s son Yakov, a Tbilisi-based artist, told the Monitor that the main purpose of the lawsuit was to force Novaya Gazeta to provide documentary proof of its specific claims against Stalin. He blamed the media for spreading lies about Stalin, which sap the strength of society and play into the hands of Russia’s enemies in the West. “The elites of the West and Russia are terrified, and that’s why they are doing their best to prevent the truth about Stalin to penetrate into the media,” he insisted.
Some are hoping that Dzhugashvili vs. Novaya Gazeta, however it turns out, will begin a process in which the old dictator and his legacy can finally be put to rest. But pessimists worry that it may be too little, too late.
“Public condemnation of Stalin is ceasing, while glorification of him is going full speed,” says Ernst Cherny, secretary of the Committee in Defense of Scientists, a human rights group. “I fear [in this atmosphere] no one will even come to watch the trial at all.”