Fifty-five years ago, on February 25, 1956, at the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party, Nikita Khrushchev delivered his famous "Secret Speech". In it he dethroned Stalin’s personality cult and declaimed his dictatorship.
On February 25, 1956, during the last day of the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, then-First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev delivered a speech. The speech touched upon the cult of personality and harshly criticized Joseph Stalin and his politics.
The first secretary ran through the numerous crimes that took place in the ’30s, ’40s and the beginning of the ’50s, laying the blame for all of them on Stalin. The speech also included the suggestion that the murder of the prominent early-Soviet Bolshevik leader Sergey Kirov in 1934, the event that sparked of the Great Terror, could be included in the list of Stalin's crimes. Khrushchev then spoke about rehabilitating the victims of political repressions.
One of the eyewitnesses, Alexander Yakovlev recalled later: “Not a single sound was heard in the hall. No one coughed, harrumphed or shifted in his chair. No one looked at one another – everyone was surprised, frightened, shocked. After the Congress we were asked not to ask any questions.”
Though the report was officially published only in 1989, its privacy was notional – the shocking statements were discussed at a number of enterprises and party chapters throughout the country. After it was published, it immediately was translated into several languages and captured the attention of the world.
While alive, Stalin managed to create around him the atmosphere of pure admiration and worship, either sincere or seeming. Cities, enterprises, equipment and summer camps were named after Stalin and his associates.
Criticism meant being an enemy and thus subject to repressions. This “eradication of class enemies” and fight with nationalism meant nearly three million people being either deported to Siberia, Central Asia and Kazakhstan, condemned to exile or simply gunned down.
Despite the horrors of the Stalin era and the great advances, such as winning WWII, public opinion today still varies very much from reverence to hatred.
In 2008, one of the leading TV channels in Russia launched a special project called “Name of Russia”. Both internet users and TV viewers were to choose the most prominent Russian over the country’s bi-millennial history. The original list contained 500 names, and only a dozen lived through to the finals. For nearly half a year, Stalin’s name topped the list, but at the eleventh hour was ousted by Aleksandr Nevsky.
According to the statistics attitude towards Stalin’s figure in Russia is mainly positive – nearly half of the population believes that the role he played in the country’s fate was positive and great. And the greatest merit is, of course, the fact that under Stalin’s command Russia achieved a victory over Germany. These people call themselves Stalinists and chant praise to Stalin. They believe this man raised the country supporting their words by mentioning Stalin was officially nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize on three occasions – in 1939, 1945 and 1948. Though he never actually received it.
Among these are the representatives of the Communist Party of Russia, who believe all the evidence of Stalin’s guilt was fabricated, and his cruelty was exaggerated.
Yury Krupnov, a Russian political analyst, believes it is difficult – practically impossible – to categorically criticize Stalin’s politics: “Despite all the horrible things that took place during Stalin’s tenure, the country achieved two great things – it won WWII and became a true industrial power. Never again in such short period of time have the country’s authorities managed to accomplish so much.”
This, however, is not the only viewpoint. Yury Yablokov, a WWII veteran, is incensed by such a slant: “Stalin was a mediocre commander. It’s sad to think about the number of soldiers who died in the aimless attacks in the name of the famous Stalin idea ‘At any price!’ The victory could have been achieved with fewer casualties…”
The hate grows immensely strong sometimes, and even today people, including young men and women, create websites and organize marches demonstrating their contempt for Stalin. They bring to mind the repressions, equalizing Russia with a death camp and Stalin with Hitler at the very least.
The relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and Stalin have seen drastic changes. In the 1930s, thousands of churches and monasteries were closed or remodeled into manufactories, prisons, infirmaries. The priesthood throughout the country was arrested and deported to Siberia, while several hundred thousand were gunned down. This lasted till the mid-1940s, when Stalin changed his tack. Thousands of churches of monasteries reopened on the Russian territory, and men of the cloth were released.
This sudden change of attitude has many explanations, one of the most popular being Stalin’s secret dedication to religion.
Today the Russian Orthodox Church, despite all the persecution it survived, continues to speak in favor of the country’s former leader: “If we look at Stalin from the God’s point of view, we have to admit he is a very special man, God-given. Stalin saved Russia. He showed the whole world what Russia meant and what it really was!” said Archpriest Dmitry.
Anna Yudina, RT