A war of words over the name of Joseph Stalin, who died 57 years ago, is being fought in Moscow, the city where he is buried. The country he led to victory in World War II is still divided over Stalin's place in history.
Even the Russian government cannot decide which side to take – Stalin the great hero, or Stalin the evil villain.
Ahead of the May 9 Victory Day celebrations, this longstanding discussion is literally taking to the streets of Moscow.
Posters bearing the image of history's most polarizing Soviet leader are expected to be part of the holiday decorations, as a vivid reminder of Stalin's role in the Nazis’ defeat.
“I'm not an admirer of Stalin,” declared Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov, “but I am an admirer of objective history.” The mayor also said that of two thousand billboards decorating the city on the Victory Day only ten one by one-and-a-half meter posters will bear the image of Stalin.
Such a statement is a weak argument for human rights groups. They have been fast to accuse Moscow's authorities of distorting history, reviving the cult of personality and glorifying tyranny. They say that for objectivity they will hang banners with another historic truth about Stalin.
“The truth is that Stalin is responsible for murdering millions of innocent people and ruining the lives of many others in labor camps,” the oldest member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Lyudmila Alekseeva, stated in response. “I'm not an extremist or a hooligan, but I will throw eggs and tomatoes at Stalin's pictures if they appear. This is offensive to all those who died in the war!”
Memorial also announced the plans to print alternative posters and place them in Moscow streets on Victory day. These posters will describe the damage inflicted to the Soviet Union by Stalin’s staff policy, especially in the military field, as well as by foreign policy decisions.
image from davno.ru
“He was a genius, a strong military commander. Without him we'd never have seen victory!” said Ivan Slukhay of the Moscow Veteran Committee. “He was the man who was able to mobilize resources to win the war and to modernize the country. To develop it when the war was over. We can't forget that!”
And while Russia's official position says we cannot forget, we cannot forgive either. Both the President and Prime Minister of Russia have repeatedly stressed that this is the case when the cost did matter and the goal, even if it was victory in a world war, could not be justified by the means.
Historian Sergey Kudryashov tells RT that sheer ignorance and lack of information leads to the glorification of Stalin.
“There are still plenty of documents classified in Russian archives and I think the more documents we have about his activities,” Kudryashov says, “the more visible image of the man we shall have.”
“Many people do know about terrible famine of the 1930s in the southern parts of Russia and in Ukraine, but very few people know that there was big famine in Russia itself in 1947,” the historian continued, while adding that many people think that more than two million people died in Russia immediately after the war.
“I think the more we know about Stalin, the less we shall glorify this particular man,” Kudryashov concluded.
He will always be remembered as the man who brought the country victory in war, but this heroic image will never be separated from another, that of a bloody-minded tyrant who brought more suffering to his people than any other Soviet leader.