Here is another news item from Russia that will make those worried about the increasingly tense relations between the U.S and Russia bristle, as well as those worried about what some consider a role back of democratic freedoms by the current Russian government.
In a survey conducted by the the Russian state operated television station it was found that former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin is ranked the third most respected Russian by the people of Russia.
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Soviet dictator Josef Stalin was voted Russia’s third most popular historical figure in a nationwide poll that ended on Sunday, despite the famine and purges that marked his rule.
The “Name of Russia” contest run by Rossiya state television channel over more than six months closed on Sunday night with a final vote via the Internet and mobile phones. It drew more than 50 million votes in a nation of 143 million.
Stalin may be well respected again, but the first two on that list were the 13th century Russian Prince Alexander Nevesky as well as Czarist and anti-Bolshevik reformist Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin, who was Prime Minister of imperial Czarist Russia from 1906 until he was assassinated by Bolshevik radicals in 1911.
Despite his bloodletting, spreading of fear and mistrust throughout the country, inhumane gulags and work camps, and hunger especially in the rural outposts of the Soviet states and in its acquired territories; that he commanded respect for the Soviet Union on the world stage and held a country with hundreds of different nationalities together, with fear, authoritarianism, and all the fury of the states power, as ruthless and overpowering as iron stitches.
In the decades prior to the end of czarist Russia and the rise of the Soviet state in 1917, Russia was a fractured land that was under developed in terms of industrialization and humiliated by a weak and military behind the times, and the last absolute monarchy in Europe as early as the turn of the 20th century. That status and the morale of the country as well as the strength of an already weakened government was accelerated by the Russian involvement in the first World War.
The abdication of power by the czar, a frail and divided series of governments, followed by the rise of Lenin next came. Stalin became the Soviet leader following the death of Lenin in 1924. He would lead the USSR for nearly a quarter of century, until his death in 1953. Stalin’s reign was marked by bloodshed and horror, but Stalinist proponents (and some would say apologists) point to Stalin’s modernization of Russia. They point out how he aggressively and violently began to take Russia from being a backwards agrarian state, to the beginnings of an industrial power. That despite this earlier signing of the Nazi-Soviet non Aggression Pact and purging the Soviet Military of some of the top generals, that when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 that Stalin helped deal a fatal blow against daunting odds, to the Axis powers and helped exposed a chink in the Nazi armor from which they never fully recovered.
Supporters also point to the fact that it was under Stalin that the country’s military was dramatically strengthened, that they became a nuclear power, and that they gained the status of a superpower in the international arena and a force to be reckoned with. Also unlike many of his successors Stalin was seen as standing up to many of the perceived foes, both real and manufactured of the Soviet Union and made both himself and the USSR a power to be reckoned with.
The article also points out that many of those who were born post-Stalin and born between the 1970s and in the post cold war 1990s where poverty was rampant and the strength of the country greatly waned, overlook or see his achievements (both real and false) of a strongman who made Russia a respected superpower and stood up to external threats. His carnage is then minimized in their views, as they see him as their strongman and one of the three leading figures who helped defeat Hitler and brought Russia from a former Imperial power racked by divisions and defeat, to a position of strength and prominence.
One can look now and see that the ruins of post cold war Russia in the 1990s and see some similarities to those conditions prior to Stalin coming to power. The 1990s following the dissolution of the USSR, the Gorbechav reforms, and the years in which Boris Yeltsin acted as the country’s President as being marked by ineptitude by those in power, poverty, scandal, humiliation, social fractures, and war (the war in Chechnya). They also must have felt humiliated as a result of going from being one of the world’s two leading superpowers, to becoming a country with a decimated economy and dependent upon the U.S and the international community and thus following their commands instead of standing up to them.
Then in 2000 when Vladmir Putin came to power, a more aggressive approach was taken. There have been limits on media freedoms, alleged crackdowns on dissent, restrictions on liberties, and political checks and balances, and a more aggressive military stance (such as the retaliation against the Republic of Georgia this past Summer). Putin has constantly criticized the U.S, other countries, and made moves against those who criticize Russia and are perceived with great suspicion by Russians such as doing business with Iran and railing against missile defense systems in former Soviet states that have made him popular. Also under Putin like under Stalin, Russia’s economic power has increased, as the state has tapped into the countries vast natural gas,oil, and coal reserves. He has in short demonstrated strength, and it seems as an outsider Russians respect that.
Don’t get me wrong, I think like most rational people that Stalin’s atrocities were a clear display of despotism and tyranny that far outweighed his few positive achievements. But evidently not everybody, especially some in Russia views things that way.