This week marked the 60th anniversary of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s death. On March 5, 1953, the Georgia-born tyrant’s nearly three-decade long reign of terror came to an end -- providing momentary solace for all people living behind the Iron Curtain. “Uncle Joe” was no more.
Millions of people in then-Soviet Russia, the Baltic States, and nearby Soviet satellites were killed, tortured, and oppressed under Stalin’s regime.
Members of my family witnessed the wrath of his inhumane policies firsthand. My late maternal grandfather -- a faithful, quiet man -- was imprisoned for 18 months in one of his gulags at the Belomor Canal on the Russian-Finnish border for owning private property. He was eventually released and luckily spared from death. Unfortunately, millions of others died in gulags or at the hands of the KGB. For those of us with family afflicted by Stalin’s policies, we only have contempt for this man.
Despite all of this, admiration for Stalin lingers in post-Soviet Russia.
The Levada Center -- an independent Russian non-governmental polling organization -- conducted a study in February revealing that 49 percent of Russians polled think Stalin played a positive role in Russian history. A similar poll conducted last fall revealed that 47 percent of Russians thought that Stalin "a wise leader who brought the Soviet Union to might and prosperity”.
What best explains this confounding trend?
In Russia today, the reemergence of Stalin’s images and favorable opinions of the dictator have been greatly seen under Vladimir Putin. Russians skeptical of this trend fear that Putin will be compared to Stalin. As a result, the proliferation of Stalin paraphernalia in Putin’s Russia has been characterized as “neo-Soviet” by some.
The discussion over Joseph Stalin’s legacy was sparked last month with the 70th anniversary of the Red Army’s victory at the Battle of Stalingrad. Every year, local Volgograd deputies agree to call the city by its old name -- Stalingrad -- for six days to mark the event.
The desire to return to the “Soviet glory days” can lead many to believe Russia is experiencing a “neo-Soviet” phase. Another recent Levada poll found that 51 percent of Russians prefer a Soviet-like system of state planning and distribution. It also found that Russian approval of free enterprise was at 29 percent -- down from 35 percent -- in 2012.