Stalin and Putin

Anyone travelling by cab in the Soviet Union during the years of stagnation under the late and unlamented Leonid Brezhnev (1964-1982) will recall the driver bemoaning the passing of Stalin (1953). Nowadays we can follow public opinion with greater certainty via the late Yuri Levada’s pollsters at VTsIOM. It has not invariably matched all western equivalents in sampling standards; none the less the approximation of opinion it offers carries weight that the complaining cab driver may no longer do.

And what do the pollsters tell us? Some 77% of Russian youth want monuments to Stalin erected in their towns. This should come as a wake up call to those Panglossians in the West who believe Putin is some kind of peculiar aberration. Indeed a comment cited in the orthodox Russian press was to the effect that “We criticise Putin not for being Putin, but for the fact that he is not enough of a Stalin” (R. Golovanov, “U rossiyan prosnulas’ tyaga k Stalinu”, Komsomolskaya Pravda, 20 July 2017).

You could say that this is because the younger the Russians the less likely are they to know their own history; the fact that great grandpa and grandma survived the years of terror just through luck and the indisputable fact that the régime produces the history textbooks, as does the Japanese ministry of education, to sustain myths about a less than pleasant past. But it is also true that the elevation of Stalin comes about as a loud protest against the rampant corruption of the current order. The implicit assumption that, to solve the problem, a stronger hand is needed rather then more democracy should worry us and particularly those living in former Soviet republics.