Some displays of ignorance tell more about a nation’s political proclivities than its constitution or the platform of its governing party. Witness the lemon soda that a beverage maker in Russia is bringing to market this month to commemorate the 67th anniversary of the Red Army’s victory in the World War II battle of Stalingrad. Two of the special edition bottles bear the likeness of Soviet-era marshals; a third is adorned with an iconic portrait of Comrade Stalin himself - the mass murderer as hero of the Great Patriotic War.
Such tributes to the tyrant who killed millions of Russians are symptoms of a virus in that country’s body politic: the nostalgia for an authoritarian leader at the helm of an all-powerful state. There are plenty of democrats and human rights defenders in today’s Russia, but they are far outmatched by the wielders and worshippers of unaccountable Kremlin power.
Just the other day a think tank - whose board of trustees is headed by President Dmitry Medvedev - released a report calling for democratization of Russia’s political system. Among its suggested reforms are a disbanding of the Interior Ministry and Federal Security Service dominated by KGB veterans in the entourage of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The report was greeted with derision by Putinistas, while reformers assumed it will not lead to any real change. Both camps know that Russia is still afflicted by a fondness for that old Stalin fizz.