Joseph Stalin, one of history’s bloodiest tyrants, has been dead for 57 years, yet his legacy still roils the Russian nation he ruled with such cruelty and fanaticism. Notwithstanding Stalin’s tens of millions of victims, there is an ongoing campaign to honor him as a national hero. At times, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, a former KGB agent, has joined in the praise.
It is heartening, therefore, that Russia’s president, Dmitry Medvedev — often perceived as Putin’s puppet — has been unequivocal recently in denouncing the Stalin cult.
“Stalin committed massive crimes against his own people,’’ Medvedev declared earlier this month, as Russia was preparing for the 65th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany. “Despite . . . the successes achieved under his leadership, what he did to his own people cannot be forgiven.’’ In an interview with the newspaper Izvestia, Medvedev pointedly rejected Putin’s admiration for Stalin as a wartime victor. World War II “was won by our people, not Stalin,’’ he said.
Nearly two decades after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia has yet to fully acknowledge the horrors of Communist rule, which makes Medvedev’s refusal to sugarcoat history all the more noteworthy. (One government-approved textbook asserts that Stalin acted “entirely rationally’’ in sending people to their deaths.) While Putin stokes nostalgia for the days when the Soviet Union was a superpower, Medvedev is blunt: Stalin was a “gross criminal,’’ he says. In a society so often enamored of strongmen and autocrats, that message cannot be repeated enough.