Daily Archives: April 1, 2007

April 1, 2007 — Contents

SUNDAY MARCH 31 CONTENTS


(1) April Fool!*

(2) The Sunday Photos

(3) Russia’s Love Affair with Stalin

(4) A Russian does the Breast Stroke Down Under

*LR’s header has been changed for today only to celebrate April Fool’s Day. On Monday it will return to its usual form. April Fool’s content stops with the first post.

BLOG NEWS: Darkness at Noon offers an elaborate first-hand report on a protest action by Garry Kasparov’s forces on Saturday in Moscow, complete with many photos of the happenings. Check it out here. LR’s sources tell her that a larger gathering of the whole “Other Russia” contingent — along the lines of the Nizhny Novgorod (see photos below) and Piter events which have already taken place — is scheduled for the middle of this month. Oborona (see sidebar) is scheduled to participate. Perhaps DAN will attend and report on that one too, of it occurs. As DAN points out, yesterday’s event was badly reported in the Western press and almost totally ignored in the state-controlled Russian press. Kasparov needs to do more to get the word out in advance, and he needs to do more of substance during the events. However, he’s still risking his life for his country and deserves the highest possible praise for his courage, and it is flatly inexcusable for the outside world to ignore what he is doing. For Russians to ignore it (or allow it to be ignored) is simply an act of suicide.

The Sunday Photos: Nizhny Novogorod Edition

The sign in the background reads: “Client Service Center”

How many “real Russian men” does it take to knock over a single babushka?

The banner above reads: Are you looking for a beautiful kitchen?



Essel on the Russophile Mindset

 

How Russophiles Think (if that is the word).

By Dave Essel

In LR, we get to read plenty of what the small proportion of well-informed and thoughtful Russian intelligenty think and are sometimes able to say in the remnants of the free media in Russia. Sadly, this is to be found mostly on the internet, safely unavailable to the vast majority of Russia’s population.

Yesterday, it occurred to me that that it would be useful for non-Russian-speakers to see the sort of bilge that is fed to normal non-English-speaking Russians. To that end, today I took a look at Komsomolskaya Pravda, one of Russia’s mass circulation papers with the vague idea of analysing a day’s issue. It turned out that this would be trying to bite off more than I can chew and furthermore would require me to wallow in Soviet-style mindlessness for longer than would be fun.

However, since the general atmosphere in that paper was the same on whatever issue I read, a single example, selected more or less at random (and also because it caught my interest) can perfectly well serve as a general illustration of how the government press (there can really be no other description for it) presents matters to the Russian public, most of whom have no other source of information.

My example is the issue of the Bronze Soldier in Tallinn. My sources are the BBC, the official website of the Estonian Government, and the odious, as you will see below, Komsomolka.

In the centre of Tallinn there is a monument to the Soviet liberators. That last word alone is a prime example of Commie double-speak. I don’t think there is much to choose between a Nazi yoke and a Soviet one, although stuck between a rock and hard place, I would go for Soviet. Add rightful independence to the selection and it’s no contest, of course. Even with membership of the EUSSR thrown in.

Let us accept that, to put it mildly, this monument is contentious, bound to offend the natives but also, it would appear, pleasing to Russians in Estonia and even more so to great-power chauvinist Russians in Russia itself.

The monument itself is in the usual Soviet style, that is to say that its artistic value is not high. However, it also a war grave, having been erected over some human remains, possibly actually of Soviet soldiers, possibly killed during the ejection of the National Socialists and their replacement by Soviet Socialists.

Civilised people do not spit on graves. In France, German war dead from two world wars rest in cemeteries neighbouring on cemeteries for the fallen French and British. After death has intervened, respect is shown.

Quietude is a part of such respect. The Bronze Soldier in Tallinn rather contravenes this last point, since the monument stands in the centre of Tallinn and seems to rather spit in the faces of the locals, in an act of post-mortem political spite and in contradiction of the respect and quietude due to the dead.

It seems to me, therefore, entirely reasonable, to say that the relocation of such a monument and the remains beneath it to a more suitable place would be a generally good thing.

The Estonian Government says this on its website:

Estonia has a moral and international duty to safeguard war graves and accompanying monuments and to keep them sacrosanct and dignified places. To this end, the Protection of War Graves Act was adopted on 10 January of this year. The war graves committee was formed on the basis of the Act. Its function is to make proposals to the Minister of Defence with regard to protection of burial sites for war dead and possible reburials of remains.

The Minister of Defence formed the war graves committee at the beginning of this year, approved its rules of procedure, and appointed a chairman. The seven-member committee consists of the Minister of the Interior, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Culture, an individual appointed by the Estonian War Graves League and two individuals appointed by the Minister of Defence.

On 27 February 2007, the Minister of Defence asked the war graves committee for an evaluation of the suitability of the location of the Tõnismägi war grave. In evaluating the suitability of the location, the Minister of Defence asked the war graves committee to take into consideration the disturbances that have occurred at the site as well as the political tensions and whether these could be considered consistent with the principle of allowing the dead to rest in peace.

On 9 March of this year, the war graves committee recommended to the Minister of Defence that the remains be reburied, noting that the dead cannot rest in peace in the current location. To ensure that they may finally do so, the committee proposed that the remains near the Bronze Soldier be relocated to Tallinn’s Siselinna Cemetery. The committee found this cemetery to be a worthy location for allowing the dead to rest in peace, honouring the principle of dignified treatment of war graves.

I could not agree more. Everything properly stated, explained. This is how grown-ups speak.

And this is how to train a nation to think stupidly, how to inflame passions where it is indecent to do so, how to be maundering and sickly-sentimental, self-loving to the point of egomania, how to abuse the war dead.

Speak, Komsomolka:

The Bronze Soldier in Tallinn Is No More

The Estonian authorities today demolished the monument.

On Thursday at 4:30 a.m., the Estonian authorities attacked the Bronze Soldier Monument in Tallinn. Evidently, the former instructor of the Tartu City Committee of the [Communist] Party and now prime-minister of Estonia Andrus Ansip, who has been heading the shameful campaign against the monument, paid attention in class when he was little and remembered that wars are started in the morning.

Practically every other word of this opening paragraph is tendentious and vile. Goebbels could have done with lessons from this ‘journalist” in the abuse of emotive words and attacks ad hominem.

During the night, three activists from “Night Watch”, an organisation for the protection of the Bronze Soldier monument, had stood guard. Launched against them was a whole army of Estonian policemen (by some accounts, fifteen hundred in number!), recalled from leave and bused into Tallinn from all over Estonia. The car in which the “night watchers” – Larisa Neschadimova and two helpers, Andrei and Valeri – were sheltering was surrounded by special forces: its windows were broken, its tyres punctured, and they were dragged out and handed over to the police, who detained all three for 48 hours. Larisa Neschadimova’s are was hurt; this event is on record at the first aid centre.

A great piece of one-sided reporting.

Following on behind the police, the workers set to. The flowers and candles which over the last days had burnt continuously at the memorial were dumped into rubbish bags, the square was cordoned off with a metal fence and work began on erecting a metal carcass. By evening, the monument was covered by a large tent to prevent people from seeing precisely what was going on inside.

Wordiness is always the downfall of Soviet journalists. I love the flowers which had been burning continuously over the last days and hope the workmen remembered to extinguish them before dumping them in the rubbish bags. And what a great insinuation of unspeakable abuse of human remains within the fence and tent! This is a work site and human remains are to be exhumed, examined, and moved. Perhaps the dead are treated differently in Russia?

So the public will never learn whose remains the archaeologists find. According to Estonia’s minister of Justice, Reina Langa, the mass grave contains stones and rubbish while Prime Minister Andrus Ansip came up the other day with a story of drunken Soviet tank men who got run over by their own tank…

I’ll need sources, please, O writer of inflammatory bilge! Meanwhile, I find the dignified statement to be found on the Estonian government website more believable: The preparation work for the execution of identification procedures of the war graves at the Tõnismägi green area is beginning today, in the morning of 26th April. Archaeological excavations and identification procedures have been scheduled subsequently in order to positively identify the persons possibly buried at the site and their exact numbers.”. Note, Komsomolka, that if the Estonians, actually are lying and your improbable version is the truth, they’ve beaten you and outclassed you 100% on the propaganda front.

The police brought in from all over Estonia will not let anyone anywhere near the monument. As soon as the text messages sent by the “night watchers’ from their mobiles started being received, people from all parts of the town rushed to see how the Soldier, who over the last year had become a symbol of remembrance, honour, and dignity, was disappearing behind the ironwork. Edgar Savisaar, Tallinn’s mayor, attempted to reason with the authorities, reminding them that 57% of Tallinn’s citizens were against moving the monument!

Source of poll, please. And explain why the Beeb says: “Most Estonians view the Red Army as enforcers of Soviet oppression, correspondents say.”

Furthermore, the Protection of War Graves Act, on the basis of which the Ministry of Defence is undertaking the dismantling, has been appealed against in the city court, which has not yet reached a decision. Thus yesterday’s outrage has no legal foundation!


Unfortunately it does so have. The move is being done under a legally passed Act which “sets forth the procedures for forming the War Graves Committee, which is in charge of evaluating the suitability of war grave sites, necessary identification procedures, reburial, the placing or removal of grave markers, and other such issues.” This is mere prevarication.

 

“I will never forgive you this barbaric behaviour. Don’t expect me to support you!” is the cry Estonians are hearing for local Russians who feel they have been insulted.

Evidently, yesterday’s bacchanalia on Tõnismägi Green will have consequences for the Estonian Republic, both economic and foreign political. And international too, because last night night Estonia with its own hands created an internal enemy for itself.

Meanwhile, the official spokesman of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs called yesterday actions of the Estonian authorities “inhuman” and emphasised that “all this we be borne in mind in the structuring of our relations with Estonia.”

And like all bullies, there’s no better finale than a round of posturing and threats.

 

 

One can hardly call this journalism. In fact, the article is probably in breach of Putin’s new law against political extremism, not that this “newspaper” is in any danger of having it used against it. It’s not for Komsomolka that the law was designed.

 

So stand up, Galina Sapozhnikova, proud correspondent of Komsomolskaya Pravda. I don’t suppose you have it in yourself to blush for the trash you write and for helping to make your country what it is, instead of the great place it could be.

 

 

Russia’s Love Affair with Stalin

What would you think if you heard that Germany was evenly divided as nation on the question of whether Hitler was good or bad? The LA Times reports that Russia can’t make up it’s mind on Stalin, and the half that likes him is airing a 40-episode TV show right now about how great he was.

Josef Stalin is speaking to his son Yakov, who has just telephoned to say that he will soon head off to battle the Nazi invaders.

“I sometimes was not fair to you. Forgive me. I devoted little time to you,” the Soviet dictator apologizes. “Son, go and fight. This is your duty.” He then switches to Georgian, the language of his childhood, and adds with even greater feeling: “If you have to die, do it with dignity. And you must be confident that your father, Stalin, will do everything for our victory.”

The poignant scene — for viewers who can stomach it — is part of a controversial 40-episode TV drama, “Stalin Live,” now airing on a nationwide network here. The show’s structural device is an elderly Stalin, in the last weeks of his life, recalling episodes in his younger days, most presenting him in a favorable light.

For Stalin admirers, of whom there are many in Russia, the series is an entertaining and educational look at the man who turned the Soviet Union into a superpower. To critics, it is a dangerous distortion of history that threatens to misinform a younger generation about a leader responsible for the deaths of millions of people, and reinforce a trend toward greater authoritarianism in politics.

Among the show’s fans is car repairman Viktor Kurenkov. “Under Stalin we had the best weapons, the best planes, the best tanks,” Kurenkov said. “He built the country that was the first to send a man into space. As for the repressions attributed to him, their scale was always exaggerated.”

Estimates of the number of Stalin’s victims vary widely, but most historians say that 10 million to 20 million people died in purges, famines, deportations and labor camps as a result of his policies from the time he rose to power in the mid-1920s until his death in 1953. In addition, the Soviet Union suffered at least 20 million troop and civilian deaths in World War II. Among them was his son Yakov, who died in a German prisoner-of-war camp.

Critics say that “Stalin Live” ignores the dictator’s worst crimes and treats him far too sympathetically.

“In the show, Stalin is portrayed as the savior of the people, the country and all of civilization, the leader who destroyed fascism,” complained Daniil Dondurey, editor in chief of Cinema Art, a monthly journal. “Not for a split second do we see Stalin soaked in blood up to his elbows, as he really was.”

Opinion is roughly split

Surveys conducted two years ago on the 60th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany showed a nation roughly divided between the pro- and anti-Stalin camps, with those sympathetic to the dictator holding a modest edge. In a poll by the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center, 20% of respondents described his role as “very positive,” and 30% called it “somewhat positive.” Only 12% described it as “very negative.”

Stalin’s admirers insist that his achievements outweigh his faults. Among them is David Giorgobiani, the Georgian actor who plays Stalin in the series.

“Many more years have to pass before we can make an unbiased judgment on that great man,” he said. “One hundred years from now, no one will pay attention to the fact that so many people perished and the costs were so terribly high. But everyone will remember that such a great country was saved.”

A major obstacle

Critics say the failure of many Russians to look honestly at Stalin’s crimes is a major obstacle to democratic development.

Dondurey noted that NTV, the network carrying the series, which runs through April 4, is owned by the state-controlled gas monopoly, Gazprom. Early episodes drew a strong rating of 19% of all television viewers, according to figures reported by Itogi magazine.

Dondurey charged that by broadcasting the program, the government sought to encourage authoritarian trends in today’s political life.

“The message is clear: Russia needs a wise leader,” he said. “The main goal of this show is to preserve and nurture in the people the desire to obey a supreme leader, to take pride in having a supreme leader, to see no alternative to this model in the development of society.”

Alexander Prokhanov, editor in chief of the nationalist newspaper Zavtra, also saw political implications in the show, but positive ones. The series promotes “a new myth of Stalin which replaces the ugly de-Stalinization-era myths, which narrowed the role of this great person to that primitive image of villain, small-time hooligan and paranoid murderer,” he said.

Prokhanov expressed hope that the show could contribute to greater rehabilitation of Stalin’s image, and that such a development would boost Russian President Vladimir V. Putin’s power in a way that would promote a crackdown on corruption within the Russian economic and political elite.

Grigory Lyubomirov(pictured, left), the producer and director of the show, said the program sought to portray both the historical Stalin, who was born Josef Dzhugashvili, and the myth of Stalin that was promoted during the dictator’s lifetime. “Our Stalin is not only Josef Dzhugashvili,” he said. “It’s Comrade Stalin. It’s the myth that is still alive in the minds of Russian citizens.”

Even Lyubomirov’s critics acknowledge that he is no Stalinist. He won fame and democratic credentials in the 1990s as director of “Kukly,” an extremely popular satirical puppet show that routinely skewered the country’s top politicians. Instead, Dondurey said, Lyubomirov “is simply full of cynicism.”

More sophisticated game

But Lyubomirov insists that he is playing a more sophisticated game, and that he wants Russia to reject not the Stalin who slaughtered people out of paranoia, power lust or enjoyment of cruelty, but rather the Stalin who wielded dictatorial power in pursuit of seemingly valid goals — in particular, the survival of the Soviet Union.

“I categorically refuse to show Stalin as a paranoid, bloodthirsty wolf, because everything Stalin did had ironclad logic to it,” he said. “Stalin was not an idiot. I want to show that Stalin, responsible for millions of casualties in the Soviet Union, was doing all that for logical reasons. This is the Stalin we must overcome.”

Lyubomirov declined to say whether he viewed Stalin more as a positive or a negative figure. “Stalin was responsible, to some extent, for everything that happened in the Soviet Union after 1924, after Lenin’s death,” he said. “I would put it this way: Stalin was everything good and everything bad.

“Who knows, but for Stalin, the fate of Europe would look different today. Maybe Hitler would have won that war. On the other hand, maybe there would have been no Hitler but for Stalin. These are the crucial questions we take with us into the 21st century.”

Russia’s Love Affair with Stalin

What would you think if you heard that Germany was evenly divided as nation on the question of whether Hitler was good or bad? The LA Times reports that Russia can’t make up it’s mind on Stalin, and the half that likes him is airing a 40-episode TV show right now about how great he was.

Josef Stalin is speaking to his son Yakov, who has just telephoned to say that he will soon head off to battle the Nazi invaders.

“I sometimes was not fair to you. Forgive me. I devoted little time to you,” the Soviet dictator apologizes. “Son, go and fight. This is your duty.” He then switches to Georgian, the language of his childhood, and adds with even greater feeling: “If you have to die, do it with dignity. And you must be confident that your father, Stalin, will do everything for our victory.”

The poignant scene — for viewers who can stomach it — is part of a controversial 40-episode TV drama, “Stalin Live,” now airing on a nationwide network here. The show’s structural device is an elderly Stalin, in the last weeks of his life, recalling episodes in his younger days, most presenting him in a favorable light.

For Stalin admirers, of whom there are many in Russia, the series is an entertaining and educational look at the man who turned the Soviet Union into a superpower. To critics, it is a dangerous distortion of history that threatens to misinform a younger generation about a leader responsible for the deaths of millions of people, and reinforce a trend toward greater authoritarianism in politics.

Among the show’s fans is car repairman Viktor Kurenkov. “Under Stalin we had the best weapons, the best planes, the best tanks,” Kurenkov said. “He built the country that was the first to send a man into space. As for the repressions attributed to him, their scale was always exaggerated.”

Estimates of the number of Stalin’s victims vary widely, but most historians say that 10 million to 20 million people died in purges, famines, deportations and labor camps as a result of his policies from the time he rose to power in the mid-1920s until his death in 1953. In addition, the Soviet Union suffered at least 20 million troop and civilian deaths in World War II. Among them was his son Yakov, who died in a German prisoner-of-war camp.

Critics say that “Stalin Live” ignores the dictator’s worst crimes and treats him far too sympathetically.

“In the show, Stalin is portrayed as the savior of the people, the country and all of civilization, the leader who destroyed fascism,” complained Daniil Dondurey, editor in chief of Cinema Art, a monthly journal. “Not for a split second do we see Stalin soaked in blood up to his elbows, as he really was.”

Opinion is roughly split

Surveys conducted two years ago on the 60th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany showed a nation roughly divided between the pro- and anti-Stalin camps, with those sympathetic to the dictator holding a modest edge. In a poll by the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center, 20% of respondents described his role as “very positive,” and 30% called it “somewhat positive.” Only 12% described it as “very negative.”

Stalin’s admirers insist that his achievements outweigh his faults. Among them is David Giorgobiani, the Georgian actor who plays Stalin in the series.

“Many more years have to pass before we can make an unbiased judgment on that great man,” he said. “One hundred years from now, no one will pay attention to the fact that so many people perished and the costs were so terribly high. But everyone will remember that such a great country was saved.”

A major obstacle

Critics say the failure of many Russians to look honestly at Stalin’s crimes is a major obstacle to democratic development.

Dondurey noted that NTV, the network carrying the series, which runs through April 4, is owned by the state-controlled gas monopoly, Gazprom. Early episodes drew a strong rating of 19% of all television viewers, according to figures reported by Itogi magazine.

Dondurey charged that by broadcasting the program, the government sought to encourage authoritarian trends in today’s political life.

“The message is clear: Russia needs a wise leader,” he said. “The main goal of this show is to preserve and nurture in the people the desire to obey a supreme leader, to take pride in having a supreme leader, to see no alternative to this model in the development of society.”

Alexander Prokhanov, editor in chief of the nationalist newspaper Zavtra, also saw political implications in the show, but positive ones. The series promotes “a new myth of Stalin which replaces the ugly de-Stalinization-era myths, which narrowed the role of this great person to that primitive image of villain, small-time hooligan and paranoid murderer,” he said.

Prokhanov expressed hope that the show could contribute to greater rehabilitation of Stalin’s image, and that such a development would boost Russian President Vladimir V. Putin’s power in a way that would promote a crackdown on corruption within the Russian economic and political elite.

Grigory Lyubomirov(pictured, left), the producer and director of the show, said the program sought to portray both the historical Stalin, who was born Josef Dzhugashvili, and the myth of Stalin that was promoted during the dictator’s lifetime. “Our Stalin is not only Josef Dzhugashvili,” he said. “It’s Comrade Stalin. It’s the myth that is still alive in the minds of Russian citizens.”

Even Lyubomirov’s critics acknowledge that he is no Stalinist. He won fame and democratic credentials in the 1990s as director of “Kukly,” an extremely popular satirical puppet show that routinely skewered the country’s top politicians. Instead, Dondurey said, Lyubomirov “is simply full of cynicism.”

More sophisticated game

But Lyubomirov insists that he is playing a more sophisticated game, and that he wants Russia to reject not the Stalin who slaughtered people out of paranoia, power lust or enjoyment of cruelty, but rather the Stalin who wielded dictatorial power in pursuit of seemingly valid goals — in particular, the survival of the Soviet Union.

“I categorically refuse to show Stalin as a paranoid, bloodthirsty wolf, because everything Stalin did had ironclad logic to it,” he said. “Stalin was not an idiot. I want to show that Stalin, responsible for millions of casualties in the Soviet Union, was doing all that for logical reasons. This is the Stalin we must overcome.”

Lyubomirov declined to say whether he viewed Stalin more as a positive or a negative figure. “Stalin was responsible, to some extent, for everything that happened in the Soviet Union after 1924, after Lenin’s death,” he said. “I would put it this way: Stalin was everything good and everything bad.

“Who knows, but for Stalin, the fate of Europe would look different today. Maybe Hitler would have won that war. On the other hand, maybe there would have been no Hitler but for Stalin. These are the crucial questions we take with us into the 21st century.”

Russia’s Love Affair with Stalin

What would you think if you heard that Germany was evenly divided as nation on the question of whether Hitler was good or bad? The LA Times reports that Russia can’t make up it’s mind on Stalin, and the half that likes him is airing a 40-episode TV show right now about how great he was.

Josef Stalin is speaking to his son Yakov, who has just telephoned to say that he will soon head off to battle the Nazi invaders.

“I sometimes was not fair to you. Forgive me. I devoted little time to you,” the Soviet dictator apologizes. “Son, go and fight. This is your duty.” He then switches to Georgian, the language of his childhood, and adds with even greater feeling: “If you have to die, do it with dignity. And you must be confident that your father, Stalin, will do everything for our victory.”

The poignant scene — for viewers who can stomach it — is part of a controversial 40-episode TV drama, “Stalin Live,” now airing on a nationwide network here. The show’s structural device is an elderly Stalin, in the last weeks of his life, recalling episodes in his younger days, most presenting him in a favorable light.

For Stalin admirers, of whom there are many in Russia, the series is an entertaining and educational look at the man who turned the Soviet Union into a superpower. To critics, it is a dangerous distortion of history that threatens to misinform a younger generation about a leader responsible for the deaths of millions of people, and reinforce a trend toward greater authoritarianism in politics.

Among the show’s fans is car repairman Viktor Kurenkov. “Under Stalin we had the best weapons, the best planes, the best tanks,” Kurenkov said. “He built the country that was the first to send a man into space. As for the repressions attributed to him, their scale was always exaggerated.”

Estimates of the number of Stalin’s victims vary widely, but most historians say that 10 million to 20 million people died in purges, famines, deportations and labor camps as a result of his policies from the time he rose to power in the mid-1920s until his death in 1953. In addition, the Soviet Union suffered at least 20 million troop and civilian deaths in World War II. Among them was his son Yakov, who died in a German prisoner-of-war camp.

Critics say that “Stalin Live” ignores the dictator’s worst crimes and treats him far too sympathetically.

“In the show, Stalin is portrayed as the savior of the people, the country and all of civilization, the leader who destroyed fascism,” complained Daniil Dondurey, editor in chief of Cinema Art, a monthly journal. “Not for a split second do we see Stalin soaked in blood up to his elbows, as he really was.”

Opinion is roughly split

Surveys conducted two years ago on the 60th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany showed a nation roughly divided between the pro- and anti-Stalin camps, with those sympathetic to the dictator holding a modest edge. In a poll by the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center, 20% of respondents described his role as “very positive,” and 30% called it “somewhat positive.” Only 12% described it as “very negative.”

Stalin’s admirers insist that his achievements outweigh his faults. Among them is David Giorgobiani, the Georgian actor who plays Stalin in the series.

“Many more years have to pass before we can make an unbiased judgment on that great man,” he said. “One hundred years from now, no one will pay attention to the fact that so many people perished and the costs were so terribly high. But everyone will remember that such a great country was saved.”

A major obstacle

Critics say the failure of many Russians to look honestly at Stalin’s crimes is a major obstacle to democratic development.

Dondurey noted that NTV, the network carrying the series, which runs through April 4, is owned by the state-controlled gas monopoly, Gazprom. Early episodes drew a strong rating of 19% of all television viewers, according to figures reported by Itogi magazine.

Dondurey charged that by broadcasting the program, the government sought to encourage authoritarian trends in today’s political life.

“The message is clear: Russia needs a wise leader,” he said. “The main goal of this show is to preserve and nurture in the people the desire to obey a supreme leader, to take pride in having a supreme leader, to see no alternative to this model in the development of society.”

Alexander Prokhanov, editor in chief of the nationalist newspaper Zavtra, also saw political implications in the show, but positive ones. The series promotes “a new myth of Stalin which replaces the ugly de-Stalinization-era myths, which narrowed the role of this great person to that primitive image of villain, small-time hooligan and paranoid murderer,” he said.

Prokhanov expressed hope that the show could contribute to greater rehabilitation of Stalin’s image, and that such a development would boost Russian President Vladimir V. Putin’s power in a way that would promote a crackdown on corruption within the Russian economic and political elite.

Grigory Lyubomirov(pictured, left), the producer and director of the show, said the program sought to portray both the historical Stalin, who was born Josef Dzhugashvili, and the myth of Stalin that was promoted during the dictator’s lifetime. “Our Stalin is not only Josef Dzhugashvili,” he said. “It’s Comrade Stalin. It’s the myth that is still alive in the minds of Russian citizens.”

Even Lyubomirov’s critics acknowledge that he is no Stalinist. He won fame and democratic credentials in the 1990s as director of “Kukly,” an extremely popular satirical puppet show that routinely skewered the country’s top politicians. Instead, Dondurey said, Lyubomirov “is simply full of cynicism.”

More sophisticated game

But Lyubomirov insists that he is playing a more sophisticated game, and that he wants Russia to reject not the Stalin who slaughtered people out of paranoia, power lust or enjoyment of cruelty, but rather the Stalin who wielded dictatorial power in pursuit of seemingly valid goals — in particular, the survival of the Soviet Union.

“I categorically refuse to show Stalin as a paranoid, bloodthirsty wolf, because everything Stalin did had ironclad logic to it,” he said. “Stalin was not an idiot. I want to show that Stalin, responsible for millions of casualties in the Soviet Union, was doing all that for logical reasons. This is the Stalin we must overcome.”

Lyubomirov declined to say whether he viewed Stalin more as a positive or a negative figure. “Stalin was responsible, to some extent, for everything that happened in the Soviet Union after 1924, after Lenin’s death,” he said. “I would put it this way: Stalin was everything good and everything bad.

“Who knows, but for Stalin, the fate of Europe would look different today. Maybe Hitler would have won that war. On the other hand, maybe there would have been no Hitler but for Stalin. These are the crucial questions we take with us into the 21st century.”

Russia’s Love Affair with Stalin

What would you think if you heard that Germany was evenly divided as nation on the question of whether Hitler was good or bad? The LA Times reports that Russia can’t make up it’s mind on Stalin, and the half that likes him is airing a 40-episode TV show right now about how great he was.

Josef Stalin is speaking to his son Yakov, who has just telephoned to say that he will soon head off to battle the Nazi invaders.

“I sometimes was not fair to you. Forgive me. I devoted little time to you,” the Soviet dictator apologizes. “Son, go and fight. This is your duty.” He then switches to Georgian, the language of his childhood, and adds with even greater feeling: “If you have to die, do it with dignity. And you must be confident that your father, Stalin, will do everything for our victory.”

The poignant scene — for viewers who can stomach it — is part of a controversial 40-episode TV drama, “Stalin Live,” now airing on a nationwide network here. The show’s structural device is an elderly Stalin, in the last weeks of his life, recalling episodes in his younger days, most presenting him in a favorable light.

For Stalin admirers, of whom there are many in Russia, the series is an entertaining and educational look at the man who turned the Soviet Union into a superpower. To critics, it is a dangerous distortion of history that threatens to misinform a younger generation about a leader responsible for the deaths of millions of people, and reinforce a trend toward greater authoritarianism in politics.

Among the show’s fans is car repairman Viktor Kurenkov. “Under Stalin we had the best weapons, the best planes, the best tanks,” Kurenkov said. “He built the country that was the first to send a man into space. As for the repressions attributed to him, their scale was always exaggerated.”

Estimates of the number of Stalin’s victims vary widely, but most historians say that 10 million to 20 million people died in purges, famines, deportations and labor camps as a result of his policies from the time he rose to power in the mid-1920s until his death in 1953. In addition, the Soviet Union suffered at least 20 million troop and civilian deaths in World War II. Among them was his son Yakov, who died in a German prisoner-of-war camp.

Critics say that “Stalin Live” ignores the dictator’s worst crimes and treats him far too sympathetically.

“In the show, Stalin is portrayed as the savior of the people, the country and all of civilization, the leader who destroyed fascism,” complained Daniil Dondurey, editor in chief of Cinema Art, a monthly journal. “Not for a split second do we see Stalin soaked in blood up to his elbows, as he really was.”

Opinion is roughly split

Surveys conducted two years ago on the 60th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany showed a nation roughly divided between the pro- and anti-Stalin camps, with those sympathetic to the dictator holding a modest edge. In a poll by the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center, 20% of respondents described his role as “very positive,” and 30% called it “somewhat positive.” Only 12% described it as “very negative.”

Stalin’s admirers insist that his achievements outweigh his faults. Among them is David Giorgobiani, the Georgian actor who plays Stalin in the series.

“Many more years have to pass before we can make an unbiased judgment on that great man,” he said. “One hundred years from now, no one will pay attention to the fact that so many people perished and the costs were so terribly high. But everyone will remember that such a great country was saved.”

A major obstacle

Critics say the failure of many Russians to look honestly at Stalin’s crimes is a major obstacle to democratic development.

Dondurey noted that NTV, the network carrying the series, which runs through April 4, is owned by the state-controlled gas monopoly, Gazprom. Early episodes drew a strong rating of 19% of all television viewers, according to figures reported by Itogi magazine.

Dondurey charged that by broadcasting the program, the government sought to encourage authoritarian trends in today’s political life.

“The message is clear: Russia needs a wise leader,” he said. “The main goal of this show is to preserve and nurture in the people the desire to obey a supreme leader, to take pride in having a supreme leader, to see no alternative to this model in the development of society.”

Alexander Prokhanov, editor in chief of the nationalist newspaper Zavtra, also saw political implications in the show, but positive ones. The series promotes “a new myth of Stalin which replaces the ugly de-Stalinization-era myths, which narrowed the role of this great person to that primitive image of villain, small-time hooligan and paranoid murderer,” he said.

Prokhanov expressed hope that the show could contribute to greater rehabilitation of Stalin’s image, and that such a development would boost Russian President Vladimir V. Putin’s power in a way that would promote a crackdown on corruption within the Russian economic and political elite.

Grigory Lyubomirov(pictured, left), the producer and director of the show, said the program sought to portray both the historical Stalin, who was born Josef Dzhugashvili, and the myth of Stalin that was promoted during the dictator’s lifetime. “Our Stalin is not only Josef Dzhugashvili,” he said. “It’s Comrade Stalin. It’s the myth that is still alive in the minds of Russian citizens.”

Even Lyubomirov’s critics acknowledge that he is no Stalinist. He won fame and democratic credentials in the 1990s as director of “Kukly,” an extremely popular satirical puppet show that routinely skewered the country’s top politicians. Instead, Dondurey said, Lyubomirov “is simply full of cynicism.”

More sophisticated game

But Lyubomirov insists that he is playing a more sophisticated game, and that he wants Russia to reject not the Stalin who slaughtered people out of paranoia, power lust or enjoyment of cruelty, but rather the Stalin who wielded dictatorial power in pursuit of seemingly valid goals — in particular, the survival of the Soviet Union.

“I categorically refuse to show Stalin as a paranoid, bloodthirsty wolf, because everything Stalin did had ironclad logic to it,” he said. “Stalin was not an idiot. I want to show that Stalin, responsible for millions of casualties in the Soviet Union, was doing all that for logical reasons. This is the Stalin we must overcome.”

Lyubomirov declined to say whether he viewed Stalin more as a positive or a negative figure. “Stalin was responsible, to some extent, for everything that happened in the Soviet Union after 1924, after Lenin’s death,” he said. “I would put it this way: Stalin was everything good and everything bad.

“Who knows, but for Stalin, the fate of Europe would look different today. Maybe Hitler would have won that war. On the other hand, maybe there would have been no Hitler but for Stalin. These are the crucial questions we take with us into the 21st century.”