Russia and Stalin: Explaining the Phenomenon

Paul Goble reports:

Many were shocked when the Internet Project “The Name of Russia” showed that Russians saw Joseph Stalin playing that role, with some suggesting that this was equivalent to present-day Germans identifying Hitler in that way for their country or even Israelis deciding to name the German dictator as the symbol of their country.And others were disturbed when the organizers of this project suggested Stalin had come out on top because of a concerted campaign by a small number of web activists and when those carrying out this informal survey said that they had “taken measures” in response that had the effect of elevating Nicholas II, the last Russian tsar, into first place. But now a prominent Moscow analyst suggests that the results of this project show something even more disturbing at least to him than the initial “victory” of Stalin. They indicate, Aleksei Roshchin said in an article posted online recently that Russians are increasingly obsessed with themselves rather than with the role they have played in the world.Arguing that even “without Stalin” in the top spot – and he is still among the leaders – Roshchin, who is an expert at the Moscow Center for Political Technologies, says the results of the project to date should disturb all those concerned about the future of Russia and its integration into the broader world.

The “top ten” candidates in the Name of Russia project are Stalin, Vysotsky, Lenin, Nicholas II, Yesenin, Ivan the Terrible, Sergii of Radonezh, Chekhov, Pushkin, and Aleksandr Nevsky. Of these, half were supreme rulers, one was a writer, three were poets, and one was a religious leader.“Not one (!),” Roshchin notes, “is a scholar and only one (!) is a figure of culture known to every cultured individual in the world. That is Chekhov, and he is in eighth place.” But “what does this mean?” the Moscow writer asks rhetorically. “It means that we ourselves, citizens of Russia, are convinced in the depth of our souls that humanity to a great extent does not need our Russia.” And consequently, “we ourselves select out of our 1,000-year history people who clearly are interesting only to us and to no one else.”No one will have a problem with Aleksandr Nevsky who “saved Rus’ from the crusaders” or even with Ivan the Terrble “who took Kazan,” Roshchin says. They are both in the tradition of the type of state figures Russians and many others admir. But what about the others on the list?Yesenin and Vysotsky were accomplished lyric poets who “beautifully expressed ‘the Russian soul” but who as a result are unknown beyond the borders of Russia.

That then there is Lenin, whose activities “showed to the entire world HOW ONE SHOULD NOT PROCEED. But Roshchin inquires, is that something which Russians should be proud of?Given these others, it is thus perhaps not surprising that Stalin received so many votes as “the name of Russia.” Instead, this poll shows clearly “in what direction one should be working if we would like sometime to return to the civilized world:” Russians should focus less on those who have worked only for Russia and more on those who have made a broader contribution.Russia does not lack such people, Roshchin says, and he points to figures like Mendeleyev, Lomonosov, Cherkhov, Kandinskiy, Tolstoy, Landay, Kapitsa, Basov and Popov. If Russians would only display a little more confidence in themselves, he continues, they would see that they are “indeed a GREAT nation.” But until Russians understand that, he concludes with regret, they will continue to vote for Stalin, who symbolizes as it were the sad reality that Russians view themselves and their nation as “good for nothing” and boastfully by voting for people like the dictator Stalin their “lack of faith in themselves.”

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