EDITORIAL: Russia Votes for History


Russia Votes for History

“He acted entirely rationally – as the guardian of a system, as a consistent support of reshaping the country into an industrialised state.”

— Quote from A History of Russia, 1900-1945 referring to Soviet ruler Josef Stalin, the greatest mass murderer of Russians in the nation’s history (the volume will used as a guide for teaching history in Russian schools)

For several months now, Kremlin-operated TV network “Rossiya” has been conducting a nationwide internet poll called “The Name of Russia” asking who was the most important Russian of all time.  As time went on, a large field of initial nominees was winnowed down to 12 finalists, and the polls finally closed last Sunday with nearly 5 million votes having been collected from Russians across the country among the 12 finalists. The winner was to be announced live on the network’s  “Vesti Nedeli” (“Kicking off the Week”) program Sunday evening.

At the same time, a specially selected “jury” of experts was asked for their opinion.  The members of the 12-man (yes, all male) jury were:  Metropolitan Kirill, Viktor Chernomyrdin, Valentin Varennikov, Sergei Kapitsa, Dimitri Rogozin, Alexander Tkachev, Ilya Glazunov, Gennady Zyuganov, Yuri Kublanovsky, Nikita Mikhailkov, Sergei Mironov and Andrei Sakharov Jr.

The 12 “Name of Russia” finalists included four monarchs (Peter I, Ivan IV, Ekaterina II and Alexander II) and the prime minister of a fifth (Nicholas II’s Peter Stolypin), two Communists (Lenin and Stalin), two writers (Pushkin and Dostoevsky), two  generals (Alexander Suvorov and Alexander Nevsky) and a scientist (Dmitry Mendeleev).

On Sunday, we learned the Russian people’s selection.

The jury deadlocked between Pushkin and Nevsky, relegating Stalin and Lenin to the last two places (though it was Lenin, not Stalin, bringing up the rear).

As for the people of Russia, four of the 12 candidates stood head and shoulders above the rest in their view, each receiving over 500,000 votes.  Nevsky prevailed as Russia’s greatest-ever hero by a razor thin margin of less than 1,000 votes over Stolypin, who was less than 5,000 votes ahead of the third-place finisher, Stalin — the greatest mass-murderer of Russians in world history.  Over 2,000 votes behind Stalin was Pushkin, who finished 50,000 votes ahead of Tsar Peter I in fifth place.  Lenin was in sixth place, 25,000 votes behind Peter.  None of the other candidates got as many as 350,000 votes.

It’s possible that this result actually understates Stalin’s popularity.  Back in May, Stalin was in the #1 position when the contest organizers suddenly halted the voting, claiming that computer hackers were using automated systems to vote for Stalin and disgraced Tsar Nicholas II.  When the voting format was rejiggered, Nicholas dropped out of the top 12 entirely (though his prime minister took the silver medal in the end) and Stalin dropped down to #3.  The Times of London reports:

Vladimir Pribylovsky, a political analyst with the Panorama think-tank, went farther, questioning the result. Stalin’s narrow defeat clearly understated the real support for him in society, he claimed. “The vote was an absolute falsification,” Mr Pribylovsky said. “Stalin, Lenin and Peter I: these are the most important figures in Russian history. Thirty to 40 per cent of Russians would support Stalin.”

How can the greatest killer of Russians ever be among their top three most admired historical figures and one of only four to receive more than half a million votes?  What arguments can be made in favor of Stalin by Russians that could not also be made by Germans in favor of Hitler? Alexander Danilov, editor of A History of Russia, the new volume that claims Stalin was “entirely rational” and directs Russian schoolteachers to so instruct their classes, states that the initiative to rehabilitate Stalin“came from the very top. I believe it was the idea of former president, now prime minister, Vladimir Putin.”  And, of course, the same can be said of the “Name of Russia” initiative.

The Kremlin loves Stalin, and therefore the people of Russia must love him too.  Stalin sends the message that the lives of individual Russians mean nothing, that they can be sacrificed at will by the regime to serve its ends.  He sends the message that the Russian people are meant to live out their lives in servile terror, hostile to the outside world and permanently at war with it, a war they must inevitably lose.

It’s interesting too, of course, that most people in the outside world will never have heard of Nevsky or Stolypin — so the Russian people have chosen to send “Stalin” to the outside world as the first national hero foreigners would instantly recognize.

Nevsky, Russians’ top choice, lived more than 800 years ago.  Pavel Butorin of Radio Free Europe calls Nevsky a “militant Christian saint” and notes: “The Nevsky myth is so old and badly sourced that any regime can use it to its advantage.” Are Russians really saying that in all that time nobody has outdone the accomplishments of somebody the outside world has never heard of?  Indeed, they are.  Do Russians really have to reach so far back in time before they can find a person sufficiently cloaked in the mystery of time that his egregious faults have been sufficiently sublimated and his virtues sufficiently mythologized?  Yes, it seems that they do.

More’s the pity.

Butorin adds: “It’s funny too how Stolypin has evolved from being associated in Russian textbooks with the term ‘Stolypin’s neckties’ (i.e. the gallows) to be recast as a national reformist hero.” Anne Applebaum adds that Stolypin “gave his name to the cattle cars (Stolypinki) in which prisoners were transported to Siberia.”  Both agree he is a fitting hero for a KGB regime bent on restoring Russia’s tradition of authoritarian terror.

Butorin points out that Russians acted in a lemming-like manner and “voted based on what they were fed by television.” A little more goosing from TV and Stalin, it seems, would have run away with the title.

16 responses to “EDITORIAL: Russia Votes for History

  1. Osumashi Kinyobe

    Not Solzhenitsyn (an actual Russian)?

    If someone said George Bush or Brian Mulroney were great leaders, everbody would hit the roof!

    Why don’t Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Hungary, the Balkans, South Korea and Japan have a contest to see who the best Russian is? I’m sure the answers would be different.

  2. Эй, ты, выжившая из ума старая маразматичка. Прямо как Конди Райз, которой никто не даёт. Сними себе мужика и оттянись хотя бы раз в жизни. Да уж, недоёб – страшная штука.

  3. Stolypin’s agrarian reforms were the only time in… well, ever, really when private property and market economy was systematically supported by the Russian government. They had some totalitarian elements but overall Stolypin’s reforms were largely responsible for the development of the social strata later known as Kulaks – wealthy(er) market oriented peasants.

    As for Nevsky – Wikipedia says about the battle of Neva: “All references to the battle of the Neva are famously missing from the Swedish sources. This can be presumed to have resulted from Sweden’s utter defeat, but the reasons may be more complicated than that.” Taking into account that the Battle of Ice, which IS noted in Western chronicles is nowadays estimated to have been taken place between a handful of mounted knights and a larger quantity of Russian footsoliders, I think it can be safely said that the battle of Neva was likewise rather small in numbers, if it took place at all. More a thwarted raiding party than anything else, maybe.

    As for Nevsky’s biggest accomplishment as a general, I’d say it’d be the Battle of Ice, fought on the frozen Peipus on April 5th (!!!). That date alone plus a frozen Peipus would probably get anyone at all a sainthood nowadays :)

  4. 2Osumashi Kinyobe

    А мы не на смотринах, кретин, чтобы всякая мразь тут кого-то из нас выбирала.

  5. Imagine being a decent moral person living in a country with a poll result like that. It certainly undermines trust and respect for one’s fellow citizens. No wonder Russians seldom ever sponaneously smile at each other on the street.

    De-Nazifying Germany was a swift and thorough process imposed by the Allies with many years of occupation to see it through to the end. The Germans were in no position to minimize or ignore Hitler’s crimes against humanity. They weren’t given the latitude to ignore their sordid history.

    Stalin will linger on with positive remembrances and a sanitized biography with far too many Russians until it is simply too shameful to express that opinion and that’s not going to start to happen until the KGB leaves the Kremlin.

  6. LR: * is not worth putting on the moderated blog. Not because he is an idiot (although he is); and not because his post is completely in Russian – but because his Russian is not allowed in respectable publications, and shouldn’t be allowed here.

  7. Just imagine! Stolypin’s reforms, if they secured private property and enabled a market economy, could have, if given more time, ended by making all Russian peasants better off. Even with an authoritarian government, if the people are left to their own devices, in an open and free economy, they will be able to improve their lives and finances.

    Hong Kong, Singapore, and Dubai demonstrate that enlightened despots can make their people better off. The Medicis demonstrated this 600 years ago in the Italian city states of the Renaissance. It is the stifling hand of bureacracy and common ownership that stifles enterprise and initiative. It is only economic freedom that gives dignity and happiness to the people.

    In today’s Russia, the stifling hand of government also includes tolerating, or collaborating with, the corruption that prevents a level playing field for the people. Most Russians will continue to be frozen out of the capitalist system unless Putin sees the light. He may use his state run TV to shape peoples’
    minds, but unless he gives everyone access to secure private property rights and equal opportunity to do business his people will still suffer as before.

  8. Sorry, Artist Known As *, I don’t have a Cyrillic keyboard.
    If I understand you correctly, you don’t let “filth” select your choices for you. What filth could you be referring to?

  9. А где ваши факты? Вы хоть сами побывали там?. Видели что твам натворили? Одна тупая эмоция и пропоганда, вам кто платит?

  10. Felix, I’ve got to assume that our little enraged Stalin defender, Putinista fascist, whomever, speaks plausable English, enough to read the comments at least. Can you give us a fair translation? In the spirit of free speech I’m for letting people expose themselves as public fools if they so chose.

    Osumashi struck a cord in suggesting that the rest of the world run a poll on who the best Russian was? Our Russian visitor understands what a farce that would be. Better, a poll on what was the most egregious Russian atrocity against their own people or others? I’ll throw out the Holodomor genocide, Stalin’s mass graves and more recently the Yukos political prisoners and their horrific treatment for starters which even the EU Commission for Human Rights has condemned.

  11. Penny, I agree.
    It is fairly obvious to anyone with even 1/2 a brain thet the reason Putins government is so keen to rehabilitate Stalin is to give them justification to use the same measures on todays Russia and more ominously, on the nations such as Georgia, Ukraine, the Baltics etc who have escaped their clutches in recent years.

  12. penny: the first is just disgusting and contents-free sexual filth.
    The second is actually revealing… “we are not on a show to be judged by crappy strangers”


    We apologize to anyone who reads Russian and is offended by these remarks. We’ve published them because we intend to make an example of them in an editorial next week. As such we are delighted to have received them but we do not intend to make a habit of allowing such material to appear on this blog.

  13. Thanks, Felix, for the translation. I’m with you that foul mouthed posts are inappropriate.

  14. and the third is asking where the facts come from and “who is paying you?”

    Andrew, yes, quite. What was it- two years ago or so, when Putin answered a press conference question about the Estonian border agreement (which, by the way is still unsigned) along the lines that there is no need for the agreement because there is no such thing as an Estonian state – it was given to nazi Germany as part of a contract, later taken back as that contract fell through. And the reason the soviet union was “entitled” to give and take was that Estonia was the “property” of Russia/Soviet Union and had been forever and ever and will be forever and ever. Regardless of a rather binding treaty signed in 1920 acknowledging Estonia by the Soviet Union. But then, Putin can so easily take the Russian Empire as a rolemodel – look at the map and say: this part ws part of the Empire, it should be part of the Russian Federation now too. Or, whenever it suits him, switch to the Soviet Union and go: this part was a part of the Soviet Union, it should be a part of the Russian Federation.

    Point being that the countries bordering Russia have long ago learned that 1) Russians never keep their contracts when they don’t want to anymore 2) When Russians are being pleasant, you should be EXTRA careful because they’re preparing missiles and carrying troops somewhere near your borders.

    In a way, the Russian-style foreign politics is about as predictable as a 5-year old, only with nuclear weapons. They’re throwing a loud tantrum now so it’s probably safe for the moment :)

  15. It is only my personal opinion (after numerous and regular contacts with Russians and “Russian speakers”), but I am sure, that Stalin actually WAS elected by the Russian voters to be the Name of Russia (as preliminary results showed), and this was later “beautified” (remember the “jury” + unknown folks who run the show) to avoid being embarrassed in front of the 21-st century World watching.

    It must be remembered, that in Putin’s Russia few things remain that are free, and a boldly advertised public project of this scale is, of course, directly supervised by the government. So, its outcome is what it has to be, and not what it really would be otherwise.

  16. As for Alexander Nevsky, did they forget that he did some major Mongol ass-kissing? Quite the hero…

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