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.