What would we think if Germans voted Adolf Hitler one of the most popular leaders in its history? We might wonder about its implications; a German move to the extreme Right, and the failure of all the educational efforts made since the end of World War II to educate the current generation about Germany’s dismal past. We would despair over what it might mean for minorities in Germany, especially the many new Jewish residents from the former Soviet Union who migrated to Germany in hopes of starting a new life.
Certainly, we would be shocked. But few of us are surprised when we learn that the Russian people, in a national poll, have voted Josef Stalin as the third most popular historical figure in Russia’s past. At least he wasn’t number 1! Stalin lost to Alexander Nevsky, who defeated German invaders in the 13th century, and whom the Russians know, was one of Stalin’s favorites. The second contender to beat Uncle Joe- as he was called in America during the war- was Prime Minister Stolypin, who cracked down on revolutionaries in the early years of the 20th Century. All were tough men, who knew how to use an iron fist.
The resurrection of Stalin comes at a time when historical backsliding is being encouraged by the Putin regime. Under his leadership, the old Soviet national anthem was restored, with new words composed by the same man who wrote the old anthem for Stalin when he ruled Russia. Lenin’s body still lies for exhibit in Red Square, and no plans have been made to close the mausoleum down. And the new Russian textbooks ordered by the government for schoolchildren all praise Stalin as one of the great wartime leaders who defeated the Nazis and made old Russia a strong and modern state.