2013: Welcome to Stalingrad

To celebrate Russia’s “victory” in World War II, the city of Volgograd has been temporarily renamed Stalingrad. Buses emblazoned with Stalin’s visage are plying Volgograd’s streets as you read this. Putin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza writes:

Russia’s ruling regime is persisting in its attempts to rehabilitate the name of Joseph Stalin. For Vladimir Putin, this has been a consistent course -- from the reinstated melody of Stalin’s national anthem to new school textbooks justifying Stalin’s mass purges as “adequate to the task of modernization.” In 2010, as Russia marked the 65th anniversary of victory in the Second World War, the authorities attempted to “decorate” the streets of Moscow with portraits of the dictator -- but were forced to back down in the face of strong opposition from veterans, civil society groups, and the Russian Orthodox Church.

You can call what happened to Russia in World War II “victory” if you want; it was certainly a victory in the sense that Russians don’t speak German now. But Soviet forces stood on the opposite bank from Warsaw and watched the Nazis liquidate the Polish uprising, then marched in when the dust settled and took the Nazis’ place for half a century. Every blade of grass in Stalingrad was flattened. France, which fell to Hitler, is now a prosperous leader in Europe. The USSR collapsed into rubble within a few decades, and Russia remains a backwater. If it was a victory Russia won in World War II, it was the most Pyrrhic victory in human history.

Stalin murdered more Russians than Hitler ever dreamed of doing. Yet Russians handed unchecked power to a proud KGB spy who worships Stalin within just a few years of the USSR’s downfall, and now they are doing all they can to rehabilitate the man who hated them more than any person who ever lived.

What's old is new again, all over Russia.

Ms. Tatiana Kozlenko worked for the Russian national airline Aeroflot until she posted a photo on her Vkontakte page (a Russian version of Facebook) that went viral. The photo shows someone flipping the bird to a cabin full of airline passengers, behind their backs. The airline decided this wasn’t the type of person who should be in customer service, and fired her.

If you stopped there, you’d feel better about Russia. Aeroflot has been infamous throughout the years for wretched customer service; this wasn’t a feature of the airline, but of the country it served. There’s an old Soviet joke: An American staying in a Moscow hotel confronts his desk clerk, complaining about shockingly bad services. The clerk responds: “Yes, but you lynch blacks.” The joke epitomizes the classic Russian hostility towards the whole notion of customer service, and the characteristic unwillingness of the entire nation to acknowledge fault and to seek reform.