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April 19, 2005
Stalin Making A Comeback, As A Facade For Putin

A measure of the degradation of the Russians under Vladimir Putin is the new resurgence of nostalgia for their former genocidal dictator, Joseph Stalin. The London Telegraph reports that several Russian communities have begun erecting new monuments to the man who killed millions of their countrymen in purges and famines as a paean to the days when Stalin made the Soviet Union a world power:

The cult of Joseph Stalin, once worshipped as a near deity but later reviled as one of history's worst monsters, is enjoying a revival across Russia and beyond.

To the dismay of many, proposals to erect new monuments to the tyrant for what apologists see as his "outstanding" war leadership have won support from figures close to President Vladimir Putin's Kremlin.

A shiny effigy of the Communist dictator in a prominent position might even put uppity foreign powers in their place, said one senior politician.

"They never miss a chance in the West to rewrite history and diminish our country's role in the victory over fascism, so that's even more reason not to forget Stalin now," said Lyubov Slizka, a parliamentary vice-speaker.

If the current crop of Putin cronies believe that a bust of Stalin would engender awe on the part of visiting dignitaries, it demonstrates not only a stunning ignorance of Stalin's reputation outside of Russia but a vast miscalculation as to what Western diplomats will read into this fad. Having senior Putin aides pushing this rehabilitation of a mass murderer infers that Putin may be building a new personality cult, with Stalin as a Trojan horse in order to give Putin an excuse to transform himself into the absolute ruler for which he thinks the Russians pine.

Unfortunately, the Islamist terror campaign has accelerated this process, thanks to the Beslan massacre and the ongoing Chechen conflict. The Russians see only that their once-feared military and security apparatus has failed repeatedly to protect Russians from outsiders. Always more than a bit xenophobic anyway, aome Russians now see Stalin not as a man who ordered the purge and execution of thousands of his best officers on the eve of World War II based on deliberate deceptions by Hitler and the Nazis -- almost fatally leaving Russia unprotected against Germany -- but as the prototypical strong man who eventually drove the Germans out.

This nostalgia, Putin may well calculate, will prepare the Russian population for a putsch that puts him outside the reach of the Duma as long as he can promise and deliver better security. He can then finish the process of making himself president for life, and make it look as if he is doing little more than respond to the will of Russia while doing so. In fact, that might even be the truth, although the demand will have been created by Putin and his own cronies.

The Bush administration obviously has its concerns about these developments, although perhaps not specifically about the rise of a new pseudo-Stalin cult. Condoleezza Rice issued a warning today to Russia calling for a new commitment to democracy and the rule of law as a member of the G-8, the New York Times reports in tomorrow's edition:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, reiterating American concerns about authoritarian trends in the Kremlin under President Vladimir V. Putin, said Tuesday that Russia's coming leadership of the Group of 8 industrial nations next year gave it "certain responsibilities" to guarantee economic and political freedoms. ...

Ms. Rice's comments were the latest in an increased tempo of criticism of Russia, reflecting what some officials say is mounting concern by President Bush and his close aides about Mr. Putin.

But American attempts to raise these concerns have met with an icy response from Russian leaders. For example, Mr. Bush's talk in February in Bratislava, Slovakia, about Russian democracy was said by some American officials to have prompted a Russian lecture in return about Moscow's policies and even about supposed American problems with democracy at home.

As examples of Russian "setbacks," Ms. Rice cited Mr. Putin's decision last year to have state governors chosen in Moscow rather than elected by local legislators, and what she described as a "virtual absence" of independent broadcast media.

She made no reference to Russia's arrest and prosecution of independent business executives for financial irregularities, actions that administration analysts have said are intended to stifle dissent. She also strongly suggested, without saying so directly, that Russia needed to get rid of "inconsistencies" in its treatment of foreign oil companies.

Bush and Rice have to tread carefully with Putin and Russia. They can still provide tremendous assistance in the war, and the size and power of the Russian nation always requires a steady and consistent diplomatic approach. If Russia becomes more belligerent and less cooperative, the former Sovietologist who now heads the American diplomatic corps will prove herself even more valuable to face the threat, but avoiding that outcome and stopping the damage to democracy will be Rice's main priority if this continues. Here's hoping the Russian people wake up from Stalin Fever and realize that freedom may slip away with each monument they erect to one of history's worst tyrants.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 19, 2005 10:02 PM

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