May 2, 2005

I Heart Stalin

The LA Times reported yesterday on a startling trend emerging in modern Russia. With the approach of V-E day and release a favorable new biography, Stalin nostalgia is on the rise.

A recent poll by the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center found that half of the respondents looked favorably on Stalin, with 20% describing his role in the life of the country as "very positive" and 30% calling it "somewhat positive." Only 12% described it as "very negative."

The All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center's poll found the most favorable views of Stalin among those over 60, with 67% of them saying his historical role was positive. The weakest support was in the 25-34 age group, with 38% viewing him favorably and 47% critically. In the 18-24 age bracket, 45% had positive views compared with 39% who viewed him negatively and 16% who had no opinion.

In the first week of US Foreign Policy, my professor outlined what he referred to as the "Russian cesspool" when outlining US interests abroad. Russia was broke after the collapse of communism. Alcoholism, corruption, and organized crime are now commonplace in what was once one of the two great world powers. The population has been declining for years. In a recent editorial, David Brooks acknowledged that there is a 3:4 ratio of divorces to marriages in Russia today. Simply put, Russian civil society is bankrupt.

Perhaps the most shocking aspect of this survey is that people who lived under Soviet Russia held the most favorable views of Stalin. Milan Kundera wrote in his now most famous novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being that "in the sunset of dissolution, everything is illuminated by the aura of nostalgia, even the guillotine." Stalin massacred million of his own people, yet now a majority of Russians see him in a positive light. Rusian squalor must be dire if the popularity of this Russian Robbespierre is on the rise.

This Stalin fever does not bode well for the fledgling Russian democracy. Although a return to totalitarianism is unlikely, we have seen a shift towards that end of the political freedom spectrum with the wave of draconian reforms enacted under Putin. We all have an interest in a strong democracy in control of the second largest arms producer in the world. Stalin nostalgia is not a good augury of things to come.

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