Thursday, January 06, 2005

An Extraordinary Man

December 21 2004 saw the 125th anniversary of the birth of Josef Stalin. In the Russian Federation, it was marked by public and widely reported statements from prominent politicians advocating a more positive assessment of Stalin's historical role. Boris Gryzlov, Speaker of the Russian State Duma, proposed that the anniversary now be observed as the birthday of "an extraordinary man and politician". At the ceremony at Stalin's grave, KPRF officials spoke of the dictator as "one of the most outstanding personalities of the 20th century," who "dedicated his entire life to struggle", a RIA Novosti report commented. The report went on: "...according to public opinion polls, the views expressed by politicians reflect the attitudes of the voters. Recent polls clearly showed that such favorable statements about Stalin are welcomed by Russian citizens. Almost a third of the respondents believe that Stalin's role in the defeat of Nazi Germany during the Great Patriotic war eclipses all his 'mistakes and vices.'"

It's no accident, perhaps, that these statements and poll results come as Russia prepares to mark, in May 2005, the 60th anniversary of the ending of the Second World War. Vladimir Putin's New Year message contained, among other things, this paragraph:
The incoming year, 2005, is a special one for all of us. It is the year of the 60th anniversary of victory in the Great Patriotic War. This is a great occasion for us, for all the peoples with whom we share a common fate, I would say, as a historical fraternity.
In the context of the new Europe, and Russia's position in relation to it, the significance of the phrase "peoples with whom we share a common fate" needs to be savoured. The invitees to the May celebrations will include Germany and the Baltic States. Germany is being invited essentially because, as one perceptive commentator recently put it: "they lost, everybody knows they lost, and nobody wanted them to win." The invitation to the Baltic States of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, on the other hand, has a rather more intricate background: they are essentially being given an offer they cannot refuse*. Moscow's strategy here amounts more or less to a plot: if the Baltic States want Moscow to sign the border agreements on which it has stalled and prevaricated ever since the collapse of communism in 1989-91, they must attend the Moscow celebrations, and by doing so acknowledge that they were "liberated" by the USSR/Russia.

Thus, an important part of Stalin's political legacy lives on in Russia's current foreign policy. Indeed, in one sense it's possible to say that Stalin himself is not really dead yet. It looks as though in the twenty-first century the "New World Order" still has some way to go in establishing itself.


*A measure of the routinely Soviet-style tone of Russian MFA pronouncements on Baltics-related issues can be taken from a reading of recent statements such as this.

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