Staunton, June 22 – The share of Russians who approve the actions of Stalin during World War II has indeed risen over the last decade but not simply because of Kremlin propaganda, Aleksandr Minkin says. It also reflects the passing of an entire generation who knew what he did and the rise of one for whom Stalin is only a distant historical figure.
In a Moskovsky komsomolets commentary, the Moscow journalist points out that the share of Russians approving Stalin’s actions during the war rose from 40 percent in 2005 to 50 percent this year, according to Public Opinion Foundation polls. But these are not the same Russians (mk.ru/politics/2017/06/21/lyubitelyam-stalina.html).
Between 2005 and 2016, Minkin points out, 24 million Russian citizens died, most of them older, and were largely replaced by younger people. In addition, some five million Russian citizens emigrated. Those who chose to leave were unlikely to have been Stalin partisans; and those who died knew Stalin far better and more directly than those who came after them.
“Of course,” he continues, “the atmosphere as changed a little. People try to correctly answer pollsters’ questions in order to avoid unpleasant consequences. Just imagine,” Minkin says, how a Russian would respond to a query about Nicholas II in 1916 or one about Khrushchev in 1956.ith
And “propaganda does work, both direct and indirect. Try to count how often the name Stalin sounds alongside the word ‘victory’ and how often next to the word ‘GULAG.’” The difference turns out to be hundreds or thousands of times, especially for those who live with television.
It is “completely possible,” he continues, that some Russians have changed their minds about Stalin, but that is not the “main” explanation for the rising levels of approval for the late dictator. Russians “have not so much changed their minds as died off,” Minkin says.
“Twenty-four million dead is more than 20 percent of adults. The old die and the new grow up. The former knew about Stalin more than the current generation does,” and they haven’t forgotten entirely what he did to them and their country. “They experienced it on their own skin. They knew the war and not about the war. They saw more trenches than parades.”
But Russians today, the commentator says, “see only parades … and the fewer the witnesses there are, the easier it is to make things up.”
Minkin writes that over the last two months he has been asking young Russians about Stalin’s times. The majority don’t know what Kolyma means. And one young Russian observed that Magadan is “a fish” rather than the site of one of the most horrific Stalinist camps in the GULAG system.”
Those who read Sharlamov’s Kolyma Stories would never give such an answer, he argues, “but the percent of those who know this book is strikingly fewer than it was at the end of the 1980s.” Those who read it haven’t forgotten it: “they have simply died off,” and the generation that has come after them doesn’t know it at all.
Those who were GULAG guards, of course, loved Stalin as a god just as do those who are their successors. And today, Minkin says, “there are guards at each step … hundreds of thousands. And we are world champions on this measure while paradoxically world champions in thefts as well.”
It is true that many Russians want to restore the harshness of Stalin, but they don’t want this “for themselves but rather for corrupt bureaucrats. [They even] want to return the death penalty but again hardly for themselves.”
And it is also true, the Moscow commentator says, that many want to give the correct answer to any questions because they are convinced that the powers can monitor everything they say, even how they vote, and that the wrong answers can entail bad consequences.
“The phrase, ‘For the Motherland without Stalin’ generates discomfort for [Russians. They] do not want to hear or even more to repeat it,” Minkin concludes. “Because it can generate an unbidden association with some stupid unsanctioned cries of the type ‘For Russia without Putin.’”