Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Stalingrad and Stalinism Returning to Russia’s Political Map, Pavlova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 10 – Russian President Vladimir Putin and those close to him are pushing for restoring the name of Stalingrad to Volgograd over the next few months, an action that symbolizes the end of a cycle in Russian history and the return of a Stalinist approach by the Kremlin both at home and abroad, according to Irina Pavlova.

            Pavlova, one of the most thoughtful Russian commentators writing today, argues in an essay posted online yesterday that “the greatest intrigue of social-political life in Russia over the next few months involves the issue of whether the name of Stalingrad will be restored to Volgograd” (

            That city, which was known as Tsaritsyn before 1925, bore Stalin’s name until 1961 when his successor Nikita Khrushchev renamed it Volgograd as part of his broader de-Stalinization effort. Consequently, the name of that city represents a kind of barometer showing the direction of political life in Russia.

            On September 21, Pavlova notes, Putin signed a decree “On the celebration of the defeat by Soviet forces of the German-fascist forces in the Stalingrad battle” and named the openly Russian nationalist Vice Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin to head the organizing committee (

            The commemorations of the Stalingrad victory, Pavlova suggests, are likely to be lengthy, extending from the 70th anniversary of the Soviet envelopment of the German forces on November 19, 1942, to the similar anniversary of the German surrender there on February 2, 1943.

            Three days after Putin’s decree, Pavlova continues, there appeared a public appeal for the renaming of Volgograd in the name of the Union of Citizens of Russia, a group led by Nikolay Starikov, one the most passionate advocates of the refurbishing of Stalin’s image and the return of Stalinist norms ( and

            “With the start of Vladimir Putin’s third term,” the Grani commentator says, “there has begun an active attack on society” with such actions as legislation on “foreign agents,” spying, state secrets and so on.  “The Kremlin has adopted a course of open anti-Westernism, Great power chauvinism, and the Stalinist type of modernization with an accent on militarism.”

            At the 16th World Russian Popular Assembly at the beginning of October, Pavlova notes, the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church came out in full support of the regime’s shift.  Patriarch Kirill spoke about “the ‘upcoming celebration on an all-Russian scale of November 4,” a date marking the 400th anniversary of the end of the Time of Troubles.”

            Even more pointedly, Pavlova says, Kirill equated that event with events of 1812 and 1942, all of which the Russian Church leader argued was “a testimony to the spiritual correctness of our ancestors,” a position that he told that group still has “universal humanity-wide significance.”

            According to Pavlova, in today’s Russia, “autocracy, anti-Westernism, and great power chauvinism are the spiritual values” which set the weather.  And she adds that these values have “a very firm worldview basis which unites the power that be, the elite, the people, and the opposition.”

            Given the economic problems of the US and Europe, Putin has clearly decided to focus on the East as part of his “strategic goal of extending the bounds of [Russia’s] influence in the world [and] to make Russia the center of the coming together of all anti-Western forces.” In that way, she continues, he seeks to “fundamentally weaken the US by taking revenge for the disintegration of the Soviet Union.”

            Putin wants to achieve “these ambitious goals” in the same way Stalin did, she writes, through “the active use of foreign specialists” and businessmen.  Indeed, Western businesses and their governments seem ready to help just as they did in the 1930s and are already “celebrating the successes achieved by [Putin’s] Russia.”

            “Indicative” of this, Pavlova points out, is the recent speech of Michael McFaul, the US ambassador to Moscow, during his speech to an economic forum in Sochi.  There, she says, he gave a speech that “point by point was in the style of his predecessor as US ambassador to Moscow in 1936-1938, Joseph Davies” (

            Given such Western acquiescence and even support, Moscow has become even more dismissive of the West. Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov, for example, recently said that Moscow would ignore criticism of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe because “we do not consider such formulations and calls appropriate and will not in any case subscribe to them”(

            If Putin does move to restore the Stalingrad name, as Pavlova says she expects, “no one will be able to say anything in response to this symbolic act,” not only because of the West’s unwillingness to confront Moscow now but because of its often fawning treatment of Stalin during World War II.

            The return of Stalingrad, she continues, means that “this cycle of Russia history is coming to an end” and that “in Russia [now] there is no other political subject except the Kremlin and its ‘power’ allies.” Even the human rights group Memorial, which was explicitly designed not to be subject to that arrangement, has been coopted.

            As Jan Racinsky, the co-chair of International Memorial, recently observed, “the initiative for discussion” of the mass repressions of Stalin’s time “cannot be developed from below [because] no one will allow it.  It isn’t necessary that the government initiate this discussion but only it can make the conduct of such a discussion possible.”

            And as a result, Pavlova concludes sadly, “it is not surprising that the call [for renaming Volgograd Stalingrad] has not elicited any response from the side of progressive Russian society.”

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