Friday, January 15, 2016

Russians Support Stalin, Burn Books, and Would Approve a New GULAG, Commentators Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 15 – Many in Moscow and the West operate under the assumption that all that is necessary to solve Russia’s problems with itself and with the rest of the world is for Vladimir Putin to change course or leave office, but three new commentaries suggest that the problems that country has have far deeper and less easily changed roots.

            In fact, they paint a truly devastating portrait, arguing that Russians will continue to support Stalin because they consider the use of force “the privilege of the state,” will burn books if the authorities give the signal, and even would approve the creation of a new GULAG and the liquidation of its potential inmates.

            Obviously, not all Russians subscribe to these horrific views; but enough do, the commentaries suggest, that their attitudes inform and will continue to inform the way in which the Russian state will operate and the situation in which Russians as a people will continue to exist for some time to come.

            Today, the editors of “Nezavisimaya gazeta” in a lead article argue that new poll results showing an increase in the number of Russians who view Stalin as a wise leader and a decrease in those who consider him a tyrant responsible for the deaths of millions of innocents reflect a deeper national problem than just post-Soviet traumas (

            What these trends indicate, the editors say, is that Russians have not overcome “the sacralization of the state and power” long characteristic of Russia and continue to view the use of force “as a privilege of the authorities to whom has been delegated the responsibility and right to make choices for everyone.”

            “Stalin and Stalinism are only the most obvious, clear and aggressive manifestations and symbols of this model,” one that itself rests on the notion widely shared among Russians that “only a harsh ruler can maintain order in the state under conditions of class struggle and external threat.”

            To be sure, they write, “’class struggle’” is part of the Bolshevik narrative, but “’an external threat’ is a universal narrative to which ruling elites who want to retain power turn.” And acceptance of that is especially strong in Russia because Russians more than many others seek to blame their problems on outsiders rather than try to improve themselves.

            At the same time, “Nezavisimaya gazeta” says, Russians are more interested as a group in bringing everyone down to a common level rather than in creating conditions under which individuals can rise and distinguish themselves. For such people, Stalin is popular.  It isn’t surprising that those who are well-off now are less inclined to view him positively.”

            At the same time, the editors argue, “it would be an exaggeration to assert that Russia today is reviving Stalinism and returning to the 1930s.” But it is very much the case, they say that “the state has practically done nothing to change the model of the attitude of the people toward the powers.”

            Instead, the Russian state has “preserved pro-Stalinist attitudes as an electoral reserve which it can easily use.” And consequently, “the ruling elite, even if it is not Stalinist, finds it hard to avoid the attraction of using this [Stalinist] inheritance when it needs to.”

            The second article is by Andrey Zubov, who taught at MGIMO and now works as a commentator.  He addresses the fact that this week Russians have been burning books produced with support from George Soros’ Open Society Institute and the parallels that has with Nazi Germany (

            In Germany, he recalls, Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer observed that those who begin by burning books will end by burning people. Consequently, watching as Russians today burn books is truly horrifying in its symbolism and implications.

            “In Soviet times,” communist officials also burned books, but at the same time, they “taught us: love the book as a source of knowledge. But today, [Russian officials] are destroying these sources of knowledge.”

            Destroying books is always wrong because it means that “someone exists who knows better than you do what should be read and what not. But who is this ‘SOMEONE’? Is he some great wise man?  NO! This is some kind of bureaucrat who is ten days worse educated than I am,” Zubov says.

            Burning books is “an old method intended to keep people from analyzing and instead to have them simply listen to the ruler.”   

            The burning of Soros-supported books is especially disturbing, Zubov says. He wrote a book with support from the Open Society Institute. It was issued first by Soros and then MGIMO, but only the first apparently is subject to destruction.  That is “something absurd,” he suggests.

            The Soros Foundaiton was chosen because this is an organization which in fact has been prohibited in Russia. And this despite the fact that in the Russian Federation itself there are few who have done so much for the country has George Soros.”  He made it possible for scholars to continue their work; those ordering the burning of these books “have done nothing for the country.”

            Instead, “these are thieves who are running Russia,” and they have declared those who have done a lot “enemies” and thus feel free to “destroy the books published with their support.”  It is likely that some of these doing the destroying are the descendants of those who “destroyed people” just as Bonhoeffer warned in the 1930s.

            And the third article by Moscow commentator Anton Orekh begins with his observation that those who say that history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy and the second as farce are overly optimistic, at least with regard to Russia (

            Ramzan Kadyrov’s call for treating the opposition as “enemies of the people” and “traitors” doesn’t disturb him much, the commentator says. Kadyrov has for a long time said and done what he likes. And policy in Russia is set not by him but by others.

            Rather, Orekh says, he is “much more concerned” by how his fellow citizens are dealing with Russia’s past, present and thus its future.  Russians have convinced themselves that the past can’t return, that they do not have to face up to its crimes and take responsibility for changing them.

            Instead, they assume they are somehow immune.  That sets them apart from the Germans who have worked hard to ensure that the Nazi horrors will never be repeated. In Russia, however, “everything is otherwise. The popularity of Stalin grows with each year, [and] half the country is certain that it is possible to justify repressions.”

            As a result, “in order to force us to hate someone, it isn’t necessary [for the regime\ to devote any special efforts. We hated Ukraine after several days. We hated Turkey after only one. We with delight hate the US, ‘GayEurope.’” In short, we are waiting only for commands,” and if they come to “search for enemies of the people,” the Russians will “demand their destruction.”

            “There are already foreign agents, ‘a fifth column,’ and spy cases everywhere.” All that the regime has to do is issue an order, “and you can be certain that the absolute majority will approve both camps and executions. That is why,” Orekh says, he is “disturbed about [Russians] and not by the words of Kadyrov.”

            It is also why, he says, “in our country, a farce is more likely to be converted into a tragedy than the other way around.”

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