Staunton, April 25 – Many have been surprised or even shocked by the increasingly positive views Russians express about Stalin, Vitaly Shlyarov says. But they shouldn’t be because nothing else could have emerged in a country which under Vladimir Putin has been “supporting and propagandizing a cult of violence and a cult of war.”
Such cults are far broader in their implications, and Russians today, “catching the signals from above consider that great goals in general fully justify human victims and masochistically are beginning to dream about ‘a strong hand’ having forgotten that they will be among the first to fall victim to it” (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2019/04/25/80351-ot-kulta-lichnosti-k-kultu-sily).
The Levada Center results reflect the fact that Russians react to Stalin not as a historical figure but as an idealized myth that the current regime has promoted. That has not been difficult for the Kremlin given that those who lived under the Soviet dictator are dying out, and most young Russians “do not have any interest in history.”
That explains the responses Russians gave to the sociologists’ first question about whether they have a positive view of Stalin. But more worrisome than this generalized set of views is the rise of what are clearly “more conscious Stalinists and those close to them” who view Stalin’s approaches inn an entirely positive way.
Four times as many Russians view Stalin as an exalted figure than did two decades ago, and the share having a negative view of him fell from 43 percent in 2001 to 14 percent now. “It is difficult to say,” the political technologist continues, “where here is the role of myth and where the factor of the departure from life of the witnesses of those events.”
It’s possible, he says, that these answers too may be “abstractions.” It is also possible that those holding these views do not have any family members who suffered under Stalin. And it is possible that they may even see themselves as beneficiaries of Stalin’s policies from winning the war to building Soviet industry, regardless of the costs.
But almost certainly, this positive view of Stalin reflects something older and more general, a tendency among Russians from time immemorial to view the ruler as more important than law and the state as more important than the individual. Many had thought this vision of reality had ended with Soviet times, but it was only submerged and has now come back.
Despite his commitment to doing away with the system on which this attitude was based, Boris Yeltsin reflected many aspects of that system because he was part of it. And in 2000, Vladimir Putin simply built on it, exacerbating its return by his shift in the direction of the promotion of a national idea and imperial reconquest in 2010.
“In the existing circumstances,” Shklyarov says, “the traditional cult of force not simply has flourished but has gone hand in hand with the cult of war. And now Russia again is surrounded by enemies and can “repeat” what it did before.” These cults have been strengthened by a declining standard of living, and uncertainty about tomorrow.
Tragically, this cult of violence is spreading like “a fluid” throughout Russian society, contributing to the rise of radical and violent youth subcultures and the state’s own Young Army. As a result, pollsters register a cult of Stalin but in reality that cult is a derivative of these even more disturbing cults of unfocused violence and war.
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