Friday, May 7, 2021

In North Caucasus, Stalin is an Internet Meme Like Homer Simpson, Expert Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 5 – The failed effort to put up a bust of Joseph Stalin in a Daghestani city last week has prompted analysts in the region to ask why so many North Caucasians today have a positive image of the Soviet dictator given his deportation and murder of so many of them, crimes that themselves continue to echo in the lives of the nations there.

            The Kavkaz-Uzel news agency surveyed five regional experts as to why such a large number of North Caucasians appear either not to know their history or to have forgotten it altogether and today have developed positive views about the longtime Kremlin leader (

            Makhach Mursayev, head of Daghestan’s Agency for Preservation of Cultural Heritage, says that there are small groups of activists who care one way or the other about Stalin even now. But most of the people in his republic are focused not on the past but on the present and their hopes for the future.

            In his view, those Daghestanis who have a positive view about Stalin now either think that he was “a just and harsh ruler” or they are people who regardless of outcomes need “a master.” Such people inevitably become more numerous when economic and social conditions are hard, he says.

            Zurab Gadzhiyev, a specialist at the Daghestani Institute of History, Anthropology and Ethnography, says that those who have a positive view of Stalin are older people but not so old that they actually lived under Stalin. But he continues, there is no real movement in support of Stalin among the North Caucasians. Too many people do remember.

            Historian Patimat Takhnayeva says that it is a mistake to read too much into the bust of Stalin in Dagestanskiy Ogni because the communist mayor has been promoting Stalin with a street name. The bust, however was too much. Those who say they admire Stalin don’t know the history of their country but do want a master.         

            Chechen historian Zelimkhan Musayev says that the cult of Stalin isn’t about the past but about current problems. People believe that Stalin enforced the rule of law; and in today’s lawless times, they’d like someone to do what they think he did. But of course, more informed people know Stalin did not run a law-based state.

            Sergey Arutyunov, a specialist on the Caucasus at the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, says that for some peoples of the Caucasus, “Stalin was worse than the devil.” Those who praise him now are suffering from a hangover of the Weimar syndrome which hit Russia so hard after 1991. They want their country to be a great power again.

            According to the ethnographer, “the majority of residents of the Caucasus are anti-Stalinist in their attitudes.”

            And Ossetian journalist Alikhan Khoranov says the growth in admiration for Stalin is about a desire for order and social justice which some incorrectly associate with his rule. But even  they don’t want to live under Stalinism. For most Caucasians, “Stalin is an Internet meme like Homer Simpson or Che Guevara.” People read into him more than they take out.

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