Russian Orthodox Church attacks Stalin nostalgia: CEN 3.06.08 March 6, 2008Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Politics, Russian Orthodox.
Published in The Church of England Newspaper’s Religious Intelligence section.
The Orthodox Church has denounced Russia’s growing nostalgia for Stalin and Stalinism.
Speaking on March 5—the 55th anniversary of the death of Joseph Stalin—the secretary for public relations of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations, Fr. Georgi Ryabykh told the Interfax news agency Russians should not look to the Stalinist era as a guide for the country’s future.
“Present and future Russian citizens should be aware of what Stalin’s era really was and should not be painting idealistic pictures of the time,” he said. While the Stalinist era was of “great historical significance”, that era “should never return.”
While Russian was able to “recover after the civil war, to preserve its unity, to carry out industrialization, to win the war, and to build its scientific potential” during Stalin’s tenure as General Secretary of the Communist Party, those “achievements in social building cannot be justified by the victims of the Soviet regime during the years of Stalin’s rule,” he said.
Russia can achieve material and social progress “without sacrificing our own citizens,” Fr. Ryabykh said.
The cult of Stalin remains alive in Russia and has had been invigorated by the country’s declining economic and political fortunes. On Wednesday, Communists gathered at the Kremlin to lay flowers at Stalin tomb. Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov lauded Stalin as a great politician and patriot whose five year plans turned Russia into an economic giant.
“During the first ten years of his rule Stalin, together with the nation, managed to build 9,000 highly modernised plants. By the tragic year of 1941 we were equipped with up-to-date weapons to fight the Nazis. It took Europe almost 50 years to reach the level of industrial and scientific development which our nation reached in just ten years. Stalin managed to keep us unified as a nation and allowed no one to break it into pieces,” Zyuganov said according to accounts printed in Russian newspapers.
The cost to Russia of collectivization and industrialization, scholar Robert Conquest notes, was upwards of 10 million people, a figure “higher than the dead of all the belligerents of the First World War.”
The nostalgia for Stalin has support outside the remnants of the Communist Party. A 2003 survey by the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Centre, found that 20 percent of those surveyed had a “very positive” view, and 30 percent a “somewhat positive” view of Stalin. Only 12 percent had a “very negative view” of Russia’s late leader.
In the March 4 issue of Rossiyskaya Gazeta dissenting views of Stalin’s legacy were presented. Film director and author Aleksey German described Stalin as a creature from hell who recreated the Tsarist Russian Empire under the guise of a socialist state. Historian Evgeney Federov saw Stalin as a statesman who though he sacrificed millions restored Russia to a position of greatness as a nation. The day may come, Federov warned, that the continued mismanagement of the state may elicit a call from the people that “We need a Stalin.”
Popular culture has also painted a softer picture of the former dictator. Moscow’s international broadcaster, Russia Today started an English language advertising campaign in November feature Stalin. Under the slogan “proud to be different”, RT ran full page ads featuring Stalin in his marshal’s uniform holding a quill in his hand with the caption, “Stalin wrote romantic poetry. Did you know that?”
A 40-part miniseries broadcast last year on the NTV network also portrayed a gentler despot. “Stalin was not only an executioner, but also a victim of that era,” series producer Grigory Lyubomirov said.
The series also portrayed Stalin as secret Christian, who returned to the faith of his youth at the end of his life. “According to the information that we have, Stalin in the last months of his life came to repentance. He rethought his life from the position of a man of faith,” Lyubomirov told the Moscow News, citing interviews with Stalin’s bodyguards to support his claim.
Stalin left a mixed legacy for Russia and the Orthodox Church, the Deputy Director of the Department of External Relations, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin noted. “Some consider him a murderer and a monster while for others he is almost a secret Orthodox zealot.”
Stalin was a murdered and tyrant who “didn’t have a whisper of repentance for it.” Yet, it was Stalin who restored the Church’s freedoms and “even helped strengthen its international influence when it became politically profitable,” he said.
“I don’t think it means that he was a secret Christian and even ‘a builder of the third Rome’,” Fr. Chaplin wrote. “Stalin and other historical personages had both good and bad features. It is applicable to every person. Even to saints who also made mistakes and committed sins. It doesn’t diminish their achievements in fighting these sins. It makes the truth of it even more convincing than retouching history and substituting a real person with a polished image,” he said.