Russia’s search for an identity
By Masha Lipman for the Washington Post
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Medvedev’s address may have sounded radical, but many here are skeptical that the president’s words will actually bring change. The number of alarming signals of Stalin’s rehabilitation is growing. And in general over the year and a half of his presidency, Medvedev’s often well-intended rhetoric has not been matched with policy.
But it would be wrong to dismiss the speech and conclude instead — as observers at home and abroad sometimes do — that Russia has made a definitive turn “back” toward the Soviet Union and an admiration of Stalin. In fact, perceptions of Stalin are conflicted, and this conflict reflects Russia’s attempts — very feeble, so far — to reinvent itself as a modern nation. In December, Stalin came in third in a TV station’s poll of greatest Russian historical figures. Contest organizers are rumored to have tinkered with the results after discovering that the man who masterminded the extermination of millions of his compatriots actually finished first.
Yet the peak of Stalin’s terror is also recognized for what it was. In 2007, 72 percent of respondents told the Levada polling agency that the repression of 1937-38 were “political crimes that can’t be justified.” The day of remembrance of political repression, officially introduced in 1991, is not marked by major national events, but on Thursday, just outside the infamous Lubyanka building, the KGB’s headquarters and prison, the names of Stalin’s victims were read for 12 straight hours by any who wanted to participate. Other commemorations were staged elsewhere in Russia.