New Poll: Putin-Era Russians Warming Up to the Memory of Josef Stalin

A new poll has found that Russian public opinion towards Josef Stalin has turn alarmingly positive during the tenures of President Vladimir Putin, a leader who has publicly lamented the fall of the Soviet Union and invaded and reconquered multiple regions of various post-Soviet states.

Russians are slowly warming back up to Stalin, who murdered over 20 million of his own people. According to a poll by the Levada Center, up to 45 percent of Russians surveyed answered that the enormous economic progress under Soviet Union dictator Josef Stalin justified all the “sacrifices” made by Russians, including the genocide of his own people. The independent center polled the same question two years ago, but found then that only 25 percent agreed. They also asked people if they thought Stalin’s death ended “mass repression and terror.” Only 46 percent said yes. While that number may appear high, 56 percent answered yes only two years ago.

“[Stalin is being rehabilitated because] the current Russian authorities and [President Vladimir] Putin in particular seek the legitimization and justification of their actions by resorting to the past. It gives them a certain endorsement,” explained Alexei Levinson, the head of the Levada Center’s social and cultural studies department. “There are two consequences of that: On the one hand, the state might triumph in the further consolidation of its power. On the other hand, we are engaging in a conflict with the rest of the world and our regime will not last long under such pressure.”

Once again, it must be noted that Putin has indicated he intends to restore the USSR. In 2005, he lamented the loss of the Soviet Union, which fell in 1991.

“First and foremost it is worth acknowledging that the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century,” he said. “As for the Russian people, it became a genuine tragedy. Tens of millions of our fellow citizens and countrymen found themselves beyond the fringes of Russian territory. The epidemic of collapse has spilled over to Russia itself.”

Breitbart News recently documented the many times Putin has harassed former Soviet states and successfully forced a few back into submission. His bullying ways made international headlines when he invaded east Ukraine and annexed Crimea in 2014. But as the international media concentrated on Ukraine, some outlets, including Breitbart News, reported the changes Putin made in order to drive Russia back into USSR.

A month after Putin hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, he announced the unused funds from the games will go start a fitness program that dates back to the Soviet Union. Stalin introduced the GTO, also known as Ready for “Labour and Defence of the USSR,” in 1931. The Soviet Union made sports and physical health a priority, which led them to often lead the world in athletic competitions. They were world leaders in hockey, which made the 1980 Miracle on Ice so impressive.

A month later, the government passed a law that bans profanity in the arts that echoes the Soviet spirit. The law did not define “profanity” but, if the offender is found guilty of committing it, they face heavy fines and possible jail time. The law echoed the sentiments of Leon Trotsky, a Marxist revolutionary and founder and first leader of the Red Army, who despised profanity. In May 1923, he wrote “The Struggle for Cultured Speech” and defended a law passed by workers to stop swearing or face fines.

The Russian Defense Ministry revealed a new military symbol in June 2014. It is a star with red, white, and blue colors. While the colors look American, the star is similar to the Soviet Union’s infamous red star.

That same month, Putin told Russian veterans in Normandy, France, that the government might rename Volgograd to Stalingrad. In January 2013, the Volgograd city council said that for six days in a year the city will be known as Stalingrad. One of the days is February 2, which was the last day of the historic Battle of Stalingrad. This battle is the reason why the city is so important to Russia. The Russians fought the Nazis from August 23, 1942 to February 2, 1943 at Stalingrad, a battle that was the turning point on the Eastern Front. The German 6th Army was destroyed and the Axis started to retreat from the East. A total of 1.7-2 million on both sides, including civilians, were killed.

Ex-leaders of former Soviet states can see Putin’s final plan. Stanislav Shushkevich, former head of state of Belarus, helped officially end the Soviet Union in 1991, but he feels the USSR is making a comeback, especially since ex-Soviet leaders lead the former states.

“The main objective of Russia is to regain its sphere of influence over the post-Soviet states,” he said. “After violating international law, after invading and occupying territories of European nations and violating the basics principles and consensuses of the post-Cold War order, Moscow has not paid any political price.”

Shushkevich is not the only former leader who sees a potential comeback by the USSR. Former Georgian Prime Minister and representative to NATO Ambassador Grigol Mgaloblishvili told Breitbart News “that Russia intends to cripple much of Eastern Europe to maintain it in a state of ‘constant chaos’ that it can can control the region.”

“The main objective of Russia is to regain its sphere of influence over the post-Soviet states,” he said. “After violating international law, after invading and occupying territories of European nations and violating the basics principles and consensuses of the post-Cold War order, Moscow has not paid any political price.”

Putin has worked not just to cripple resistant states, but to draw allies closer to Russia. Putin formed the Eurasian Economic Union with the country along with Kazakhstan, another former Soviet state, during his tenure. Armenia and Kyrgyzstan signed contracts to join the group as well. Putin claims the countries are “creating a powerful and attractive center of economic development,” though the coalition is essentially another way for Russia to hold onto her former republics. The top executive body of the union is placed in Moscow.

In addition to using diplomacy to strengthen Russia’s hold over Eastern Europe, Putin has used domestic influence to change Russian public sentiment. Putin placed a close friend, Arkady Rotenberg, at the helm of Soviet-era publishing company Enlightenment. During that time, schools used only books from the publishing company. But when the Soviet Union fell, independent publishing companies formed and children fell farther away from government propaganda.

That all changed in 2014. Russia’s Ministry of Education and Science purged thousands of “unsuitable” school textbooks, eliminating many of those independent publishers. The ministry abandoned some books because they were “hardly designed to instill a sense of patriotism.” Enlightenment remained untouched. The majority of textbooks will now come from the Soviet publisher.

Carol Williams at the LA Times reminded readers that Putin condemned the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between Germany and the USSR that split Poland between the two countries. It also shaped the USSR after World War II because Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt allowed Stalin to keep the land he illegally obtained through the pact. But in November 2014, Putin told a group of young historians there was nothing wrong with the pact.

“Serious research must show that those were the foreign policy methods then,” explained Putin. “The Soviet Union signed a non-aggression treaty with Germany. People say, ‘Ach, that’s bad.’ But what’s bad about that if the Soviet Union didn’t want to fight, what’s bad about it?”

The government recently added questions on Crimea and Stalin to its already rigorous exam for any migrant seeking residency permits. Starting in July, the foreigners “must, for instance, name the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea as the region that ‘was joined to’ Russia in 2014.” Another question requires people “to name Josef Stalin as the man who led the Soviet Union to victory in the Great Patriotic War.” Migrants must know at least 1,250 Russian words. The previous number was 900.

Perm-36, the only Russian museum preserving the history of the Soviet gulag system, is closing due to pressure from authorities. At the same time, a militia leader announced plans of a museum in St. Petersburg to celebrate the Russian militias who fight in Ukraine. Authorities have taken over the Perm-36 museum and confiscated any references to Josef Stalin.

“The memorial won’t disappear, but the museum has been taken over by other people appointed by the new authorities, who have totally changed the content,” said director Viktor Shmyrov. “Now it’s a museum about the camp system, but not about political prisoners. They don’t talk about the repressions or about Stalin.”

The moves not only promote Stalin, but also form a cult of personality around Putin, which rivals the same attention lavished on the Kim family in North Korea. Maxim Kantor, a famous Russian artist, wrote at Kasparov.ru that the cult around Putin is “superior in all respects to the cult of Stalin.” In the wake of the Ukrainian invasion, the Kremlin shut down all media that countered Russia’s actions. On March 12, 2014, Lenta.ru’s chief editor Galina Timchenko resigned, but employees said she was fired because she defied the Kremlin and published an interview that quoted the Right Sector Party’s leader. Moscow identifies the group as extremist and a threat to Russia. The next day, many employees resigned in protest of her firing and censorship efforts from Moscow. Kommersant reporter Anastasia Karimova posted her resignation letter on Facebook and Instagram. She left because of censorship and said there is no acceptable work in Moscow for journalists. Despite Moscow’s explanations, many know it is because of tensions between Russia and Ukraine. Russia Today anchor Liz Wahl resigned on air over censorship and the network’s backing of Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

A poll from state-run pollster VTsIOM showed that a quarter of respondents believe jokes about Putin should be off-limits to comedians. The Kremlin even updated a personal “data law” to allow the government to regulate and ban memes using the likeness of public personalities, including Putin. The law now prohibits memes that “do not represent the personality.” According to them, the memes “violate the laws governing personal data and harm the honour, dignity and business of public figures.”


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