Russians Rank Stalin, Hitler, Putin in ‘History’s Most Notable’ Poll

February 1945: Soviet leader Joseph Stalin (1879 - 1953) in military uniform at the Yalta Conference.
Hulton Archive/Getty

Russia’s independent Levada Center published the latest iteration of its Most Notable Figure in History survey on Monday. The results were dismal for leader Vladimir Putin, who lost over half the support he enjoyed in the previous edition of the poll four years ago.

Josef Stalin remained in the top spot, while Communist godfather Vladimir Lenin, poet Alexander Pushkin, and 18th-Century Tsar Peter the Great also finished ahead of Putin.

Putin was named the most notable figure in history by 34 percent of respondents in 2017, tying for second place with Alexander Pushkin, but only received 15 percent of the vote this year — his worst showing since he first appeared on the Levada Center’s list in 2003. Undecided respondents rose to 19 percent, the highest share since the poll was first conducted in 1989.

For his part, Stalin peaked at 42 percent in the 2012 survey and slipped to 39 percent in the 2021 edition. Putin is an outspoken admirer of Stalin and has done much to rehabilitate the murderous Soviet dictator’s reputation since coming to power. 

Putin reframed Stalin as the great hero of World War II, which Russians call the “Great Patriotic War,” and presented himself as the inheritor of Stalin’s legacy as champion of the motherland. Other Levada Center independent surveys over the past few years have shown Russians generally forgetting, or at least pretending to forget, Stalin’s atrocities and focusing on his leadership in the war against Nazi Germany.

Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837) is Russia’s most famous poet and a founding father of modern Russian literature, although ironically he got into a good deal of trouble for writing poems and novels critical of leaders like Stalin, Lenin, and Putin.

The Moscow Times noted the survey is not strictly limited to Russians. Scientist Albert Einstein, French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, and German dictator Adolf Hitler all made the top 20. Einstein scored considerably better than Napoleon or Hitler, winning 9 percent of the vote to their 5 percent scores.

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