According to a poll released by Moscow’s Levada Center on Monday, Russians see Joseph Stalin as the “most outstanding person in history,” with current strongman Vladimir Putin coming in second.
The race for the top spot was tight, and Putin had to share second place with poet Alexander Pushkin. They both took 34 percent of the vote to Stalin’s 38 percent.
After the top three, came Vladimir Lenin, Tsar Peter the Great, and astronaut Yuri Gagarin, according to the UK Daily Mail.
With the forlorn toot of a sad trombone, it must be announced that the man once regarded by the American left as the most outstanding person in history, Mikhail Gorbachev, the final leader of the Soviet Union, came in dead last on the list of 20 potentially outstanding historical figures.
No doubt the reader is wondering if any non-Russians were offered as choices. The answer is yes: Napoleon Bonaparte, Albert Einstein, and Sir Isaac Newton were on the list. Napoleon ranked highest of the three foreigners at 9 percent for 14th place, which would have flummoxed the Russians of his day.
Actually, Napoleon ranked much higher on this survey back in the nineties, drawing as much as 19 percent of the Most Outstanding Person in History vote from Russians. Maybe they admired his determined efforts to visit Moscow despite lacking an invitation, good directions, and fashionable clothing for the winter season.
More significant is the poll movement for Stalin and Putin, who the Washington Post notes have risen in tandem in Russian estimation. Putin has been riding high since he annexed Crimea in 2014. Stalin has benefited from an ongoing legacy renovation project designed to fix him in the Russian popular imagination as the hero of World War II, not the man who beat Adolf Hitler in a contest to see who could kill more Russians.
“The defeat of Nazi Germany is central to the Putin regime’s portrayal of itself as the logical outcome of Russian history. In the Kremlin’s view, saving the world from fascism was the greatest achievement of the 20th century. Russia inherited this legacy, and thanks to Putin, it has returned to its proper place as a global power, his supporters say,” the Washington Post explains.
Incidentally, the Post also notes that the Levada Center is not a pro-Putin propaganda outlet; on the contrary, it has been designated a “foreign agent” by the Russian government for publishing surveys unhelpful to the regime. Denis Volkov of the Levada Center credited Stalin’s rise in the polls to the Russian “cult of victory,” from which Putin also benefits, for both military adventures and economic successes.
Putin’s trajectory in the poll puts him on track to nudge ahead of Stalin eventually, but even the Number Two spot behind Uncle Joe is not a bad place to be when he presumably runs for re-election in 2018.