Respect for Stalin in Russia has more than doubled in the last 10 years, according to a Levada Center poll, and if in 2012 21% of respondents had this feeling towards the Soviet dictator, now their number reaches 45%.
15% of them admire Stalin. Stalin arouses irritation, fear and disgust in 11% of the respondents. The Levada Center report cites data from Ukraine as saying that 17% of Ukrainians have a positive attitude towards Stalin and 39% have a negative attitude towards the dictator.
Interestingly, unlike in Russia, even in Stalin’s native Georgia, less than 16% were positive about him, while 39% were negative about Stalin.
Alex Gugushvili, a sociologist at the University of Oslo, who, along with Peter Kabachnikov, a professor in New York, conducted a comparative study of attitudes toward Stalin in Georgia and Russia, paints such a different picture in terms of socioeconomic, geopolitical and historical memory factors.
Generations and geopolitical factors
Sociologists in Georgia began their research by studying generation and geographical aspects, status in the socio-economic hierarchy, and level of education, and then decided to compare the resulting picture to the Russian context. The difference between the generations turned out to be more important in Georgia. It turned out that older people perceive Stalin more positively. The geographical factor also means a lot: the biggest supporters of Stalin turned out to be people living especially in the districts near Gori’s hometown Gori.
“And those who think that the ethnic context is important for the national self-identification of Georgia, they are more positive about Stalin, they think that his (Stalin) national identity is important. In Russia we found another picture. The intergenerational difference in Russia is not as important as in Georgia. We can not say that young people in Russia were substantially less supportive of Stalin. Geographically, in Moscow, for example, people are no more positive about Stalin than they are outside. But the most impressive is still the political, ideological factor. “Those who see Russian democracy as important have a negative attitude towards Stalin, and, conversely, the perception of Russia as a superpower has been an important factor in a positive attitude towards Stalin.”
According to a recent poll by the Levada Center, more than half of those polled in Russia, 54%, fully or largely agree with the idea that “Stalin was the great leader,” and 14% of respondents disagree. In the case of Ukraine, the figure is 16% and 40%, respectively.
The result of turning a blind eye to historical errors
At the same time, the portrayal of Stalin’s personality, according to sociologist Denis Volkov, is not deliberate by the Russian authorities, but rather a “side effect” of “supporting their own legitimacy” and using the victory in the Great Patriotic War to “emotionally connect” the country. There is no reason to judge the mistakes of the Stalinist government and the price paid for the victory.
“In my opinion, ignoring the role of Stalin in repressions and ineffective governance of the country, including during the war, promotes a positive attitude towards him. “If you do not talk about the negative moments and emphasize the role of war in Russia’s self-identification, it will indirectly contribute to a positive perception of Stalin,” said Alex Gugushvili, a professor at the Oslo University of Sociology.
In early July, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a bill banning the denial of the Soviet Union’s “crucial role” in “destroying Nazi Germany.”
We are talking about an amendment to the federal law, which was created to “immortalize the victory of the Soviet people in the Great Patriotic War” of 1941-45.
In particular, an article was added to the law prohibiting not only the denial of the Soviet Union’s “decisive role” in the “annihilation of Nazi Germany” but also outlawing the “actions and decisions” of the Soviet political and military leadership during World War II between the Nazi Germany and its allies. Will be equated with “actions and decisions”.
The geopolitical context of changing attitudes towards the ballad
Against this background, the growing positive attitude towards Stalin, according to sociologists, may be facilitated by the current events in Ukraine, as well as the general situation in world politics – the rise of populism and the struggle for “collective memory” in some countries. This also helps to stimulate the Soviet past in Russia and the positive trends towards Stalin with it, although Alexi Gugushvili doubts it will last long.
“Stalin was perceived much more negatively in the early 1990s and late 2000s, and the situation was stable. But then the geopolitical situation changed, the events in Ukraine took place and Stalin began to appear more attractive in Russia. “But the geopolitical context may change in the future, and so will the perception of Stalin – I do not think it’s something rooted in Russia,” said Alex Gugushvili, adding that the biggest surprise for him was that Stalin’s perception did not have much to do with Stalinism. Personal family stories, as described in the famous film “Repentance”.
“We asked people if there was anyone in their family history who was persecuted during the Soviet era, especially in the 1930s. And it turned out that this did not affect Stalin’s perception, which was one of the main surprises for us. Even personal contact with such stories did not particularly change his (Stalin’s) perception. “Family history is important, but other factors may be stronger.”
The Stalin Museum stuck in the past
Another study by Alex Gugushvili, a professor at the Oslo University of Sociology, was devoted to a monument to Stalin in Gori, which was erected by the Georgian government in 2010 and whose restoration was demanded by some locals.
“It turned out that the people of Gori have a particularly positive attitude towards Stalin. But most of his supporters live in rural areas bordering the city. We explored not only the geographical distance, but also when the bordering rural areas received city status. In many places, which developed during the Soviet industrialization, especially in the life of Stalin, his (Stalin’s) positive perception is strong, because the development of these villages is attributed by its inhabitants to the positive influence of Stalin’s rule. I was in Gori and the most stunning for me turned out to be the Stalin Museum, still very relevant today, which seems to be a frame in the past. As in the 70s and 80s, the guides are mostly positive about Stalin. “There you will find his papers, objects, posthumous mask that looks a bit surreal,” said the sociologist.
The continuation of this surrealism in the Stalin Museum, according to Alexi Gugushvili, is a small room in the building, under the stairs, dedicated to the memory of the victims of the Stalinist regime, which is not easy to find due to its small size.
As for Putin, a survey conducted in Georgia showed that those who consider Putin a good leader for Russia are also positive about Stalin and support the restoration of the statue of Stalin dismantled during the presidency of Mikheil Saakashvili in the center of Gori.
But there are very few people in Georgia who are positive about the current Russian president, Vladimir Putin.
“I do not remember the exact numbers, but it is not more than 10% and it is very difficult to determine the factors that determine their views. To me, this is mainly explained by the similarities between Russia and Georgia in some aspects of culture, religion, and the common past of the Soviet and pre-revolutionary years. There is a long historical influence of Russia on Georgia. Russian culture seems closer to many people than European culture and Western values. But at the same time, these people are not in the majority, according to opinion polls, as far as I remember, at least 60% believe that Georgia should become a member of the European Union and NATO, should be integrated into the Western European Union. “There is a connection with Russia, but it is not as important as the perception of the West,” said Alex Gugushvili, a professor at Oslo University of Sociology.
According to all recent polls, about 70% of the Georgian population supports NATO membership.