Monday, February 20, 2006

Russia: Everything old is new again?

More disturbing news out of Russia. According to The Independent:

After a number of delays, a "Stalin museum" dedicated to the once venerated Father of the People is to be opened at the end of March in Volgograd, the Second World War "hero city" once known as Stalingrad.

The project is being financed by local businessmen but will controversially enjoy pride of place in the official complex that commemorates the epic Second World War Battle of Stalingrad.

The museum will display a writing set owned by the dictator, copies of his historic musings, a mock-up of his Kremlin office, a Madame Tussauds-style wax representation of him and medals, photographs and busts.

Svetlana Argatseva, the museum's curator, said she felt the project was justified. "In France, people regard Napoleon and indeed the rest of their history with respect. We need to look at our history in the same way."

But Eduard Polyakov, the chairman of a local association of victims of political repression, is among those who believe the project is an insult to the millions who suffered in Stalin's purges and were sent to their death in the Gulag. "I don't even want to hear about this," he said.


The comeback of a man whose bloodied hands are often compared to Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot and Mao Zedong, has alarmed the more liberal wing of Russia's political class. The Soviet Union's last leader Mikhail Gorbachev has warned that neo-Stalinism is on the march again while Russia's first post-Soviet President Boris Yeltsin has said he can't understand why Stalin is still so popular.

Between 30 and 40 per cent of poll respondents regularly rate Stalin's achievements as "positive" and a survey last year named him the most revered Communist leader the USSR produced. Admirers cite his turning the Soviet Union into a superpower, the country's defeat of fascism and the "order" he enforced.

Significantly, there has been no reaction so far from the Putin government, which -- without quite resurrecting Stalinism -- has made moves to restore "pride" in the country's Soviet past. Given the autoritarian climate in Putin's Russia, it is highly doubtful that those Volgograd businessmen would have had the nerve to open a Stalin museum without at least implicit approval by the government.

Incidentally, February 25 is the 50th anniversary of the speech Nikita Khrushchev gave at a closed Party leadership meeting denoucing the Stalin "personality cult."

In the meantime, Putin has been the object of something of a "personality cult" of his own. A Russian friend has sent in this sample:

It's a Putin pocket calendar, complete with glitter, the Kremlin towers, and billowing banners.

It all reminds me of a Russian limerick that made the rounds after Khrushchev was deposed and forced into retirement in 1964:

How embarrasing! How shameful!
How could this have come about?
We've kissed ass for near a decade --
But the wrong one, it turned out.

Still, the nation marches onward,
Quite unfazed by such a mess,
For we're confident as ever
That we'll find another ass.

(Translation by yours truly.)

On a less facetious note, Michael McFaul in The Weekly Standard reviews a new book on the Putin regime's slow strangulation of Russia's infant democracy. He concludes:

If democracy's erosion in Russia is as serious as it is portrayed here, why does President Bush seem so blasé about it? In his second inaugural address, and in many other inspiring speeches, Bush has pledged to stand against tyranny and with democrats in all parts of the world. Yet he continues to mute his message when meeting with Putin, even though Russia has experienced a more dramatic rollback of democracy than any other country in the world while Bush has been president. In their chapters on diplomacy, Baker and Glasser only tiptoe toward an explanation. The subject demands its own book. But in this truly definitive account of the Putin era, Kremlin Rising may help to be part of the solution. No one can read it and not feel uneasy about Russia's short-term future.

The next time Natan Sharansky visits the White House to offer counsel on how to advance liberty around the world, Kremlin Rising is the book he should give the president.


Anonymous said...

I have long argued (and am pleased to find that prominent conservatives are starting to agree with me) that President Bush is not a conservative. Based on Bush's handling of Russia, it is also becoming increasingly hard to argue that he believes in democracy.

Anonymous said...

"....President Bush is not a conservative. Based on Bush's handling of Russia, it is also becoming increasingly hard to argue that he believes in democracy."

Conservative and autocratic can obviously be the same thing. Bush just doesn't think like a Jacksonian conservative, despite his acquired twang. He thinks like a Hamiltonian. That's what enough years in the right schools will do to you.

Why is there any surprise? The man said in the beginning that Putin was someone he could trust. He looked deep into this eyes, and that setteld the question.

As for Putin, this is win-win all the way around. Browny points out south, and a nod to conventional virtues at home.

Anonymous said...

I meant conservative in the American political sense of the term: belief in limited government, fiscal discipline, free trade, suspicion of international entanglements, and rejection of entitlements. Bush has been violating every one of these principles since he has been in office.

Conservative in this sense is NOT compatible with autocracy (see "limited government"), though that obviously doesn't mean that Bush would have a problem with autocracy. No wonder he and Putin remain friends.

Revenant said...

Bush is certainly a conservative, just not the kind of conservative we're used to seeing Republicans claim to be. Policy-wise he falls somewhere between Nixon and Reagan.

I'm not sure why Bush has taken such a mild tone with Russia, unless it is simply that he doesn't think it likely that critcism would have positive results.

Icepick said...

So am I the only one enjoying the irony of businessmen funding a museum to the glorious Communist rule of Stalin?

I am curious though about what Bush is supposed to do to stop Putin's march to autocracy. The reason we're leaving Russia alone is the same reason we're leaving Pakistan alone. Both nations have The Bomb.

Revenant said...

The reason we're leaving Russia alone is the same reason we're leaving Pakistan alone. Both nations have The Bomb.

That's certainly the main reason we haven't taken action against Pakistan, but I don't think it explains Bush's failure to condemn Putin's actions. The US government had no problem criticizing the USSR, which had the same nuclear weapons (and was probably in better shape to actually use them).

Icepick said...

Revenant, we were direct adversaries of the Soviet Union. On a whole range of issues, from terrorism to halting nuclear proliferation (by buying up their old bombs) we are in bed with the Russians. We're a little in their pockets, we're a little in theirs.

Icepick said...

We're a little in their pockets, they're a little in ours. Sheesh, can't type, can't proofread....

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for posting this. It will definitely help me in my efforts to write a research paper on the history of cult of personality in Russia, from czar, through Stalin, up to Putin... (haven't come up with a thesis statement yet). Definitely do post similar pieces in the future!! I'll be looking forward to it!