6 Mar 2013

Mixed feelings still about Stalin

7:15 am on 6 March 2013

Russia is marking the 60th anniversary of the death of Joseph Stalin. For 30 years he ruled the Soviet Union with an iron fist.

Despite the fact that it was Stalin who unleashed the "Great Terror" killing millions of citizens, surveys show that today 49% of Russians view him as a positive figure.

Hundreds of people laid red carnations at the grave in Red Square, where his body was buried in 1961 after being displayed for several years alongside Lenin in the Mausoleum.

"There were repressions, but they should not overshadow the greatness achieved by the country," said businessman Roman Fomin, 48.

"For many Stalin means victory, economic growth and prosperity. Many people would like his return."

Stalin's role in Russian history has split society for decades.

AAP reports his image is openly used in Victory Day celebrations for the end of World War II, while the 1930s-era purges, the collectivisation of the peasantry, and the Gulag camps that together claimed millions of lives are largely absent from public discourse.

"I flew in from Kamchatka," said lawyer Larisa Tokunova, 50, calling Stalin a "genius" who turned the Soviet Union into a superpower.

"If we manage to restore our country, it can only be according to his plan," she said.

In Georgia, the dictator's birthplace, about 100 people rallied on Tuesday, praising his glory.

Worse in other countries - Putin

In Moscow, at a conference held under the auspices of the Russian Orthodox Church, one speaker said Stalin restored national pride, another said he laid the groundwork for a great Russian future, and a third said the nation must be grateful to Stalin for the "sacred victory" over Nazi Germany in World War Two.

"Stalin was no saint, but he was not a monster," said Russian Orthodox priest Alexander Shumsky, accusing Stalin's critics of exaggerating the scale of his crimes.

President Vladimir Putin, who once called the breakup of the Soviet Union one of history's great tragedies, has avoided any evaluation of the Soviet leader.

He paid tribute to victims of Stalin at the site of a mass grave in 2007 and said the tragedy must never be repeated. But he said earlier the same year that Russia should not be made to feel guilty about the Great Terror of 1937, the height of Stalin's purges.

Worse things, he said, had happened in other countries.

In an opinion poll this month by the Levada Centre, 49% of Russians said they viewed Stalin's role as positive, while 32% disagreed.