The Guardian columnist and former Le Monde editor Natalie Nougayrède has written another of her seemingly endless series of pieces which are – to put it mildly – critical of President Putin and of the Russian government.
This latest piece goes by the title “Fake news is bad. But fake history is even worse”. In light of this title I was therefore interested to see in the piece this passage
Controlling memory is at the heart of the Putin regime in Russia. Not only has Stalin been rehabilitated, with new monuments built to honour him across the country, but historians and human rights activists who work to document Stalinist crime have come under political pressure
(bold italics added)
I have been visiting Russia frequently since 2014 and I have nowhere seen any sign of these “new monuments” to Stalin, which allegedly are being built “to honour him across the country”. Indeed I am not aware and have not seen any monuments to Stalin either in Moscow or St. Petersburg at all.
By contrast Moscow does have a Gulag museum, and I believe there is a monument to the victims of the Gulag in St. Petersburg (though I have not seen it), whilst in the town of Perm in the Urals the former Gulag camp Perm-36 has been converted into a museum of the Stalinist repressions which I have visited.
I follow the Russian political scene closely, and I am not aware of any great campaign to build monuments to honour Stalin which is sweeping across the country. Every so often some local Communist group up and down the country does attempt to commemorate Stalin in some way but whenever that happens it is always highly controversial and openly disapproved of by the authorities. Talk of a flood of monuments to him is however ridiculous.
The reality is that there is no single view in Russia about Stalin, and no such thing as an ‘official view’.
Many Russians – including many who are not Communists – continue to have a positive view of Stalin because of his success in industrialising the country and in leading the country in the war against the Nazis. However many others are strongly critical of him, and consider him a mass-murderer and a tyrant. Others have more nuanced views. Russian bookshops are full of books about Stalin arguing the case either way, and I can see no sign of any attempt by the authorities to favour or suppress either.
Certainly talk of ‘rehabilitation’ is misplaced. That was a Soviet concept in which the state took an official view on the merits or faults of a particular individual. The Russian state no longer aspires to do that, and in today’s Russia the term is basically an anachronism.
I would add that at least in Moscow the pattern of state sponsored monument building far from favouring Stalin instead strongly favours the tsarist era and the Orthodox Church, with monuments to people like St. Vladimir and Nicholas II now appearing on a regular basis.
Recently a monument has been put up in the Kremlin to Grand Prince Sergey Alexandrovich, Nicholas II’s uncle, who was murdered in 1905 in the Kremlin by revolutionaries. Putin attended and spoke at its unveiling.
This process of putting up monuments to former tsars and to sometimes little known tsarist dignitaries as well as to prominent hierarchs of the Orthodox Church is by no means uncontroversial in Russia. On my penultimate trip to Russia a Russian friend of mine who is an Orthodox Christian complained to me that it is being taken too far.
Whatever view one has about that – and I personally consider it a strictly Russian matter – it is about as far from a campaign to honour Stalin as it is possible to get.
In light of this I wonder from where Natalie Nougayrède got this strange idea that there is a campaign underway to ‘rehabilitate’ Stalin in Russia and to build monuments to him across the country? Is she misinformed or did she perhaps just make it up?
Given that the claim appeared in an article entitled “fake news is bad. But fake history is even worse” I think we have a right to know.