By Paul Goble
The increasing sympathy and support Russians show for the figure of Stalin, psychiatrist Vyacheslav Tarasov says, reflects their sense that local officials aren’t preventing but rather promoting injustice and that a strong hand is needed to restore both order and justice. And that those ends are so important that they justify almost any means.
He tells Mikhail Karpov of the Lenta news agency that calls to Vladimir Putin during his Direct Line program showed that Russians now see that “the local authorities are extremely inert and inactive,” that they are very much upset about this, and that they want justice imposed by “a strong hand” (lenta.ru/articles/2017/07/29/stalin_good/).
It is that feeling and nothing else that explains why Russians increasingly view Stalin in a positive light and want to see his statue up in their cities and towns, Tarasov continues. For them, Stalin was someone who embodied just such strength and willingness to use force against all the little bosses. He is for them “the enemy of the enemies of the people.”
But it is important to remember that what Russians support about Stalin is not the actual historical figure but rather the picture they have of him, a picture that has been established artificially. This trend, the psychiatrist says, is “very worrisome” because no one knows just how far this “demand for a strong power and a strong hand” will go.
That two-thirds of Russians don’t want to be remined of Stalin’s crimes is completely logical, the psychiatrist says. They are ready “to forgive everything done by a strong and willful leader,” on the basis of the principle “’the end justified the means’” or as Stalin put it, “’when a forest is cut down, the chips fly.’”
Right now in Russia, Tarasov continues, “we can live until the moment when someone will come and say: ‘I free you from the chimera of conscience. Do everything for the good of the nation.’ This has all happened before in history and to what consequences it can lead is very well known.”
Most Russians justify their affection for Stalin by saying that he should be remembered as part of our history. But here as often is the case, “people are masking their true motives with noble ones.” No one wants to say directly: I want someone to come and kill all the evil dealers. But that is what he really means and wants.
Russians have been approaching this “gradually,” he says. “About five years ago, the figure of Leonid Brezhnev began to appear in a positive key,” even as “the best leader of the Soviet state for all the period of its existence.” But now there has been a change in landmarks as it were.
“In Brezhnev, the people valued stability, comparable well-being and a peaceful life without terrorist acts or social upheavals. But now that is not enough. Given the lengthy economic crisis and the broken relations with other countries, the former model has receded into second place, freeing the space for the model of Comrade Stalin.”
Not surprisingly, young people are among the most enthusiastic Stalinists, Tarasov says. “The young are always radical, they always need slogans and very simple answers to the most complicated questions. An understanding that there are no simple answers to complicated questions comes only with the passing of time.”
Today, the psychiatrist says, “Russia wants great deeds. The population has a demand for them. A monument to Stalin makes an individual feel attached to victory in the Great Fatherland War, to Stalin’s construction projects, and to many other achievements. That this was accompanied by repressions is something hardly anyone wants to think about.
As one good Russian film put it, “’No one ever remembers the victims; everyone always remembers the murderers.”