By Mart Helme
Estonia’s Former Ambassador to Russia (1995-1999)
The Brussels Journal
February 8, 2006
In the last issue of Foreign Affairs, Sarah E. Mendelson and Theodore P. Gerber report findings that, surprisingly, the attitudes amongst the youth of Russia (aged 16 to 29) towards Jossif Vissarionovich Stalin are unbelievably positive. No fewer than 51% of them regard Stalin as a wise leader, 56% thinks that he did more good than evil, and only 46% say they would not give Stalin their vote in presidential elections.
Despite these findings the authors conclude that there is no real Stalinism amongst Russia’s young generations. They claim that these attitudes reflect poor knowledge, which has been made worse by the purging of relevant literature in school programs.
How wrong they are. Even if, from a scientific point of view, the conclusion may seem correct, the American analysis is marred by the failure to comprehend the Russian mindset.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union the West has never wanted to understand or admit that Russia was, is and will be imperialistic, aggressive and conquering to the very end. It is this attitude, not knowledge about a person named Stalin, which is reflected in the answers given by young Russians to the researchers’ questions about Uncle Joe.
It is not enough to measure Stalin’s popularity among Russians and ask rhetorically how the world would react if polls were to show similar popularity for Adolf Hitler among Germans. One needs to ask the right questions, such as: would the results be approximately the same if one replaces Stalin by other icons of Russian imperialism – Ivan the Terrible, Peter I or Katherine II? At least for Peter I we can be certain that he would also get at least half the votes from the young electorate in presidential elections.
That is the root of the problem. All those decades after the 1956 Soviet Unions’ Communist Party 20th congress, the Western world has lived in the naive belief that “the father of all nations” had been condemned for all his disgusting crimes and forgotten by the Russians, while he lived on, quietly and in shadow, in the hearts of the Russian people. He lived on not so much as Stalin, but as an epitome of the greatness of the Empire. As such he is imprinted in the hearts of the Russians.
Empire! Derzhava [Great power]! The Third Rome! What is a simple person in all his destitution compared to that! However, it is precisely because the simple person lives in destitution that he is so proud of his derzhava. And of the czar, the ruler, who could make something so magnificent come true.
The minds of the West, driven by materialism, will never understand that for ordinary Russians their derzhava is the substitute for everything they lack in this world and the one who can give them that substitute is their god. They accept that their god, like God almighty and true, is harsh, punishing, bloody. God cannot be otherwise, for the Russian knows that he himself is false-hearted, lazy, drunk, a thief. He does not expect God to be lenient.
In 1991 Americans hoped that Boris Yeltsin would usher in a new, democratic and free-market Russia, a Russia that would grant the West access to its gas, oil, gold and diamonds. But they were wrong again. Yeltsin’s era revealed to ordinary Russians that without the chastising hand of God, all they can do is drink and steal limitlessly. And with every year that this increasingly nightmarish party without a master continued in Russia, more and more Russians discovered in themselves a growing yearning for a czar, for God on earth. For derzhava, which would put back meaning in the lives and pursuits of the people, now willing to follow unconditionally the leader that could give them this, however harsh and bloody he be.
That is exactly what was expected of Vladimir Putin when Russians elected him with an overwhelming majority. They saw in him a new Peter, a new Stalin, a man who would pick up from the mud the flag of the empire and proudly wave it high, leading Russians victoriously to the last shore.
These great expectations were dashed, however. Russians know now that Putin will not deliver. Putin has not even dared to finally kill off all the Chechens. The army is impoverished, Russia is being pushed back into smaller territory. It has lost the Baltic States, Georgia, Ukraine,… Mother Russia has been reduced to a laughing stock. Who could save her, who could restore the empire, unified and indivisible? Stalin, if only he was still alive…
Westerners must be aware that in Russia one cannot be so sure that Stalin is not alive after all. Darkness creates monsters. The Russian nation is in humiliation and darkness. And if Putin is a bastard of the spirit of Stalin, then the next Putin – someone who is already living amongst us but whom we do no yet see – could be the real incarnation of Stalin. For the spirit that hangs over the water is present in Russia. As well as the soil from which may grow flowers with bloody blossoms. That is the reality of the young Russians’ responses in Mendelson and Gerber’s study. Knowing this, let us hope that we may take comfort in the knowledge that, so far at least, no restoration in the course of history has been successful in the long run. I doubt whether Putin, that zombie-Stalin, can make a precedent. He can, however, cause great evil, with the help of the Russians, who have blind faith in him.