This site is our response to everyone who has ever asked us what Russia is like, and for anyone who might have never wondered, but should have. It’s an attempt to put into words Russia as we see it; our go at explaining that big old riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, that in fact, never went away. It’s about understanding the views, opinions and psyche of a nation that hits our headlines daily, without many of us ever really knowing why. And ultimately, it’s about providing a picture of Russia, as seen first-hand by two people, who think that although the journey they’re on to try and understand this country might never end, the process itself is worth sharing.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Stalinists vs. the Truth

Photo: Danil Golovin
Last week an article by Igor Chubais, academic and estranged brother of Anatolii Chubais, (prominent businessman and politician known for being the chief orchestrator of the economic “shock therapy” privatisation of the 1990s), was published in Nezavisimaia Gazeta, in which he expressed his opinion on the recent controversy surrounding proposals made by government minister Sergei Shoigu to bring in a law that, much like laws banning holocaust denial, would make denying the victory of the Soviet Union in the Second World War a punishable offence.

Shoigu’s suggestions created quite a controversy in the Russian press, with many observers seeing an attempt to eternalise the “victories” of Stalin, who is highly credited for leading the Soviet Union to victory in the Second World War. Chubais, among others, sees something more than this however. In his opinion, the law in question is not, as it may seem at first, a means of glorifying Stalin, but rather a way of preventing the revelation of the “truth”. This truth can be found in the recently published memoirs of Nikita Khrushchev, which disclose that amongst the Soviet political elite it was a well-discussed fact that had the USA not joined the war effort when they did, the Soviet Union would never have stood up to the German onslaught and would most certainly have lost the war.

The Soviet Union, despite its massive army, was pitifully prepared and led, consequently losing almost 27 million citizens (nearly 14% of the population) during the course of the war (compare this with approximately one million lost by the UK and France combined), most of which need never have perished. In considering the needless losses on the Russian side it suddenly becomes much more difficult to speak of victory and makes the war look significantly more like a national disaster.

This, according to Chubais, also makes Stalin one very ineffective leader. And ineffective leaders in Russia still abound to this day. The law banning denial of the national victory therefore has a much more contemporary significance. At the same time as Russia is witnessing the rebirth of the cult of Stalin due to media manipulation and new school textbooks presenting Stalin in a more positive light, the country is also witnessing the rebirth and re-emergence of an ineffective neo-Stalinist leadership. The law is therefore not just about glorifying Stalin, but about legitimising Russia’s ruling elite of today.

As a direct result of today’s ineffective leadership, Chubais notes that Russia’s main problems are now:
  • Not low birth-rate (it is in fact higher than in the West), but rather an
    excessively high death-rate and the gradual extinction of the Russian nation
    (and that’s without even mentioning the 4 500 000 homeless);
  • Not a global economic crisis, but rather an economy that is incapable of
    developing as it is suffocated by bureaucracy and corruption;
  • Censorship, insufficient research in social sciences and decomposition of
    the education system;
  • An unbelievably low quality of life in the richest country in the
  • An oppressive atmosphere of apathy and amorality sown by television;
  • A counterproductive foreign policy that has left the country with neither
    friends nor allies.

And here Chubais again quotes Khrushchev in his memoirs; “Stalinists are today painting Stalin as a genius and a great leader, and this is most dangerous. They are, intentionally or unintentionally, not only covering up the crimes which have been committed, but also opening up the future to the use of the very same methods used by Stalin himself.” Put in today’s context, the only way to break out of this vicious cycle of ineffective leadership and to put Russia on the right track for the future is for the Russian ruling elite to publicly condemn Stalin and thereby enable a distancing of the methods of leadership that are continuing to create needless losses in Russia to this day.

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