MOSCOW About 1,000 devotees of Josef Stalin laid flowers Tuesday at his tomb by the Kremlin wall to mark the 60th anniversary of his death, while experts and politicians pondered the reasons for the Soviet dictator’s enduring popularity despite his purges that killed millions.
Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov led zealots who lined up at Stalin’s grave, praising him as a symbol of the nation’s “great victories” and saying that Russia needs to rely on this “unique experience” to overcome its problems.
Stalin led the Soviet Union from 1924 until his death in 1953. Communists and other hardliners credit him with leading the country to victory in World War II and turning it into a nuclear superpower, while critics condemn his repressions. Historians estimate that more than 800,000 people were executed during the purges that peaked during the Great Terror in the late 1930s, and millions more died of harsh labor and cruel treatment in the giant Gulag prison camp system, mass starvation in Ukraine and southern Russia and deportations of ethnic minorities.
“Those repressions touched every city, town, and village,” Mikhail Fedotov, chairman of the presidential human rights council, said Tuesday. “We can never forget this.”
The liberal Moskovskie Novosti’s cover Tuesday read “Stalin. Farewell” with the dictator’s face scribbled over with childish graffiti, while staunch Communist daily Sovetskaya Rossiya ran a cover story on Stalin headlined “His time will come.”
An opinion survey commissioned by the Carnegie Endowment found Stalin has remained widely admired in Russia and other ex-Soviet nations despite his repressions. Its authors noted that public attitudes to the dictator have improved during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 13-year rule, as the Kremlin has found Stalin’s image useful in its efforts to tighten control.