Rehabilitating Stalin in a Stalinist way

Author is not buying his Russian publisher’s claim that they dropped publication of his book for economic reasons

With his new book on private life under Stalin going to print in 22 languages, Orlando Figes, a distinguished historian of modern Russia at London University, is not buying his Russian publisher’s claim to have dropped publication for economic reasons. Figes points out that the decision comes after a raid by police in St Petersburg in early December on the offices of the human rights organisation Memorial. Armed cops confiscated the organisation’s entire archive, which was used by Figes in his book, including numerous interviews with victims of Stalin’s gulags, as well as memoirs, photographs and other documents. “The raid on Memorial is part of a broader ideological struggle for control of history publications and teaching in Russia. If you marginalize in national memory the history of repression, people have less reason to resist the return of authoritarian rule.” Vladimir Putin, Russia’s prime minister, has acknowledged Stalin’s 1937-38 Great Terror, in which thousands were shot, as “terrible,” Figes said, but added that there were concerted official attempts to balance Stalin’s repression with more “positive things,” with the dictator credited for winning the Second World War and building up a modern Soviet Union.

The Guardian