Medvedev denounces Stalin for ‘mass crimes against the Russian people’Tony Halpin, Moscow
President Medvedev has issued a stinging repudiation of the Soviet Union, condemning it as a totalitarian state that had deprived Russians of their basic rights.
He also condemned Joseph Stalin’s record of repression before Victory Day celebrations on Sunday marking the 65th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany, an event that many elderly Russians attribute to the leadership of the Soviet dictator.
The President’s outspoken verdict on Russia’s Soviet legacy contrasted sharply with that of his predecessor Vladimir Putin, who called the collapse of the Communist state “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century”. Mr Putin, the Prime Minister, has also been much more equivocal about Stalin.
Mr Medvedev said that Stalin had committed unforgivable crimes regardless of any progress made by the Soviet Union under his rule. In an interview with Izvestia newspaper that was also broadcast on state television, he rejected arguments that Stalin was responsible for the victory over Hitler in what Russians call the Great Patriotic War.
“The Great Patriotic War was won by our people, not by Stalin or even the generals,” Mr Medvedev said. “Their role was undoubtedly very serious but, at the same time, the people won the war at the cost of great efforts and a huge number of lives.
“Stalin committed mass crimes against the people. And despite the fact that he worked a lot, despite the fact that under his leadership the country achieved successes, what was done to his own people cannot be forgiven.”
Mr Medvedev, whose grandfathers fought in the Red Army, said that it was “absolutely out of the question” to permit the revival of Stalin’s personality cult by erecting street posters in his honour for Victory Day, as Moscow City Council officials had wanted.
He added: “It cannot be said that Stalinism has returned to our everyday life ... This will not happen.”
He promised to continue declassifying Soviet military archives so that Russians learnt the truth about the war, days after he ordered publication of documents showing that Stalin authorised the massacre of 22,000 Polish officers at Katyn in 1940. He called Katyn “a very dark page. And a dark page on which there was no truth”.
“We ourselves allowed history to be falsified. And the truth in the final analysis must be presented to our people.”
The interview, marking Mr Medvedev’s second anniversary as President, included an unusually blunt assessment of the Soviet state in which he blamed its collapse on its own failings. He said: “If we speak honestly, the regime that was built in the Soviet Union ... cannot be called anything other than totalitarian. Unfortunately, this was a regime where elementary rights and freedoms were suppressed.”
The state had prevented normal economic and political development, something that was “accompanied by victims and all other things inherent to a dictatorship”. Mr Medvedev said that the Soviet Union “could have had a different fate” if it had been able to adapt to modern ideas, which might have allowed Russians to escape the hardships of the 1990s after its collapse.
The human rights activist Lev Ponomarev, an outspoken Kremlin critic, said that Mr Medvedev’s rejection of the Soviet past was “a very strong declaration which has been awaited for a very long time”.
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