In July of 1917, Our Lady told the three visionaries at Fatima that Russia would “spread her errors throughout the world.”
The Soviet Union spent seventy-four years doing just that. Many hoped that this spread would end when the Soviet Union dissolved the day after Christmas 1991. Early indications were promising. The old Soviet archives were opened to scholars around the world. Many of the documents therein confirmed many anti-communists suspicions.
Vladimir Putin appears to be intent on reviving those errors. Of course, he does not consider them errors; to him, it is a correction of the historical record. In a March 2018 interview, Mr. Putin was asked what events in his nation’s history he would like to change. His simple response was, “The collapse of the Soviet Union.” Fifty-eight percent of Russians polled in 2017 agreed. Only twenty-six percent disagreed.
Specifically, Vladimir Putin is reviving adulation of Soviet leader, Josef Stalin.
The process of diminishing Stalin’s reputation began even before the fall of the Soviet Union. It began about three years after the dictator’s death in 1953. His successor, Nikita Khrushchev, began “de-Stalinization” with a speech to the Twentieth Communist Party Conference in February 1956. This was not the end of communism, argued Mr. Khrushchev, but only the end of Stalin’s misuse of it to create a “cult of personality” around himself.
That cult went far beyond the ubiquitous posters and larger-than-life statues that Stalin sprinkled liberally throughout the USSR. It also included mass deportations to Siberia and the torture and execution of anyone that Stalin saw as a threat— including many dedicated party members. At the time, there were rumors that Nikita Khrushchev himself was on a list of those who would be removed in this way, and that only Stalin’s death had prevented it.
The Stalin statues were removed, and the posters painted over. Stalingrad, the site of one of the most important and longest battles of World War II, was renamed Volgograd. Stalin’s body was removed from Lenin’s tomb and re-buried in a simply marked grave. Millions of Soviet citizens, sensing that the wind had changed directions, removed framed photos of the dictator from their homes.
The opening of the Soviet archives revealed something of the extent of the evil unleashed by Stalin. Even today, though, the estimates vary widely, from three to sixty million deaths. Most reliable estimates place the number as being somewhere between twenty to thirty million, eclipsing Hitler’s twelve million and exceeded only by Mao Zedong’s forty million. Of course, all such numbers are highly speculative.
There is evidence that Stalin is once again popular in Russia. In June 2017 The Washington Post reported that a nationwide poll taken in Russia indicated that, “More Russians consider Joseph Stalin the ‘most outstanding person’ in world history than any other leader….Tied for second in the same survey is the man who has done more than anyone to restore the notorious Soviet dictator’s reputation, Russian President Vladimir Putin.”
Foreign Policy also picked up on the pro-Stalin trend. In 2016, it reported that “In 2015, the Soviet dictator’s resurrected cult of personality reached new heights. … Over the last few years, President Vladimir Putin has presided over the rehabilitation of one of the 20th century’s greatest monsters. Bedeviled by the country’s economic decay and fearful of dissent, he has turned to the ghost of Stalin help to rally the Russian people and to prepare them for the sacrifices that lie ahead.”
With Stalin’s record as one of the great evil-doers of all history, many do not understand why there is a movement to restore his image. There are still Russians who remember Stalin’s evils, but they are beginning to encounter official resistance, as reported in the New York Post, in November 2018. “[The] ‘Returning the Names’ ceremony is about the past, refusing to forget the state’s murder of more than 1 million Russians in 1937-38. The human-rights group Memorial has led the event since 2006, at the stone memorializing Stalin’s gulag labor camps…. Putin, a big Stalin fan, doesn’t like that. Only a public outcry stopped his minions from forcing the ceremony to move across town, to the ‘Wall of Grief’ that Putin erected in 2015.”
At the core of Stalin’ newfound popularity is Russian nationalism. The USSR was a collection of many cultures across the Asian continent and possessed a good bit of Europe besides. Much of the pro-Stalin sentiment is based on the Soviet Role in World War II, referred to in Russia as “The Great Patriotic War.” Ever since, tales of the exploits of great Soviet soldiers, have been just as popular as such stories are in the United States. After World War II, the USSR was able to control the nations of Eastern Europe. Russia, however, was always the center. The strings of the Soviet Empire were pulled in Moscow. When the Soviets launched Sputnik, the world held its breath.
Today, Russia is weak. The other “Republics” of the USSR are, for the most part, independent nations. Some of these nations lean more toward the enemies of the former Soviet Empire. Russia’s economy is a shambles, relying on oil exports to function at all. The price of oil is kept low by Russia’s competitors—a sign of the power of the US. Many Russians long for a rebirth of national greatness, and Stalin is the leader about whom they are the most nostalgic. Vladimir Putin’s 2014 occupation of Crimea reminds many Russians of Stalin’s sense of purpose.
This sense of nostalgia is heightened by the fact that there are relatively few in Russia who remember the repressions of Stalin and the fear that came along with it. The survivors of the Gulags are now elderly, and soon will all be gone. Paul R. Gregory of the Hoover Institution points out a sobering trend. “A decade ago almost 70 percent agreed that ‘Stalin was a brutal tyrant guilty of exterminating millions of innocent people’ – a conclusion disputed only by one in five. In 2018, 44 percent agreed with the ‘brutal tyrant’ description of Stalin. The rest disagree, or have no opinion.” Mr. Gregory also points out that the attitude of many Russians is that Stalin was “harsh but fair.”
The revival of Stalin’s reputation threatens to return that benighted land to the errors that Our Lady warned the world about in 1917. The revival of Stalin’s memory, happening at the same time that worldwide socialism appears to be growing, should concern all who prize our Divinely-instituted humanity and free will.