Sometimes the perversity of people seems to know no bounds. A fine example of this is illustrated in a recent article in Foreign Policy which discusses the rehabilitation of Stalin in Russia. Yes, it boggles the mind, but one of the greatest monsters of the twentieth century, a mass-murdering megalomaniacal dictator, is being resurrected as a hero.
This historical revisionism is much encouraged by President Vladimir Putin. As the economy decays, as corruption worsens, as the free press dies, as dissent is suppressed with increasing brutality, as the country is dragged into foreign adventures it can't afford, he finds the old ogre useful.
He has publicly defended the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, standardized history books to gloss over Stalin’s crimes, supported the reappearance of statues of Stalin, and closed a centre that exposed the horrors of Stalin’s GULAG.
The appeal of Stalin to Russians lies mainly in the fact he led them to victory in WWII, the Great Patriotic War. And indeed he was their leader during the war, but how much credit he should get must take into account that from 1937 to 1941 he decapitated the Soviet military, murdering tens of thousands of officers including most of its theoreticians and senior commanders. Without this slaughter, he Russian military would have been much more able to defend the homeland, much more effective in defeating Hitler, and millions of Russians, civilians and soldiers, need not have died. But then to Stalin, millions of dead were a mere statistic.
In any case, the propaganda is working. A 2014 poll found that over half of Russians believe Stalin played a positive role in the history of the nation and almost half now believe that the sacrifices made during the Stalin years were justified.
Putin has set the stage. Remember Stalin! Sacrifices must be made for the good of Mother Russia. We are besieged by enemies within—homosexuals, foreigners, NGOs, activists—and without—America, the European Union, Ukrainian fascists. Russia and the Russian way of life are under attack, and Russia must unite around its leader to defend herself.
And, indeed, the Russian people are uniting around him. Despite the deteriorating state of the nation, Putin remains remarkably popular with an 80 per cent rating in the polls, a rating any leader of a Western democracy would give his right arm for.
What is even more disturbing than the gullibility (ignorance? perversity?) of the Russian people, the willingness to victimize themselves, is that more than a few in the Western democracies have become forgiving of Putin, perhaps because of his "success" in Syria, perhaps because of his strongman leadership, or perhaps simply because he annoys the United States. I am reminded of Stalin's famous quote about useful idiots.