…Or so the saying goes. The person who spoke these words continued with the following pompous wisdom: “when there is a person there is a problem; no person, no problem.” Such a phrase would be threatening in the best of circumstances, but is truly terrifying because of who said it: Joseph Stalin, who practiced what he preached. During his reign, the notorious Georgian was responsible for no fewer than 6 million deliberate European deaths. That number may jump as high as more than 20 million non-deliberate deaths once you add in the Stalinist purge, famines, and the gulag.
This last example, the infamous gulag, was the Soviet government agency in charge of forced labor camps. Under Stalin, at least 1.7 million people died while incarcerated in the camps. Conditions were unsurprisingly inhumane and, in addition to physical abuse, included sleep deprivation and psychological torture. Obviously, history judges Stalin harshly. After all, Stalin has the distinction of being responsible for more deaths than any other human in history, second only to China’s Chairman Mao.
Surely one is safe to assume Stalin’s legacy will be that of a tyrant, known to all as a self-serving monster who had only his own interests in mind when he carried out such atrocities. Sadly, this is no longer the case.
Over the past few years, Vladimir Putin has waged a campaign to rehabilitate his predecessor’s image. In 2018, the Kremlin forced a Russian historian to undergo psychiatric testing after he revealed Stalin was involved in child pornography. In 2020, Russia’s current leader introduced a bill to outlaw any comparison of Stalin to Hitler. Putin prefers to to focus on the “bright” side of Soviet behavior. A Putin spokesperson recently went so far as to describe Stalinist Russia as the “benefactor of Europe.”
But why would anyone want to cast the murderous Stalin in a positive light? Why would anyone take care to ensure such a monster is known by history as a great leader? The answer is obvious when one considers that Putin, a monster himself, is looking at the twilight of his reign, and is concerned about his own legacy. The nearly 70-year old is staring at poll numbers in the 20s, while he is alive and able to control his own image through state propaganda. What happens when he dies? How will history remember him? Surely, if Putin insists Stalin was good, as evil as the Soviet dictator was, then Putin himself might be remembered in a more positive light than he deserves.
So let’s take a brief look at Putin. At best, the thoroughly modern tyrant of Russia imprisons anyone who threatens him politically. Last week, Alexei Navalny was interviewed by the press and described his treatment. The political prisoner has faced sleep deprivation and continues to face psychological torture. Sound familiar?
And Putin doesn’t stop with imprisonment. Since at least 1998, he has murdered any critic who is brave enough to challenge him. Accounting for the violence surrounding his ascent to power, Putin is connected to at least hundreds of deaths. All targeted. All deliberate. For evidence, look no further than our Death Calendar. Sadly, the entries continue to grow and include journalists, politicians, and activists.
Putin’s petulance is reminiscent of the Soviet man he now seeks to lionize. Anyone who may be more popular than he is, any new thinker on the economy, the press, or the legal system must all face the same fate. They must go away. They must cease to be a “problem.” All of Europe, it seems, faces tyranny from Russia still; another murderer who considers himself our new “benefactor.”