Joseph Stalin, one of the biggest mass murderers in human history, is cool again in Russia. In a recent poll to decide who was Russia’s greatest historical figure, Stalin came in third, behind medieval prince Alexander Nevsky and former prime minister Pyotr Stolypin. Stalin led the tally for months, according to the BBC, “until the show’s producer appealed to viewers to vote for someone else.”
Some believe that Russia’s leaders under despotic Prime Minister Vladimir Putin are pushing for Stalin’s resurgent popularity. In December, the BBC reports that police raided the offices of the human rights organization Memorial and seized a digital archive of Stalin’s atrocities. Irina Flige, office director of the organization, believes the raid was politically motivated. Flige told the BBC, “if the terror of Stalin is justified, then the government today can do what it wants to achieve its aims.”
“Since the 1990s those in political power have been looking to the past to justify their own legitimacy,” Arseny Roginsky writes for Open Democracy. Roginsky writes that Russians have trouble reconciling the atrocities that took place under Stalin with the glory that came after defeating the Nazis in World War II. Though Stalinism can be defined as “terror as a universal instrument for solving any political and social tasks,” the memory of that terror has largely receded in modern Russia.
The absurdity of naming Stalin one of the most beloved Russians left comedian John Oliver nearly speechless. On his podcast with Andy Zaltzman, the Bugle, Oliver quipped, “This would be the perfect time for a simile, ‘Voting for Stalin is like voting for…’ but there isn’t one. Because remember, he’s the biggest mass murderer in human history.” Oliver continued, “As he was sending people to gulags, signing death warrants, and forcing the collectivization of farms, I wonder if he was thinking, ‘This could be a real vote getter in 60 years. I’m going to be captain popular.'”