We need to stop talking about political divisions in the heart of United Russia, and appreciate that Dmitry Medvedev’s speech against Stalin-era crimes is a truly brave step.
A brief visit to Red Square might leave many in the West confused; Stalin’s tomb, separated from Lenin’s only eight years after his death, remains one of the best decorated with tokens from his still enamoured supporters.
Let us not underestimate the scale to which he is still revered in the country. In December last year Josef Stalin was voted the third most popular Russian in a nationwide poll conducted on state television.
Seen by the West as a puppet of the former president and current prime minister, Vladimir Putin, Medvedev’s touching on a subject as sensitive as the heritage of such an emotive figure might seem alien to such a definition.
This is especially so since Putin’s own period as head of Russia took a much more cautious approach, including the rewriting of schoolbooks to emphasise his achievements during his 30 year rule.
Nevertheless Medvedev has released a video on the Kremlin website attacking the cult of Stalin and decrying those who would seek to misrepresent his legacy. The president highlighted the “unjustifiable” killings and repressions under the Stalin, going into detail about the fact that even burials were denied for his victims.
As a prominent Russian businessmen told me: “I think this is a strong message and he chose the right time for it as the younger generations have started to lose the memories of the things that have happened. People are looking for disagreements in the most bizarre places.”
Such a stance should not be seen in the light of divisions between the president and his prime minister. It should be seen as a politician speaking out against the crimes perpetrated against the Russian people under Stalin’s rule and a stark response to attempts to rewrite history.
It is a cause to celebrate, not to criticise.