Stalin buses criss-cross Eurasia: Nostalgia, patriotism or provocation?

If you live in one of the post Soviet Republics it is quite possible that the bus pulling up in your town square this month will have on it a big picture of Josef Stalin.

Public buses with the image of the Soviet leader will hit the streets of about 40 cities across the former USSR on the eve of celebrations marking the defeat of Nazi Germany on May 9. Launched in St. Petersburg in 2010, the Victory Bus campaign is being held for a third year running, once again stirring up controversy and angering rights activists and ordinary Russians.

According to the head of the project Viktor Loginov, this year a record number of cities in Russia, Ukraine, Latvia, Estonia and Belarus are going to take part. The project is a private initiative, financed by money collected on the internet. According to the Victory Bus website, it costs around 20,000 roubles (about US $670) to decorate a vehicle with images of Stalin or his famous quotes in the regions, and over US $3,000 – in Moscow.

The organizers stress that their project has nothing to do with politics and certainly cannot be interpreted as a provocation. “Our only goals are the restoration of historic truth, bringing back an unbiased view of history… and congratulating [World War Two] veterans on the anniversary of the great victory of a great country, which was led by Joseph Stalin in that harsh, stormy period of time,” they state. However, the head of the Kremlin’s Human Rights Council, Mikhail Fedotov believes Stalin buses rolling through Russian cities is very much a provocation. “We have much to be proud of, including our victory in World War Two. We can find a lot of ways to immortalize the memory of our heroes. Stalin is a figure that causes confrontation in society, and there is no need to spark that. It’s harmful,” he told Interfax.

This is the latest dilemma that Russians in general, and the authorities in particular, have had to face in terms of what to embrace and what to reject from the country’s Soviet legacy.

The war with Nazi Germany, still referred to as the Great Patriotic War, is still considered a moment of national struggle and pride and remembered with dignity throughout the former Soviet space every year. Rehearsals have been going on all week for this year’s military parade on 9 May. However separating the war from Stalin is as impossible as separating Churchill from the memories of the World War II in Britain. Some in Russia want to see Stalin rehabilitated as a national leader.

But the issue is very divisive. Stalin is also remembered for having presided over a long period of terror in which many of Russia’s best sons and daughters vanquished. Putting Stalin’s picture on buses creates controversy in Russia. In the Baltic states it is considered a great provocation.

Sixty years after his death Stalin remains an object of hate and fascination able to raise passions and provoke controversy.

source: LINKS Analysis with Russia Today

photo( top): A bus with a large picture of Stalin, one of many that will criss-cross cities and towns in the former Soviet Union this month (picture courtesy of Russia Today


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