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3 Sep, 2009 06:44

Furore over Stalin’s return to Moscow metro

The restoration of a Moscow metro station has revived debate over how Russians view the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. The station features an inscription from the 1950s, praising the man.

The Moscow metro used to be known as an underground palace for the people. More than 70 years have passed since the first train journeyed below the Russian capital, and today the Moscow subway still looks like a royal residence.

Built in Soviet times, the construction was overseen personally by Joseph Stalin. Every station carried its own meaning and praised aspects of Soviet life.

The Moscow subway architects have been saying that regardless of how the country has changed, they are still intent on using the original Soviet look for the Moscow metro. And indeed, after years of reconstruction works, Kurskaya metro station has reopened with all the details of how it looked more than 60 years ago – including one line from the Soviet anthem.

The line says: “We were raised by Stalin; he inspired our faith in people, our labor and deeds.”

It was written in the frieze below the station ceiling when it first opened in 1950.

After Joseph Stalin died in 1953 and his cult of personality was denounced, his name in the anthem was replaced with that of Vladimir Lenin – as was the inscription in the station.

Now, after Kurskaya station has been renovated, the use of the original phrase has sparked public debate.

Human rights activist have lambasted metro officials for what they call the glorification of a tyrant.

“It is the matter of our identification. It seems we want ourselves to be identified with the man, who killed millions. Simply because it is a trend now,” argued Aleksander Cherkasov from “Memorial” human rights organization.

“Look at the Germans. They’re not trying to reconstruct the look of their cities from the times of the Third Reich.”

Those from the art community, however, see nothing political in it and say that art is art.

“I have recently applied to UNESCO to recognize the Moscow subway system as a piece of cultural heritage. That requires the sites to be original. It has nothing to do with ideology, it is a work of art,” states painter Sergey Goryaev. “Talented architects and sculptors lived in those times. It was a different reality – and that is the way they saw the stations’ designs,” he explained.

Activists are petitioning the Moscow government to have the words removed from the station. One man who is not able to have a say is the very lyricist of the Soviet Union's national anthem himself – Sergey Mikhalkov. Mikhalkov passed away just as the current debate came to the boil.

Church’s stance

Russia’s Orthodox Church, in its turn, has considered it unnecessary to perpetuate Stalin’s image in the Moscow metro’s décor.

Father Vsevolod Chaplin from the Department for External Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate said to Interfax news agency that there is no place for portraits or quotes of those guilty of the deaths of innocent people in public places.

At the same time, he mentioned that there are still a lot of Communist symbols remaining in Russia and therefore “total reconstruction and renovation of all buildings bearing [Communist symbols] would be rather strange.”