ROAR: Stalin divides Russians even in metro

An inscription praising Joseph Stalin at a refurbished metro station in Moscow has sparked a new controversy over the Soviet political and architectural heritage.

Passengers at the Kurskaya metro station, unveiled after the repairs, have been surprised recently to see it decorated with a powerful symbol of the past. A restored inscription contains a line from an old version of the Soviet national anthem.

The line reads: “Stalin brought us up to be loyal to people, inspired us to labor and feats.” Unveiling the decoration coincided with the death of Sergey Mikhalkov, the author of the Soviet Union’s and Russia’s national anthems. In 1977, Mikhalkov had to renew the anthem, removing the name of Stalin from it.

The reappearance of the line about the former USSR leader at the station is “the restoration of historic truth,” Pavel Sukharnikov, head of the metro’s press service, said. According to metro head Dmitry Gaev, “the task was to reconstruct the station in its original form.” The vestibule now looks like it was at its opening 59 years ago.

Communists have welcomed the move. “It is positive that the authorities and metro have returned what was there from the beginning,” Vladimir Lakeev, head of the faction of the Communist Party in the Moscow City Duma, told Gazeta daily.

Lakeev noted that this year will see the 130th anniversary of Stalin’s birth. The paper, in its turn, writes that the statue of Stalin that was situated in the vestibule at the time of its opening has now been restored.

Nikolay Kharitonov, a deputy of the State Duma from the Communist Party, asked not to condemn the restorers who returned the name of Stalin to the station. “The more so, because Stalin did a lot for building this very metro,” he told website. Kharitonov urged people not to “break anything” and to “popularize real history” now that many want to “rewrite it.”

The idea of restoring the inscription in the metro also has its supporters among preservationists of monuments. Marina Khrustaleva, chairman of the Moscow Architecture Preservation Society (MAPS) and coordinator of Arkhnadzor preservation society, believes that “decor could not be considered from ideological points of view.”

The stations of the Moscow metro are buildings of the federal cultural heritage, she told Gazeta. “No changes to their exteriors are permissible,” Khrustaleva said.

Meanwhile, many representatives of Russia’s intelligentsia have expressed their protest against the move of the metro’s management. Poet Yury Kublanovsky told Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily that the buildings of metro stations do not need “such scrupulous restoring.”

These buildings could be called architectural monuments, Kublanovsky said. “But they are simultaneously monuments of the bloody Stalin epoch,” he added. In this case it is “rather a historical and cultural coquetry than a serious restoration,” the poet noted.

One should be very cautious using Stalin’s name, Kublanovsky believes. Recently there have been attempts “to name Stalin a successful manager, or a man who saved our country during [WWII], because our society needs a leader,” he said. “Stalin is not right for this role, too much human blood and tears are on his hands,” Kublanovsky stressed.

Sergey Mitrokhin, leader of the liberal Yabloko party called on the management of the Moscow metro to remove the inscription that “violates the memory of millions of victims of political repressions.”
The step could not be justified by “considerations of the restoration of the original look of the station,” the media quote Mitrokhin as saying. He added that the decoration was removed at the station in 1950s, which was connected with mass release of political prisoners and the 20th Congress of the Communist Party that had denounced Stalin’s personality cult.

Mitrokhin also called on the Russian president to introduce to the State Duma a project of a declaration “condemning the crimes of Stalinism and treating Stalin’s repressions as genocide of a multinational Soviet people.”

Co-chairmen of the Right Cause party Georgy Bovt, Leonid Gozman and Boris Titov have sent a letter to the Moscow mayor, condemning the appearance of the controversial inscription at Kurskaya. Many Muscovites are protesting against this step, the leadership of the party said, adding that they would fight for removing the symbol. This line “disgraces our city and insults the memory of millions of victims of the dictator,” they said.

The media reported that collecting of signatures of those protesting against the inscription has begun in the city. At the same time, Vechernaya Moskva daily noted that Stalin’s quotation had been also engraved in the marble above an escalator at Baumanskaya metro station. It was rubbed off, but an attentive look would be able to see Stalin’s name, the daily added.

Stalin is a common character in Russian films, and nobody protests against this, the daily said. “Some 90% of passengers who run under the dome of Kurskaya station, restored in all its grandeur, will hardly raise their heads to read ‘the controversial’ inscription,” the paper added.

Sculptor Aleksandr Rukavishnikov echoed this statement “People have begun to abstract from those times, and many do not even know the difference between Stalin, Lenin and Tutankhamen,” he told Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily.

There are similar monuments to Benito Mussolini and his epoch in Italy, sculptor Aleksandr Rukavishnikov told. In Spain, monuments to Francisco Franco have been partly destroyed and partly preserved, he added.

“I think that it would be the most appropriate to preserve everything and not to touch and break anything, because it is called vandalism,” Rukavishnikov said. He believes that works of art are “one thing, and Stalin’s personality is another.”

Russian bloggers were among the first who reacted to the news about “a new line” in the metro – the line from the anthem. According to estimates of website, the absolute majority of Russian bloggers supported the idea. However the most active were those who rather write comments on someone else’s blogs than keep their own ones.

Some users in the Russian blogosphere were even angered at the fact that the sculpture of Stalin had not been restored in the vestibule of Kurskaya. One user protested against the restoration of only “Stalin’s part” of the anthem’s line. Another part had been dedicated to Vladimir Lenin. However, this statement has not provoked a strong reaction from the public.

Sergey Borisov, RT