ROAR: Stalin’s portraits appear and disappear in Russian cities

Vladimir Kremlev for RT
n Moscow, the city authorities seem to have abandoned the idea of displaying posters of Stalin, but their colleagues in St. Petersburg have had to cope with a bus bearing his portrait.

The fight between supporters and opponents of Joseph Stalin’s legacy is continuing as his image becomes part of decorations for the 65th anniversary of the end of World War II.

The idea of decorating a commuter bus in St. Petersburg with a portrait of the former Soviet leader was floated and realized by blogger Viktor Loginov and his supporters, who financed the project. The advertising space was bought for two weeks. The bus started circulating through the city on May 5 on the 187 route, the most part of which goes along the central Nevsky Prospekt.

Representatives of the scientific and information Memorial Center in St Petersburg called on the city’s governor Valentina Matvienko “to prevent a political provocation. We believe that public display of Stalin’s image with the evident aim of glorifying this historic figure splits the community,” media quoted the center’s director Irina Flige as saying.

The organizers said they were acting at the request of veterans. However, on the day the bus started circulating around the city, the portrait was painted over by unknown attackers. Loginov described the attack as “vandalism” and promised that the bus would be washed and hit the streets again.

Officials in St. Petersburg, however, seem to have found another “organizational” decision. The bus had to stop its work because it belongs to an organization that does not have an agreement with the city’s transport committee, Regnum news agency said.

Whatever the outcome of the story may be, the media stress that supporters of Stalin have fulfilled their plan and managed to place his portraits in public places. “The generalissimo drove to Nevsky Prospekt, although on a kind of transport that is not characteristic of his rank – the 187 route bus,” Vremya Novostey daily said.

Meanwhile his portrait appeared in a yard of Moskovsky District in St. Petersburg. The poster with Stalin was placed on a fence in a yard with a strange inscription reading that it was done at veterans’ request. “It is not an act of the glorification of Stalin, but only a reminder that Stalin was commander-in-chief during WWII,” the inscription said.

“As expected, this action provoked a scandal, although this event was not already too surprising after May 1 rallies, where Stalin’s portraits were in abundance,” the daily said.

“However, by the evening, the generalissimo went underground again,” the paper said. The local administration “explained the situation” to the municipal authorities while “the city’s transport committee coped with the mobile leader.”

The poster with Stalin was placed on a fence in a yard with a strange inscription reading that it was done at veterans’ request. “It is not an act of the glorification of Stalin, but only a reminder that Stalin was commander-in-chief during WWII,” the inscription said. By the evening this explanation had disappeared along with the portrait itself, the paper noted.

Deputies of the St. Petersburg legislative assembly from the Communist Party had been the first who proposed to decorate the city with Stalin’s portraits to commemorate him along with other military leaders in the war. The governor, Valentina Matvienko, however, said that the plan to decorate the city had already been adopted.

Thus, the idea of the poster in the Moskovsky District and the bus was fulfilled by “sympathizers rather than Communists,” the paper said. Vladimir Dmitriev, head of their faction in the assembly, welcomed the initiative. “There are still people faithful to the party and respecting the history of their own country,” he told the daily.

Dmitriev believes that the idea of Communists is taken wrongly by many. “We spoke about Stalin in the context of merits of all the marshals of the victory, and his contribution to the victory as the commander-in-chief,” he told website. But many people accentuate his role only “as a politician,” he noted.

Despite the fact that Stalin’s portraits were removed, many Communists are ready to take to the streets bearing his posters on Victory Day, Dmitriev added.

Opponents are also well-prepared. Representatives of the Yabloko liberal party in St. Petersburg may try to place “alternative information” about Stalin’s activities on the 187 route bus if it hits the road bearing the ruler’s portraits again, Fontanka said.

Deputy of the city’s legislative assembly from the ruling United Russia party, Arkady Kramarev, believes that Stalin’s supporters did not violate the law by placing the ads with his image. “I think that the fact that the portraits have appeared is somewhat justified, because Stalin actually was the commander-in-chief,” he told the website.

But this has “a moral side,” the deputy stressed, adding that he would have opposed the action if there had been a lot of portraits.

There had been warnings before the bus appeared on the streets that opponents might damage it. And when the idea of placing Stalin’s posters in Moscow was discussed, human rights activists said they would paint them or place “alternative” posters.

The Russian public is still divided over the role of Stalin in history and his activities during the Second World War.

The Moscow Mayor’s Office has abandoned the idea of decorating the city with Stalin’s posters so as not “to irritate” people. However, the materials containing his photos will be placed in museums.

“The Moscow authorities have capitulated, but the decision is not terminal,” Trud daily said. “To cover its surrender, the mayor’s office is planning to hang posters with the generalissimo on an anniversary Victory Day in museums and places where veterans meet rather than in central streets,” the paper noted.

City Hall found two explanations of the decision. First of all, the posters may be attacked by vandals. Some veterans who are worried about these threats asked the authorities to place the posters in safer places, officials said. Another reason is the weather forecast, which promises a cloudy day on May 9.

Moscow’s committee on advertising had announced its plans to decorate the city with Stalin’s portraits back in February “at veterans’ behest.” The idea found its opponents and supporters immediately.

The federal organizational committee preparing celebrations in the Russian cities opposed the idea. However, regional authorities may decorate cities financing it from local budgets.

In the Russian capital, the posters may be placed in the Moscow Museum of History and the Museum of the Great Patriotic War at Poklonnaya Hill, Trud said.

The policy of “enlightened Stalinism” may have damaged the image of the city authorities, Vedomosti daily said. “Now that high guests from NATO are expected to come to Moscow, that European and US soldiers are marching on Red Square for the first time, and we have reconciled with Poland, whose acting president is also arriving, Stalin will not fit right,” it added.

Meanwhile, the Communists seem to be more successful elsewhere. In the city of Omsk, they managed to accomplish without problems what provoked scandals in other regions, Kommersant daily said. A local branch of the Communist Party placed a billboard bearing Stalin’s portrait “to arouse kind feelings among veterans and improve their mood.” The city’s and regional authorities did not oppose the action.

Sergey Borisov,
Russian Opinion and Analysis Review