So, one might ask: Has the Kremlin’s “Stalin was harsh but fair” campaign paid off?
Surveys of Russian public opinion show that Stalin is rated as the most significant figure of all times and places, slightly ahead of Putin and Pushkin. Almost two-thirds praise his leadership in World War II “despite his sins and mistakes.” Less than half believe Stalin committed political crimes. One out of five believe that Stalin’s repression was justified by political necessity.
The Russian people do not hold these opinions because they are unaware of Stalin’s transgressions. Only 13 percent claim not to know about Stalin’s crimes. Russia’s youth is an exception. Half are blithely unaware of his repressions.
The poet Anna Akhmatova wrote in the aftermath of the Great Terror of two Russias that “stare each other in the eyes: the ones who put them in prison and the ones who were put in prison.” Akhmatova’s “second Russia” is in decline. A decade ago almost 70 percent agreed that “Stalin was a brutal tyrant guilty of exterminating millions of innocent people” – a conclusion disputed only by one in five. In 2018, 44 percent agree with the “brutal tyrant” description of Stalin. The rest disagree, or have no opinion.