100 volumes of history to shed light on Stalin
as Putin tries to soften public on Soviet leader

By Bagila Bukharbayeva
The Associated Press

Historians have announced the start of a project to increase understanding of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's rule and help Russians come to terms with one of the grimmest pages of their history.

The project's ambitious aim is to publish 100 volumes by Russian and foreign historians in the next three years. The first five books were issued last week.

"There still has been no legal assessment of Stalin's terror, of the Soviet system's crimes," historian Nikita Petrov, one of the contributors to the project, said recently. "We have not bothered to analyze that bloodshed and its legacy."

Russians must understand and condemn Stalin's crimes if they want to "save the democratic processes that we've started" since the 1991 Soviet collapse, he said.

President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer, has rolled back the country's democratic achievements, restored Soviet-era symbols and tried to soften public perceptions of Stalin.

In June, he told history teachers that although Stalin's political purges were one of the most notorious episodes of the Soviet era, Russia should not be made to feel guilty because "in other countries even worse things happened."

In a new book for history teachers commissioned by the Kremlin, Stalin is portrayed as an effective manager.

"Political repression was used [by Stalin] to mobilize both ordinary citizens and the management elite," the book says.

Also in the book, published earlier this year, the United States is cast as an evil power seeking world dominance.

Under Stalin, who ruled from 1922 until his death in 1953, hundreds of thousands were branded enemies of the state and executed. Millions more became inmates of the gulag, the system of thousands of slave labor camps.

"We have not gotten over Stalinism yet because we have not yet come to understand it fully," said Arseny Rochinsky, a member of Memorial, a nongovernmental organization that studies Stalin's repressions.

"Look around, all the attributes of Stalinism are still here," he said.

Rochinsky cited the Kremlin's intolerance of dissent and hunt for external and internal enemies and the lack of an independent judicial system.

In a speech last month, during the run-up to Sunday's elections for the State Duma, Putin referred to his political opponents as "foreign-fed jackals" and accused the West of seeking to weaken and divide Russia.

The collection, titled "History of Stalinism," is being prepared and sponsored by a fund set up by former President Boris Yeltsin, who died in April; the Russian State Archive; Memorial; and independent historians.