A senior Russian legislator introduced a bill Tuesday that would criminalize actions to defend or glorify Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. Stalin, revered by some as a man who modernized Russia, is infamous as a tyrant who killed nearly 20 million of his own people in purges or by sending them to labor camps, or gulags, for political dissent.
Pro-Stalin sentiment has experienced a resurgence in Russia, and in September two separate regions unveiled monuments to the leader, who died in 1953. Meanwhile, nearly half of poll respondents in March answered in agreement with the statement: “The price paid by the Soviet people in the Stalin epoch was justified by great aims and results."
Of the 45 percent that responded in the affirmative to the poll statement, 38 percent said they agreed "to some extent" and 7 percent said they agreed fully, the Telegraph reported. Those numbers compared with only 21 percent partial agreement and 4 percent full agreement in a similar poll conducted in November 2012.
Analysts have explained the momentum driving pro-Stalin sentiment by pointing to the current government's lionization of the Stalin-led Soviet victory over invading Nazi forces in World War II. President Vladimir Putin and his supporters have held multiple re-enactments and memorials to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Germany's surrender.
These commemorations have often been used to depict Ukrainians as Nazis and to rally support for the pro-Russian separatists in the Crimean peninsula, which Russia forcibly annexed from Ukraine in March 2014.
In an effort to combat the Stalin revival, a senator from the far northern Arkhangelsk region, Konstantin Dobrynin, introduced a bill in the State Duma Tuesday that would criminalize speech or actions that defended Stalin. The bill also includes a provision to prevent local and federal authorities from naming streets, metro stations or town squares after Stalin or any of his henchmen.
“Recent years have brought increasing propaganda among the population of an idealized, one-sided, removed from historic reality image of Stalin's era,” said Dobrynin, as reported by Tass, a state-owned news agency. The senator said the propaganda “inflicts tremendous harm on the Russian state and society.”
If passed, the law would not be the first in the region to censor speech related to Stalin or other dictators, such as Adolf Hitler. Ukraine, as well as several Baltic and Eastern European nations, bans speech or symbols glorifying Stalinism or Nazism. Western European nations have also made similar hate speech a crime, such as in France, for example, where it is illegal to deny the Holocaust or any of the surrounding facts as established by the Nuremberg trials.