Last May, 2012, Ukrainian nationalists from the Bratstvo (Brotherhood) party erected statues of Stalin in the cities of Kiev and Lvov – within hours they had been removed. The reason being – the 1.5 metre-high wooden statues painted gold depicted the former dictator of the Soviet Union urinating. (See here for pictures)
Five months ago, on 15 December 2011, in another Ukrainian city, Zaporizhzhya, nine Ukrainian right-wing nationalists were charged with the decapitation of a monument to Stalin.
They each received a suspended sentence and, between them, were ordered to pay for the repair of the statue to the tune of about £8,000 ($12,000). As one of the accused left the courtroom, he was pelted with eggs by Ukrainian communists. The ensuing fight left him hospitalized.
The eight foot statue has been a cause of controversy since its unveiling in May 2010. The nationalists’ act of vandalism was meant to be seen as a symbolic gesture against the man they call ‘the executioner of the Ukrainian people and an international terrorist’. Stalin was responsible for the man-made famine that killed millions in the Ukraine during the early 1930s.
But he is also remembered as the man that led the Soviet Union to victory in the Second World War, or, as Russians call it, the Great Patriotic War. The Zaporizhzhya statue was paid for by donations from communists and old war veterans, and was erected despite official disquiet – ‘We should not establish monuments for tyrants’, said the Ukrainian Minister for Justice, Oleksander Lavrynovich.
The statue sustained a double attack – first its head was sawn off, then, a few days later, it was blown up. It is now fully restored and back in place. Local journalists in Zaporizhzhya, in an ironic attempt at balance, paid for a poster of Hitler with the caption, ‘Am I any worse than Stalin? Get me a monument too!’ Having paid £240 ($370) to have the poster in place for a month it was tore down within a day.
Statues of the Soviet dictator
Almost 60 years after his death, Stalin remains a controversial figure, no more so than when statutes of him are erected (or tore down), as exampled by Zaporizhzhya. Perhaps most surprisingly, even in Virginia, USA. So why do towns still want to memorialize the man that holds the distinction of being the 20th century’s greatest mass murderer?
In July last year, a new golden-coloured statue of Stalin was unveiled in the Russian town of Penza, 390 miles southeast of Moscow. (Sixty years ago, Khrushchev went to great pains to have two Stalin statues removed from the same town.) Again, it was built on the back of donations. At the unveiling ceremony, participants quoted Stalin’s speeches and read poems dedicated to the ‘great helmsman’. It led to calls from St Petersburg-based communists for a similar shrine in the city once known as Leningrad. (Ironically, Stalin disliked the city, believing it to be a hotbed of intelligentsia and anti-Soviet saboteurs. He visited only once, following the assassination in 1934 of his right-hand man, Sergei Kirov, an assassination largely rumoured to have been orchestrated by Stalin himself).
But as much as some statues are going up – some are coming down. In July 2010, Stalin’s hometown of Gori in Georgia pulled down a statue (pictured) that had dominated the central square for half a century. So worried were the officials that the operation took place unannounced in the dead of night. They acknowledged that ‘This will be a personal insult for many elderly people in particular, who still love and worship him’.
National D-Day Memorial
Then, to the US, during the summer of 2010, the town of Bedford in Virginia unveiled a bust of Stalin at its National D-Day Memorial. It does not stand alone but is accompanied by his wartime allies, Winston Churchill and Franklin D Roosevelt (plus Churchill’s deputy prime minister, Clement Attlee, French general and leader of the Free French Forces, Charles de Gaulle, and Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek). One veteran said, ‘The Stalin bust dishonors all veterans who are remembered at the memorial and all veterans who have served in the armed forces of the United States and our Allies’.
But the park’s official website (dday.org) denies that in having the bust that they are honouring Stalin: ‘To be good stewards of history, the Foundation is charged with telling the full story. History is a “messy business” and too often, is sanitized, highlighting only what we wish to remember. By not acknowledging Stalin as an ally, as some would have us do, we erase an important part of history and do an injustice to future generations who attempt to learn from the past.’ However (in the interests of balance) for those who believe that a bust of Joseph Stalin has no place at the National D-Day Memorial, you can sign an online petition at a site specifically set up to protest at its presence (StalinStatue.com).
Rupert Colley’s novella, My Brother the Enemy, a dramatic tale set during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, is now available.