Dead 60 years, Stalin's influence lingers in Putin's Russia

Tue Mar 5, 2013 11:02am EST
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By Steve Gutterman

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A conference held under the auspices of the Russian Orthodox Church is perhaps the last place you might expect to hear a good word said about Josef Stalin.

The church was heavily persecuted by the Soviet dictator, who died 60 years ago on Tuesday after a three-decade rule in which he is widely held responsible for the deaths of millions of innocent people, many in the Gulag network of labor camps.

But there is still a place for Stalin in President Vladimir Putin's Russia, and there was plenty of praise for him at a discussion under paintings of cherubs at a church hotel adorned with icons and a portrait of Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill.

One speaker said Stalin restored national pride, another said he laid the groundwork for a great Russian future, and a third said the nation must be grateful to Stalin for the "sacred victory" over Nazi Germany in World War Two.

"Stalin was no saint, but he was not a monster," said Russian Orthodox priest Alexander Shumsky, accusing Stalin's critics of exaggerating the scale of his crimes.

He described assertions that Stalin had been in complete control a myth created by liberals and said the former leader had wanted to stop the process of repression.

Six decades on, Stalin's legacy remains the subject of bitter debate and broad interpretation in Russia, where many still believe he did some good for the country.

Analysts and Kremlin critics say Putin wants it that way.   Continued...

People carry red flags and a portrait of the late Soviet leader Josef Stalin during a ceremony to mark the 60th anniversary of his death in his hometown of Gori, about 80 km (50 miles) west of Georgia's capital Tbilisi March 5, 2013. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili