An example of these attempts occurred in July when a diner named ‘Anti-Soviet’ opened in Moscow. The owners adopted the name as a tongue-in-cheek reference to its location across from the Hotel Soviet, built by Stalin in 1952. However, an organisation of World War II veterans objected to the name, finding it offensive, and demanded the authorities take down the sign.
On 21 September, Podrabinek published an article on Yezhednevny Zhurnal online, expressing doubts about the latest attempt to rehabilitate the Soviet Era.
After the publication of the article, Podrabinek and the Yezhednevny newsroom received telephone threats from the pro-Putin movement ‘Nashi’, claiming that they were defending the “honour of veterans”. The group held a picket near the journalist’s house, published his home address and demanded his expulsion from Russia.
The Podrabinek affair, like the restaurant case, is a revealing sign of attempts in Russia to rehabilitate the figure of Stalin and Soviet regime. According to a number of Russian commentators, this operation has the government’s signature written all over. In fact, on 19 May 2009, President Dmitrij Medvedev set up a commission against “attempts to falsify history at the expense of Russia’s interest.” The main activity of the new agency is the Second World War, which Moscow calls the Great Patriotic War.
Many newspapers met the establishment of the commission and the opinions of its supporters with a great deal of scepticism. Newspapers like Vremja Novostej and The New Times have lamented the “attempts to turn Stalin into ‘an efficient manager’.”
The Orthodox Church has not been immune from the controversy. The clearest example is the recent publication of a book by Fr Georgij Mitrofanov, Russia’s Tragedy in the 20th Century, which focuses among other things on the controversial figure of General Andrej Vlasov, who first was a Stalin loyalist, and then sponsored an army of Russian volunteers allied to the Nazis against Moscow.
Vlasov’s legacy has been quite an embarrassment for the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church abroad and the Moscow Patriarchate at home. For the former, the general is “a symbol of resistance to atheistic Bolshevism on behalf of the renaissance of historical Russia.” By contrast, the Patriarchate has tried to distance itself from the position of the overseas Church, whilst maintaining a united front at home.
The makeover of Stalin’s image and the Soviet Era go together with an attempt by Russian rulers to restore the country’s cultural identity, an impossible mission without the cooptation of Russian Orthodoxy.
The Moscow Patriarchate, in spite of itself, is much involved in this issue, and has often been accused of playing right into the Kremlin’s hands in order to gain cultural supremacy in Russian society.
Aleksandr Cipko, a philosopher and editorial writer, from the pages of Nezavisimaja Gazeta on 15 September slammed the operation to revive the myth of Russia’s supremacy over the West. For him, there is a danger that Stalin will be seen as the embodiment of the original Russian project rather than Communism.
The philosopher is angered by self-styled “true patriots” who “not only associate, but identify Russianness, orthodoxy and Stalinism as one, and exclude freedom, dignity, personhood, material well-being, from so-called ‘fundamental Russian values’.”