Thursday, January 28, 2010

Gagarin Named "Russian Idol"

A poll by the Russian firm VTsIOM named cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, as Russia’s top “Idol” from the 20th century. What makes this really interesting is that in 2008 a similar contest called the Name of Russia, conducted by the Rossiya television network to pick the person most admired in all of Russian history caused a real stir when early results projected that noted Soviet dictator Josef Stalin would be the eventual winner. This prompted a lot of talk about Vladimir Putin’s efforts to “rehabilitate” the image of Stalin in order to boost his own position as a “strong leader” of Russia as well as concern that this was a sign that Russia was turning away from the path of democracy by embracing a strongman from their recent history as the template of an ideal leader.

In the end Alexander Nevsky, a 12th century prince and military leader who established the foundation of the Russian state was selected as the Name of Russia with Stalin finishing third, Gagarin didn’t even place in the top dozen. For Russian Idol, Gagarin was the choice of 35% of those polled, while Stalin finished a distant fifth. Does this mean that Russians’ attitudes towards Stalin have changed in the past year? Perhaps, or perhaps the difference in results could be because of the different methodology used by the two contests – Russian Idol was a poll of randomly selected people while Name of Russia was a phone-in contest. In polling methodology that would mean that Idol would produce a more reliable result than Name, something to think about when considering Stalin and today’s Russia.
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