Thursday, April 5, 2012

Stalin: The Notebook

Apparently there's a new bestseller in Russian bookstores.  No, it's not a Russian knock-off of the Hunger Games series, but rather a humble school notebook with the image of former Soviet leader Josef Stalin emblazoned on the cover.  The book is part of a series called “Great Russians” meant to expose schoolchildren to noteworthy figures from Russia's history: Czars, composers, scientists and, apparently, Joe Stalin.

There is, of course, a controversy surrounding the notebook.  There are some who say that the heroic image of Stalin, dressed in a sharp military uniform with a chest full of medals, is nothing short of propaganda aimed at impressionable children and that it totally ignores the fact that Stalin was responsible for the deaths of millions of Soviet citizens; the creation of the gulag system and of a culture of fear that persisted after his death.  In response to numerous complaints, Russia's Education Minister Andrei Fursenko said that while he disapproves of the notebooks, he can't legally block their sale.

The counter-argument is that Stalin was a great leader, who managed, against all odds, to lead the Soviet Union through the Second World War (or Great Patriotic War as it is known in Russia) and oversaw the defeat of Nazi Germany.  Many Russians still regard Stalin's reign as the high-water mark for the power and prestige of the Soviet Union – which, perhaps, explains why most of the notebook sales are said to be to adults.  Artyom Belan, art director of the publishing house that put out the Great Russians series makes a point Stalin supporters often do: "If we do a series of great Russians, should we strike the 20th century from the list altogether?" Belan asked in an interview published by USA Today, in other words, since we can't ignore the fact that Stalin existed, we may as well celebrate his accomplishments.

But I can think of a better reason though not to include Josef Stalin in a series on “Great Russians”: he wasn't Russian.  Stalin was actually born in the Soviet republic of Georgia.
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