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STALIN FOR TIME

Russia’s mustachioed, murderous despot is more popular than ever, thanks to Putin

RUSSIA

IN THE Soviet Union of my youth, Josef Stalin was invisible. His predecessor in the Kremlin, Vladimir Lenin, was everywhere, from the pins on our school uniforms to the statues or busts that seemed to adorn every public space. In those statues, his arm was always raised, palm outstretched, exhorting us toward the glorious socialist future. My native city had decided that Lenin superseded Peter the Apostle in worldhistorical import, so St. Petersburg became Leningrad.

Stalin once had his own city—Stalingrad, the site of a ferocious World War II battle—but after the mustachioed despot’s myriad sins were exposed, the city reverted to Volgograd in 1961. Stalin’s fall from grace was the doing of Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet leader who’d denounced him in a secret 1956 speech, railing against Stalin’s “glaring violations of revolutionary legality” and, more ominously, his practice of “physical annihilation,” perhaps a reference to the people killed in his purges and terrors, as many as 30 million.

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