Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Uncle Joe, the Czar, or the Empress

In the land of Czars, an online poll turns up interesting results.

In the land of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky, an online poll to identify Russian history's "greatest heroes" has two early front-runners: autocratic Czar Nicholas II and dictator Josef Stalin.
That in itself is interesting: both were strongmen, arbitrary rulers with absolute power, and both, clearly, are objects of nostalgic longing for how things used to be. Of course, the dark side of their rules is forgotten, glossed over, or ignored. Under Nicholas many Russians were serfs, under Stalin many Russians were dead.

Catherine the Great, Yuri Gagarin, Czar Nicolas, Stalin.

But this is interesting: "He's like a brand. It's like Coca-Cola," says Alexander Lyubimov, a senior executive with Rossiya TV, the state-controlled broadcaster behind the "Name of Russia" contest.

A brand? As in 'things go better with Uncle Joe'? Oy vay.
The vote has fired people's imagination at a time when the Kremlin is trying to reclaim parts of its Soviet and Czarist past to forge a new nationalism. But as early results have shown, finding suitable historical heroes in a country with a centuries-old tradition of authoritarianism is complex. Elsewhere, the task was less fraught. In the U.S., a similar contest chose Ronald Reagan; in Britain, Winston Churchill; and in South Africa, Nelson Mandela.

Just goes to show how short-sighted and forgetful Americans can be.

Nicholas II's narrow lead comes as monarchists prepare to mark the 90th anniversary of his execution by the Bolsheviks. Mr. Lyubimov says Russia's last czar is unlikely to win. Though Nicholas II is revered by the Orthodox Church, which canonized him, his detractors say his reign was marred by anti-Semitic pogroms, two disastrous wars, a civilian massacre and the near-collapse of the country.

Seems ole Nick wasn't adept at ruling his nation.

And this summary: For much of the Soviet period, there was little examination of the darker side of his rule. This only began in earnest in the twilight days of the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev and in the early 1990s when human-rights groups began talking about Stalin's millions of victims.

Sort of a sound-bit interpretation of history: Khrushchev began the exposure of Stalin's horrors, Solzhenitsyn wrote a great deal about those horrors, and Sakharov and other dissidents continued the movement, yet it is all ascribed to Gorbachev. Too simple.

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