China, without repenting for Mao’s crimes, has achieved more progress than Russia, though it has been repenting for over 60 years
This post first appeared on Russia Insider
Josef Stalin died on 5 March 1953. Yet, 63 years later, his figure still looms over Russian politics and society, and attitudes toward him are regularly measured by sociologists.
In an article titled ‘One in Three Russians Think Stalin Was a 'Wise' Leader’, the Moscow Times reports on a fresh poll taken by the Levada Center in December 2015:
The poll shows that while Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to enjoy sky-high ratings, support for Josef Stalin and his legacy has increased in recent years.
One fifth of those questioned in December by Levada pollsters agreed that Stalin was a “wise leader, who brought power and prosperity to the U.S.S.R.,” up from 14% in 2007.
Even more people, 34 %, up 6% from 2007, said that “whatever the mistakes and flaws” attributed to Stalin, his main achievement was the Soviet victory over Hitler in World War II.
The number of people who considered that “only a ham-fisted leader could have maintained order” during the class struggle, chaos and “external threat” that existed 50 to 70 years ago remained unchanged at fifteen percent.
One in five respondents had a completely negative view of the dictator, describing him as a “harsh, inhumane tyrant, responsible for the destruction of millions of innocent people.”
A more popular view was that Stalin's rule brought “good and bad, in equal measure,” with roughly 45% of respondents still saying so since 2007.
Moscow Times put the results in a broader context:
“Stalin, who ruled the Soviet Union for more than two decades, is most widely known in the West for his bloody regime of mass deportation, imprisonment and purges.”
Fair enough. I happened to visit Sweden at the end of November 2015 and again this month and each time I turned on a local popular TV channel I would happen onto a documentary exposing Stalin’s crimes.
Last time it was a film drawing parallels between Stalin and the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. So lately Stalin seems to be alive and well not just in Russia but in the West too. Blood would freeze in your veins at the sight of the two rulers committing crimes against their own people!
Do I need to say that against the backdrop of rising xenophobia in traditionally tolerant Sweden due to an influx of immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa, the documentary failed to mention that under the bloody dictator Gaddafi, Libya was a prosperous country, and after his overthrow by a self-righteous West, it turned into a failed state – a major source of refugees flooding Europe and a breeding ground for international terrorism?
On the other hand, given the proverbial Russian ‘pivot to the East’, how do the Chinese feel about their own ‘bloody dictator’, Mao Zedong? When he died in 1976, the Chinese Communist Party ruled that he was 70% right and 30% wrong. Since then China has had fantastic growth – not just in GDP but in bringing literally hundreds of millions from destitute poverty to decent living standards.
So, how do the Chinese feel about Mao? – RI asked Olga Andreyeva, who writes for Russia’s cult intellectual magazine Russkyi Reporter. After spending a lot of time in China exploring the mysterious Chinese soul, this is what she said (translated by Svetlana Kyrzhaly and Rhod MacKenzie):
“How do you feel about Mao?” – I asked people.
“Oh, soon, he’ll probably become our god,” – most of my interlocutors replied: - “Without Mao there would be no new China.”
Neither noble irony nor dissident malice came through, - just pure faith and patriotic enthusiasm.
“But you know that because of Mao’s policies almost a hundred million of your people died?” - I played my trump card.
“Well, yeah, so what?” –The students couldn’t see my point.
“Don’t you feel any historical hatred toward Mao?”
“Hatred?!” - Now the students’ eyes bulge :-“How can you say that?! Mao created a new China! With him, we became strong, established an army, flew into space! Well, what if there were some errors. He was old by then, and can be forgiven.”
“ Wait…” - the ground of civic courage was giving way under my feet: - “Under Mao there was famine, the universities were closed. Deng Xiaoping fed the Chinese, opened the universities, gave them a chance to live and learn. Why do you remember Mao, but not Deng?”
“Why don’t you understand,” – the students shrugged, - “without Mao there would be no new China?”
There is no desire to repent for the nation’s sins, to settle historical accounts or punish the killer. Not a shred of pathos, noble rage, courageous self-exposure or recognition of errors!
And here’s Ms Andreyeva’s conclusion that I leave without comment:
“Why are you surprised?” - said a fifty-year Chinese communist academic: - “We are Chinese. We look to the future, not to the past.”
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