The Smell of Fascism

by Yuri Zarakhovich

On August 25, the Kurskaya metro station in Moscow reopened after years of restoration works. The most striking feature of the restoration are the lines in the frieze under the station ceilings from the 1944 Soviet anthem: “Stalin raised us to be ever true to the people and inspired us to heroic deeds and labor.”

These “lyrics,” originally placed there in 1950, when the station first opened, were unceremoniously edited once Stalin’s “personality cult” was denounced in 1961 and Stalin’s name was replaced by “Lenin”.

Today “Muscovites and guests of the capital” to use the standard Russian bureaucratese, can again avail themselves of this source of inspiration. They also can enjoy the sight of the huge VOZHD’s bás-relief. (The English word for Vozhd, as Stalin was popularly known, is ‘Leader”. In German it is “Fuhrer”).

“This goes to show who the incumbent regime seeks to identify itself with,” summed up Aleksander Cherkasov of the “Memorial” human rights organization.

Human rights activists launched a web site to gather signatures under an appeal to the Moscow Mayor to remove this outrage. However, as soon as they gathered several thousand signatures, the site came under massive hackers’ attacks—and stopped functioning.

It is time to face the sad fact that not only the incumbent regime seeks to identify itself with the Vozhd; a very large segment of the Russian populace feel likewise. By “populace,” I have in mind those Russian citizens who have never evolved to truly become “people”.

In June 2008, the official state Rossiya TV station launched “the name of Russia” project. Citizens were invited to name the person who they wanted their country to identify with. They did as asked and by July 8, 2008, Stalin ranked first.

To avoid the public embarrassment, the project was quietly curtailed.

According to recent public opinion polls taken by the VTSIOM pollsters, 45% of Russians believe that the Vozhd played a positive role in Russia’s history.

It’s nothing new, really. I remember the hungry Soviet 1970s-1980s, when many a Russian driver demonstratively adorned his vehicle’s windshield with the Vozhd’s portrait? The worse things are in the country, the stronger the longing for a strong arm.

Why? Because our state has never ceased being Stalinist. When King Juan-Carlos of Spain was dismantling Franco’s legacy, he didn’t remove the late Generalissimo’s portraits from the walls. He removed the essentials of the late Dictator’s regime: he replaced authoritarianism with public politics, and restored the rule of law, political and economic freedoms, and respect for human rights.

The Soviets toppled Generalissimo Stalin’s monuments and tore down his portraits in the 1960s, but never dismantled the essentials of his regime. That’s why the regime now emphasizes imperial ambitions and state supremacy rather than individuals’ rights, pins the blame for Russia’s ills on “foreign enemies” rather than on its failures, and encourages nostalgic longings for a strong-arm. Hence, the creeping restoration of Stalinism.

Almost 50 years ago, I read an interview by Erich Maria Remarque, one of my favorite writers. Asked about neo-Nazism, he answered: “The old shit smells the same, no matter how packaged.”

When Putin first emerged as Russia’s ruler back in 1999, we nicknamed him “Stalin-lite.”

But Remarque was right: packaged heavy or light, fascism smells the same, be it brown, or red.