While it was mostly Russian Communists who marked the 60th anniversary of Joseph Stalin’s death on Tuesday, a majority of Russians shared their view that the Soviet dictator had played a positive role in Soviet history.

Hundreds of Stalin admirers led by Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov laid red carnations at Stalin’s tomb near the Kremlin wall in Moscow.

Mr. Zyuganov said Stalin had led the Soviet Union to “great victories” and Russia needed to draw on his “unique experience” to overcome its current crisis.

A poll conducted by the independent Levada Centre in the run-up to Stalin’s anniversary found that 49 per cent of Russians still see Stalin’s role in history as positive, even though they are aware of millions of innocent people who died in Stalin’s prisons and labour camps. Only 32 per cent said Stalin’s role was negative.

The popularity of Stalin has in fact grown in democratic Russia. The number of people who called Stalin the most outstanding historical figure jumped from 12 per cent shortly before the fall of the Soviet Union to 36 per cent in 2008.

Experts give two reasons for Stalin’s enduring popularity in Russia. On the one hand, Kremlin has quietly promoted the image of President Vladimir Putin as a strong leader that Russia needs today as much as it needed Stalin after the fall of the Russian empire. On the other hand, people look up to Stalin because they see little to be proud of since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“Acknowledging Stalin is a way for Russians to recall a time of great deeds and perhaps even greater sacrifices,” said historian Roy Medvedev, who wrote a book about Stalin.

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