Nostalgic Russians venerate Stalin on death anniversary
Several hundred Russians gathered in Moscow's Red Square on Saturday to lay flowers on Stalin's grave on the 58th anniversary of his death.
The crowd, most of them elderly, waved red flags and held photographs of the Soviet dictator in his military uniform.
"I am here because for me Stalin is the equivalent of God for believers," said one woman, who declined to give her name, adding that she believed Stalin-era repressions were deliberately overstated.
"It is very exaggerated. It is propaganda to fool people," she said.
Stalin is respected by many Russians for his role in winning World War II, but his regime caused the deaths of millions in Gulag labour camps and in a forced collectivisation drive.
Pensioners praised Stalin, saying his regime imposed law and order.
"Under Stalin, it was paradise, freedom. Those who were harmful to the Soviet authority were killed, criminals and thieves," said pensioner Antonina Medvedeva.
"Life was very joyful under Stalin. We had a future, there was no unemployment," said another, Vladimir Maloshonok.
"We have come to ask forgiveness from Stalin for the betrayal of his efforts by those who have been in power over the last 30 years," said Yelena Kropotova with tears in her eyes.
Nostalgia for the period when Stalin ruled with an iron hand is still widespread in Russia, where a process to reevaluate history was never completed after the fall of the Soviet regime in 1991, according to rights groups.
Last year Russian President Dmitry Medvedev denounced the "totalitarian" regime of the Soviet Union and Stalin's "unpardonable" crimes. But at the same time, some school textbooks give a positive evaluation of the Soviet leader.
© 2011 AFP