Stalin monument unveiled in Russia despite criticism
A bust and a memorial plaque to Stalin were unveiled Friday by Russian Communists as concerns swirl that the Kremlin is turning a blind eye to glorifying the Soviet tyrant.
On the eve of celebrations commemorating the 70th anniversary of Soviet victory over Nazi Germany on May 9, Communists unveiled a bust to Stalin in the city of Lipetsk, some 500 kilometres south of Moscow.
"We need to cherish our history and not spit on it," Nikolai Razvorotnev, who is the leader of Communists in the region, told AFP.
"We'd vowed that it would be ready for Victory Day and we did it."
Nearly 60 years after Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev denounced Stalin's crimes and his "cult of personality" in 1956, the tyrant remains a hugely polarising figure in Russia.
Critics condemn millions of deaths under his regime, while supporters say he led the Soviet Union to victory over Nazi Germany and presided over the country's industrialisation.
Razvorotnev said the party had wanted to erect a monument to Stalin outside the regional party headquarters for a long time, and city authorities had not explicitly prohibited the installation of the monument.
"We understood that what's not forbidden is allowed," said the lawmaker.
Ahead of the unveiling someone splashed the bust made of reinforced concrete with pink paint, but the Communists went ahead with their plans anyway.
Also Friday, Communists unveiled a memorial plaque to Stalin in the city of Simferopol, a regional centre in Crimea that Russia seized from Ukraine last year.
About a hundred people, mostly elderly, attended the unveiling of the plaque on the facade of a building housing the regional party headquarters to the tune of the Soviet anthem.
The unveiling of the plaque in Simferopol is a huge insult to Crimean Tatars, the peninsula's 300,000-strong ethnic minority whose relatives suffered under Stalin.
The Tatars, a Turkish-speaking Muslim population, were accused under Stalin of collaborating with Nazi Germany and deported to Central Asia. Nearly half of them died of starvation and disease.
Senior Communist official, Oleg Solomakhin, said the party did not receive official permission to put up the plaque but they believed they were within their rights because the party building was private property.
In February, Russia defied critics by unveiling a monument to the watershed 1945 "Big Three" Yalta summit that featured Stalin along with US president Franklin D. Roosevelt and British prime minister Winston Churchill.
On top of that, at the initiative of the Communist Party a bus bearing a portrait of the mustachioed dictator appeared in central Saint Petersburg earlier this week.
Since President Vladimir Putin took power in 2000, there has been a growing chorus of Russians who take a positive view of the Soviet tyrant's role in history.
Russia's most prominent rights group Memorial expressed concern this week over apparent attempts to glorify Stalin and called on the authorities to legally ban them.
"The installation of any monument featuring Stalin is blasphemous," said the group.
© 2015 AFP