Russians mourn Stalin amid new history controversy

8th March 2009, Comments 1 comment

British historian Orlando Figes claimed this week his Russian publishers have scrapped his book, The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia, due to "political pressure" amid Kremlin-led efforts to promote Stalin.

Moscow -- Russian Communists on Thursday marked the 56th anniversary of Joseph Stalin's death amid a new controversy over the shelving of the Russian translation of a major new book about the Soviet dictator.

British historian Orlando Figes claimed this week his Russian publishers have scrapped his book, The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia, due to "political pressure" amid Kremlin-led efforts to promote Stalin.

Rights activists in Russia have in recent years sounded alarm over mounting official acclaim for the wartime Soviet leader, who is blamed by historians for the deaths of millions of people in forced collectivisation and terror.

Figes' dramatic claim also comes after a respected Russian cabinet member, Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu, proposed making it a crime to deny the Soviet victory against Nazi Germany in World War II.

Atticus, Figes' Russian publisher, has disputed his assertion, saying that amid the current economic crisis in Russia it is simply impossible to publish a book of such length and complexity.

The public relations manager for Atticus, Natalya Lemegova, described the book as "a very serious one which demands work in the archives and for which large financial means are necessary."

"For the moment, amid the current financial crisis, we cannot do this as Figes' book is also intended for the future," she told the RIA Novosti news agency.

But Figes, Professor of History at Birkbeck College, University of London, and author of several best-selling books on Russia, said that while economic considerations played a part, the main reason was political.

"I suspect (as do my friends in Russia) that the real reason is political: The history in my book is inconvenient to the current regime in Russia," he said in a statement on his website. "The Kremlin has been actively campaigning for the rehabilitation of Stalin. It wants Russians to take pride in Soviet history and not to be burdened with a paralysing sense of guilt about the repressions of the Stalin period."

His book chronicles the repression in Stalin's Russia through the eyewitness testimony of dozens of ordinary Soviet citizens, often using original interview material gathered by the Russian rights group Memorial.

Memorial, which has waged a lonely struggle for recognition of victims of rights abuses in Soviet and modern Russia, was the target of a raid in December by the authorities who confiscated documents on the Soviet terror.

But Arseny Roginsky, chairman of the Memorial board, also cast doubt on Figes' assertions that the cancellation of his book was politically motivated.

"There is a very hard situation in Russian publishing with the economic crisis," he said. "People are buying fewer books. They don't have the money."

"I am convinced that this will be resolved positively and the book will be published," he added. "It is a huge book and the quotes need not to be translated but reproduced from the original Russian interviews."

The Georgian-born Stalin, who died on March 5, 1953, came a close third in a state television poll late last year to find the "greatest Russian" in history.

The Russian Communist party hierarchy on Thursday laid wreaths at his grave in the Kremlin walls to remember his death.

"Of course I am not in agreement with the political-historical tendencies of the authorities and the cultivation of Stalin," said Roginsky. "We do have severe political problems which include problems with the past. But the cancellation of Figes' book does not belong in that context."

Meanwhile, Shoigu on Wednesday said he would "fight to the end" to ensure his proposed criminalisation of denying Soviet victory in World War II becomes law, the Interfax news agency reported.

He said he was alarmed by "a growth in infringements on our memory" in the post-Soviet region, in an apparent reference to the celebration of wartime anti-Soviet guerrilla movements in pro-Western Ukraine and Poland.

Stuart Williams/AFP/Expatica

1 Comment To This Article

  • Paul Schultz posted:

    on 10th March 2009, 21:11:55 - Reply

    An intriguing article! Nobody with a human conscience can defend the horrendous crimes against humanity committed by Stalin. However, the brutal facts of the desperate WWIII crisis are that the Western Allies required his assistance to defeat the Nazis. 80% of German fatalities in the War occurred on the Eastern Front (vs. the Russians). This reality takes nothing away from the heroic efforts of British, Canadian, American and other veterans who went through hell to stop Hitler. However, it does provide some perspective on the issue. Those interested in the period might want to check out my new novel, The Fuhrer Virus. It is a fictional WWII spy/conspiracy/thriller for adolescent/adult readers that can be found at,, and


    Paul Schultz