Stalin museum is 'an insult to millions sent to death in Gulag'

After a number of delays, a "Stalin museum" dedicated to the once venerated Father of the People is to be opened at the end of March in Volgograd, the Second World War "hero city" once known as Stalingrad.

The project is being financed by local businessmen but will controversially enjoy pride of place in the official complex that commemorates the epic Second World War Battle of Stalingrad.

The museum will display a writing set owned by the dictator, copies of his historic musings, a mock-up of his Kremlin office, a Madame Tussauds-style wax representation of him and medals, photographs and busts.

Svetlana Argatseva, the museum's curator, said she felt the project was justified. "In France, people regard Napoleon and indeed the rest of their history with respect. We need to look at our history in the same way."

But Eduard Polyakov, the chairman of a local association of victims of political repression, is among those who believe the project is an insult to the millions who suffered in Stalin's purges and were sent to their death in the Gulag. "I don't even want to hear about this," he said.

"In the Stalingrad area, 100,000 families suffered from political repression and were forcibly resettled because of their ethnicity. How can people spit into our souls like this?"

The scandal comes half a century after Stalin's cult of personality was officially dismantled and the crimes he perpetrated against his own people exposed.

Coming up, on 25 February, is the 50th anniversary of the "secret" speech made by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1956 denouncing Stalin, an event that ushered in "de-Stalinisation" and saw monuments to the autocrat torn down across the country.

Ironically, however, though the former dictator appears to be enjoying a mini-revival. Actors playing "Uncle Joe" are in serious demand as TV and theatrical productions about the Stalin era flourish and the modern-day Communist party says his crimes were "exaggerated".

The comeback of a man whose bloodied hands are often compared to Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot and Mao Zedong, has alarmed the more liberal wing of Russia's political class. The Soviet Union's last leader Mikhail Gorbachev has warned that neo-Stalinism is on the march again while Russia's first post-Soviet President Boris Yeltsin has said he can't understand why Stalin is still so popular.

Between 30 and 40 per cent of poll respondents regularly rate Stalin's achievements as "positive" and a survey last year named him the most revered Communist leader the USSR produced. Admirers cite his turning the Soviet Union into a superpower, the country's defeat of fascism and the "order" he enforced. According to Mr Gorbachev, Russia is going through a dangerous period.

"We can see what was seen in the 1930s even now," he said earlier this week. "Portraits of Stalin and a renaissance of Stalinism can be observed in the mass media and in theatres. Some attempts are being made to preserve Stalinism and this is very serious."

The total number who died under Stalin's regime is disputed but Western historians put the figure at 20 million.

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