Voices

Vladimir Putin played the role of the good tsar at his annual press conference, fielding questions, repeated declarations of grateful praise and requests to deal with unscrupulous businessmen and lazy bureaucrats. One excited journalist even credited him with an improvement in her love life, noting that she had “finally gotten married” shortly after meeting him in March.

Are you snarky or smarmy? Too much sunny side up will fry the brain

A Gawker essay has ignited a culture war on the value of niceness

To call Labour 'Stalinists' for proposing regulation is beyond absurd

Mind your back garden! The Communists are on the loose!

Russsian President Vladimir Putin speaks to the press after the annual call-in show on Russian television April

Vladimir Putin: Tycoon Boris Berezovsky asked for forgiveness in two handwritten letters

The Russian leader also denied that his new term has seen an increase in ‘Stalinist’ tendencies

Joseph Stalin hated his first son, Yakov Dzhugashvili, who surrendered to the Germans in 1941

Joseph Stalin’s hated son surrendered to the Nazis, archives reveal

Stalin is known to have despised his first son, Yakov Dzhugashvili, who is thought to have committed suicide in 1943

Karel Vas: Notorious communist prosecutor

Karel Vas, who died on 8 December at the age of 96, was a prosecutor who came to symbolise unlawful trials during the post-1948 communist takeover of Czechoslovakia. Vas was one of the state prosecutors who played a key role in show trials that used fabricated evidence to hand out death sentences to opponents of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia.

Born to rule? Scientists uncover gene that may help create natural leaders

A gene has been uncovered that may help to create born leaders.

Iron Curtain: the Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-56 By Anne Applebaum

A superb study in the savagery of Soviet invasion and occupation of the Eastern bloc

A museum guide shows a gold bust of the late dictator

Rebranding Stalin from hero to horror

It is an unusual way to begin a trip to a museum. "This museum is a falsification of history," reads a makeshift shiny banner placed at the grand entrance to the Stalin Museum in the Georgian city of Gori. "It is a typical example of Soviet propaganda and it attempts to legitimise the bloodiest regime in history."

Rebecca Tyrrel: Dan Aykroyd believes that aliens visit us because 'they don't dance like Mick Jagger'

Who knew that Dan Aykroyd, writer and star of Ghostbusters, has webbed toes? Who ya gonna call if you're born with two toes fused together by shared tissue? No one, that's who.

Was reaction to leader's death a result of love, fear – or a more sinister thing?

Such devotion appears to be both a survival mechanism and a product of mind control

Brain illness could have affected Stalin's actions, secret diaries reveal

Accounts by his inner circle give new insight into dictator's life

Boyd Tonkin: From murder to the marketplace

The week in books

How, over nearly eight decades of thinking and writing, Eric Hobsbawm tried to change the world

The Marxist historian died today. In this review for the Independent on Sunday, first published last February, the Editor examined Hobsbawm's philosophy

A Day That Shook The World: Big Three meet at Yalta

On 12 February 1945 a communiqué was issued at the Yalta Conference announcing the carve-up of soon-to-be-defeated Germany and parts of Eastern Europe.

Russia blames Polish pilot for Kaczynski air crash

Russian investigators yesterday pinned much of the blame for the plane crash which killed the Polish President last year on the chief of his air force who had been drinking and ordered the crew to land in terrible weather conditions.

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Day In a Page

Independent Travel
Burgundy, the River Rhone & Provence – Five-star MS Swiss Corona 7 nights from £999pp
Lake Como St Moritz & the Bernina Express 7 nights from £809pp
Vietnam
Lake Maggiore, Orta & the Matterhorn 7 nights from £939pp
South Africa
Spain
Prices correct as of 19 December 2014
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there