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.

Rear Window: Death of a tyrant: Even Stalin's victims wept with grief when he died

WHEN Kim Il Sung died, the era of parade tyrants closed. It began with Mussolini, rolled on through Hitler, Stalin and an assortment of lesser dictators - Ulbricht, Somoza, Ceausescu, Stroessner, to name a few - and closed on 6 July in Pyongyang. (Castro and Saddam Hussein survive, but are no longer really in the big league).

Obituary: Alexander Chakovsky

Alexander Borisovich Chakovsky, writer and editor: born St Petersburg 26 August 1913; married (one daughter deceased); died Moscow 17 February 1994.

BOOK REVIEW / A secret policeman's route to power: 'Beria: Stalin's First Lieutenant' - Amy Knight: Princeton, 19.95 pounds

UNLIKE many Western liberals, Stalin had no problem about recognising the moral equivalence of Soviet and Nazi totalitarianism. For example, he introduced Lavrentii Beria, his secret police chief, to Roosevelt at Yalta in 1945 as 'Our Himmler'. Rightly so. As head of the Soviet secret police, the NKVD, from 1938, Beria controlled an intelligence and concentration camp empire at least as large and evil as that run by Himmler.

Stalinism lives

ASHGABAT - President Saparmurad Niyazov of Turkmenistan, centre of a neo-Stalinist personality cult, will remain head of state until 2002 after winning a huge 'yes' vote in a referendum. Preliminary results showed 98.9 per cent support for extending his mandate, due to expire in June 1997, by five years. AFP

BOOKS / Second Thoughts: Don't blame Lenin for Stalin: Christopher Hill looks back on his study of the Russian Revolution (Penguin, pounds 6.99)

I WROTE Lenin and the Russian Revolution in 1945-46, during the brief period when it seemed as though the wartime friendship between England and the Soviet Union would continue to prosper, difficult though it is to think so today.

View from City Road: Sir Terence must tread softly at the Treasury

When Josef Stalin was pressed by a French prime minister to stop suppressing Catholicism, he famously snorted: 'The Pope] How many divisions has he got?'. Given that the Catholic church looks set to last a good deal longer than the Communist party of the old Soviet Union, this put-down has not worn well. It nevertheless expresses a profound if cynical truth: secular power often depends on sheer force of numbers. Generals, industrialists - and civil servants - all measure themselves in part by the scope of their responsibilities.

Letter: Russians need true socialist alternative

Sir: It is hardly surprising that Russia has polarised between the forces of neo-fascism and Stalinism. For ordinary Russians, the attempt to introduce capitalism has been devastating. Nor should we be surprised that Boris Yeltsin's spokesman, Vyacheslav Kostikov, indicated a willingness by the president to 'find some common ground' with the fascists, as reported in the Independent ('Fascism stalks Russia', 14 December).

Letter: When difference is seen as a threat

Lord Tebbit ('Tebbit attacks 'lack of common values' ', 23 November) wants our society to have in common 'laws, customs, standards, values, language, culture and religion'.

Glowing portrait

(First Edition)

MUSIC / Sounds without effect

Before and after Stalin: Prokofiev's Sixth and Shostakovich's Tenth Symphonies, defiantly straddling the years 1947-1953. That's quite a journey in one evening. Prokofiev's symphony opened old wounds and took the lid off his worst fears. He was branded politically incorrect for his pains. Shostakovich bravely essayed the oppression of and liberation from the Stalinist purge. But only after Stalin had passed on. Doubtless Mstislav Rostropovich, who was to have conducted Sunday's London Symphony concert at the Barbican, would have laid bare the subtext with his inimitable theatricality. Mikhail Pletnev was very different.

Russian Crisis: Fears of fascism grow as 'red-brown' allies emerge

MOSCOW - Three dirty flags fluttered yesterday above a wooden platform on the balcony of the White House, from which Alexander Rutskoi proclaimed an armed uprising, writes Andrew Higgins.

FILM / Happiness is making a Bolshevik laugh

TWO OF the unrecognised greats of film history meet at the start of The Last Bolshevik, now in rep at the ICA. In front of the camera, in 1985, the Russian director Alexander Medvedkin, as old as the century whose turbulence is reflected in his battered but buoyant old face: a film-maker lost and found, and a true artist as well as a true believer. Behind the camera, eerily self-effacing as ever, Chris Marker (born Christian-Francois Bouche-Villeneuve), who rode the French New Wave away from drama to the Rive Gauche and its politics, to create his own brand of documentary.

Classic Thoughts: Iron fist in iron glove: Frederic Raphael on Arthur Koestler's bleak masterpiece, Darkness at Noon (1940)

Darkness at Noon and The Power and The Glory are the two most urgent novels of ideological confrontation written in the first half of this century. Arthur Koestler's masterpiece is a study in disillusionment, while Graham Greene's is a work of enchanted piety, but both involve confrontations between representatives of an institutionalised revolution and dubious heroes who take exception to its rule. Greene's whisky priest is opposed by The Lieutenant, a figure of puritanically evangelistic atheism. Koestler's Old Bolshevik, Rubashov, is prepared for his show trial by first a soft and then a hard inquisitor, impersonations of different styles of merciless 'morality'.

Obituary: Pierre Naville

Pierre Naville, poet, writer and artist: born 1903; publications include: Les Reines de la main gauche 1924, La Revolution et les Intellectuels 1926 (new expanded edition 1975), Paul-Thiry d'Holbach et la philosophie scientifique du 18eme siecle 1943, Le Nouveau Leviathan 1957-81, Trotsky vivant 1962, Le Temps du surreel 1977, Sociologie d'aujourd'hui 1981; married; died 24 April 1993.

BOOK REVIEW / Working-class hero who followed the wrong leader: 'Harry Pollitt' - Kevin Morgan: Manchester University Press, 40 pounds

IN 1950 the 'Beloved Leader' celebrated his 60th birthday. The party organised a great rally at which groups as diverse as Communist lawyers and bakers came forward to grovel. They presented him with endless gifts, including rose trees, a cake and a set of coffee tables. The leader's modesty, his courage and his links with the masses were hymned. So, too, were the erudition and unequalled grasp of Marxism-Leninism demonstrated by this blacksmith's son who had started work in a factory aged 12 and never made the slightest claim to academic or theoretical skills.
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