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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 5 March, 2003, 12:34 GMT
Shades of opinion on Stalin legacy

By Steve Rosenberg
BBC Moscow correspondent

In bright spring sunshine, pensioner Iskra Myachina takes me on a journey back in time.

Together we stroll though the centre of Moscow, across Manezh Square, past Russia's parliament, the Duma.

We stop outside a green and white building called the Hall of Columns.

Iskra Myachina
It was as if we lost the father of the family, the person who took care of us. We felt like orphans
Iskra Myachina
It's here that Josef Stalin lay in state after his death 50 years ago. It's here that Iskra came to see his coffin.

"Stalin's body for four days and nights lay here," Iskra recalls. "Many people wanted to come.

"People crowded and sometimes they were pressed against the walls of the buildings and lorries. And there were tragic deaths of people who came to say goodbye to Stalin."

Iskra joined the public outpouring of grief. She felt as if the whole world had come to an end.

"It was a horrible feeling of the loss of the leader of the country and personally it was as if we lost the father of the family, the person who took care of us. We felt like orphans."

One man who didn't go to Stalin's funeral was Alexander Yakovlev.

In his tiny office, the former Politburo member shows me reams of documents he's collected about Stalin's crimes.

Stalin is a great personality. He's like Abraham Lincoln. He's like the captain of a great state, the captain of a ship
Russian teenager Lyuba
To Alexander, Josef Stalin wasn't the father of the nation, but the enemy: a man who created a machine of terror which destroyed 25 million innocent lives. Alexander, though, believes Russians have stopped caring.

"Stalin was an animal. A bandit! But people are forgetting that. Today 30% of our population think Stalin was a good man who created order. When it comes to their own history our population is completely ignorant."

At School Number 1208 in Moscow, history students discuss Stalin's legacy. To the 16-year-olds in the classroom, labour camps and purges are episodes from Russia's distant past.

Pupils at School Number 1208 in Moscow
Six out of 25 pupils voted for life under Stalin
Yet Stalin appeals to many of them as a strong leader.

"Stalin is a great personality," Lyuba tells me. "He's like Abraham Lincoln. He's like the captain of a great state, the captain of a ship."

"I agree with Lyuba," says Boris. "He was one of the greatest men in the history of the whole world."

At the end of the lesson, I ask the class a question.

"Raise your hands," I ask, " if you'd like to live under a leader like Stalin."

I don't expect much of a response.

But six of the 25 students raise their hands. Six young men and women prepared to reject the freedom and democracy they've grown up with in return for order.

It's a sign that Stalin still hangs like a dark cloud over this country and its people - half a century after his death.

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Country profile: Georgia
01 Sep 02 |  Country profiles

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