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Page last updated at 21:15 GMT, Thursday, 8 October 2009 22:15 UK

Stalin's grandson sues newspaper

Joseph Stalin in a photograph from 1930
Some say the case is another twist in a campaign to rehabilitate Stalin

Joseph Stalin's grandson has launched a court action claiming a liberal Russian newspaper has defamed the former Soviet dictator.

Yevgeny Dzhugashvili says an article claiming Stalin personally ordered the deaths of Soviet citizens is a lie.

A Moscow court has agreed to hear the case against the opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta.

The paper published a piece referring to declassified death warrants which it says bore Stalin's personal signature.

Mr Dzhugashvili - who was not at the court as the case was brought on Thursday - says that is a lie, and that Stalin never directly ordered the deaths of anyone.

It is the latest bizarre twist in what many see as a Kremlin-backed campaign to rehabilitate Stalin's reputation, says the BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in Moscow.

Respected and feared

A small crowd of Stalin supporters gathered outside Moscow's Basmmani courthouse, where lawyers for Mr Dzhugashvili presented the case.

AT THE SCENE
Rupert Wingfield-Hayes
Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, BBC News, Moscow

Outside the courthouse today a group of kindly old ladies told me they honestly believe Stalin was a great man, that under his rule Russia had been peaceful, safe and, most importantly, strong.

The nostalgia for the age when Russia was a superpower is perhaps understandable, but Russia has still not taken an honest look at the horrors of the Soviet era.

In the 1990s some attempt was made to unveil the past. The Soviet archives where opened. People could finally learn of the gulags and the great political purges.

But in the last few years the Russian government has once again begun to draw a veil across the past.

"Under Stalin our country was respected," said one elderly supporter.

"Now we are beggars. In those days we were respected and feared by others."

Yury Mukhin, a lawyer representing Yevgeny Dzhugashvili, disagreed, saying: "Stalin for many people is the symbol of an honest and fair leader."

A victory in the libel case would vindicate that version of history, he said.

Such views are far from unusual in Russia, which is why this case is so important, says our correspondent.

Genry Reznik, for the defence, said: "If the court finds for plaintiff, it will be a massive bomb. We should put an end to these discussions about the murderous dictator - he should be condemned.

"We should have our own Nuremberg, and not only for Stalin - for his whole regime."

The Kremlin has professed no opinion about the case. But in other ways Russia's leadership has been quietly moving to rehabilitate the great dictator, adds our correspondent.

Last month a brass plaque praising Stalin suddenly reappeared in a Moscow metro station.

FROM THE WORLD AT ONE

And last year a history textbook for Russian schoolchildren was published which referred to Stalin as an "effective manager" who led Russia to victory in World War II - not, as has been widely claimed, a brutal dictator responsible for sending millions to their deaths.

Last year in an online competition to find the greatest Russian ever, Stalin came third - even though he was not actually Russian, but Georgian.

Stalin was born Joseph Dzhugashvili in the Georgian town of Gori in 1878 or 1879. He adopted his nickname - which in Russian means "steel" - after joining the Bolsheviks.



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