What do the historians and the witnesses’ memoirs say
The Caucasian Knot (an online news site that covers the Caucasus region) provides background info about famous myths and provides reliable information related to Joseph Stalin’s role in WWII’s developments, as well as the most popular misconceptions about his actions before the war and during the hostilities.
Myth #1: ‘Stalin was unaware of the German attack’
“Various versions are voiced nowadays as to whether the precise date of launching the war and its plan were known to us in advance. The General Staff learned about the date of the German troops’ attack from a defector only on 21 July and we reported it to J.V. Stalin right away. He immediately gave his consent to put troops on a war footing. Apparently, he had previously received such important news through other channels…,” read the memoirs of Marshal Georgy Zhukov, fully published in 2002.
Myth #2: ‘The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact delayed the beginning of war’
“It’s a widespread belief, but it’s completely wrong. First of all, it’s immoral that the Soviet Union colluded with Nazi Germany. This collusion would imply the division of the territories of other states. ‘Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Finland were divided between the USSR and Germany’ – this is also a grossly immoral fact. Secondly, having signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, we became Germany’s allies, and that was the very reason why Germany started the war in Poland. If we had announced that we were allies of Britain, France and Poland, and in case of an attack on Poland we would have rendered assistance to the latter, then Germany would have never dared attack Poland. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact is not only a crime of the Stalinist regime, but also one of the reasons for the breakout of WWII, an episode of which was the Great Patriotic War,” believes Andrey Zubov, a Soviet and Russian historian, theologian and political analyst, holder of a PhD in History, and ex-Professor at MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations).
Myth #3: ‘Stalin himself intended to attack Hitler’
“It’s the most vicious falsification of the war. Even the German documents show evidence that people from Hitler’s entourage reported to him as follows: ‘The USSR intends to comply with the Non-aggression Pact conditions, and aggression shouldn’t be expected in the coming months,’ ” says Georgy Kumanyov, the Head of the Russian Military History Center at the Institute of Russian History of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Myth #4: ‘It was personally Stalin who won the war’
“It wasn’t Stalin, but rather the party as a whole, the Soviet leadership, our heroic army, its talented generals and valiant warriors, the entire Soviet people, who secured the victory in the Great Patriotic War,” Nikita Khrushchev, the Central Committee First Secretary, claimed at the historical closed-door session of the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, on 25 February 1956.
Myth #5: ‘Stalin preferred not to focus on his role in WWII’
“Generally speaking, it would be nice for one to know that the myth about Stalin’s irreplaceable role in our ‘victory’, about him being ‘a man of genius’, who crushed the enemy, was invented… by Stalin himself. In 1948, a brief biography of the leader was published, the text of which was edited by Stalin himself. Moreover, it was he who wrote down the passages, praising his own military merits. And it is quite understandable, because it was necessary to justify himself for the mediocre, if not criminal, decisions that he made. He was well-aware of it, equally as millions of people who experienced the consequences of Stalin’s ‘military genius’,” said Vitaly Dymarsky, editor-in-chief of the ‘The Dilettante’ historical magazine, professor at MGIMO and HSE (Higher School of Economics).
Myth #6: ‘’Cleansing on the top notch of the army didn’t affect its combat capacity’
‘Comrade Stalin is quite guilty of eliminating military personnel before the war, which affected the army’s combat capacity. For that very reason he, before starting to hear the plan for the forthcoming operation, brought the conversation around to the personnel issue, so as to test me… During this conversation, Comrade Stalin repeatedly mentioned generals, who had been released from prison before the war and who fought well. ‘And who is to blame for sending those poor, innocent people to jail?’ I timidly asked Stalin. ‘Who, who…’ Stalin responded in an irritated manner. ‘Those who sanctioned their arrest, those who were heading the army at that time,” – an excerpt from the memoirs of Andrey Ivanovich Yeremenko, the Soviet Union Marshal.
Myth #7: ‘’Soldiers went into assault, shouting ‘’For the Motherland! For Stalin!’
“It’s an absolute myth, which was already propagated back in that period. Those were political instructors who would cry out: ‘For the Motherland! For Stalin!’ They had to do that, because if a political instructor hadn’t cried it out, then he would have been facing serious consequences. As for the rest, the rank and file, and even the commanders, they never even recalled Stalin when carrying out an attack…They shouted: ‘Mother!’, they shouted some swearwords, just yelled something to muffle their fear, but that certainly wasn’t the ‘Motherland or Stalin’. Just ask any front-line soldier, though they are few of them left,” says Nikolay Svanidze, a historian and journalist.
Myth #8: ‘There were no interethnic conflicts during Stalin’s rule’
“Many people either don’t know or don’t want to know that there were mass arrests, deportations and executions on ethnic grounds during Stalin’s ruling. Whole nations were declared ‘enemies’. Could that have contributed to interethnic consolidation? There are numerous documents evidencing that there were acute conflicts on national grounds. Stalin left a very burdensome legacy in this regard,” believes Oleg Khlevnyuk, a research fellow at the International Center of WWII History and Sociology of the National Research University Higher School of Economics (NRU HSE), an author of the book ‘Stalin. New Biography of a Dictator’.
Myth #9: ‘Stalin’s role in WWII was downplayed’
“No one has ever erased Stalin from history. He, in contrast, quite easily crossed out his opponents, as well as those whom he eliminated, from encyclopedias and blanked them out from all books. Stalin remained on the pages of the Great Soviet encyclopedia, equally as in all other encyclopedias, as well as in school history textbooks, and even in a more glamorous form than he actually deserved,” says Yan Rachinskiy, a member of the board of the Russian ‘Memorial’ society.
Myth #10: “Stalin’s Order #227 fundamentally changed the course of war’
“Order #227 (No one step back!) had a double meaning. On the one hand it strengthened the troops’ tenacity and decreased the number of cases when they yielded ground without order. On the other hand, the commanders often ordered a retreat too late, as they were apprehensive to order any retreat without the highest sanctions, which resulted in troops being entrapped. Stalin hoped that the Red Army soldiers would fight more strenuously and inflict heavy losses to the enemy if they were threatened by execution and penal battalions. In reality, sometimes it was quite the opposite. Scared of being reprimanded, the commanding officers sometimes ordered a retreat too late which resulted in additional losses,” – an abstract from the book “The Mythical War. The Second World War Miracles” by historian Boris Sokolov.
According to a Levada Center survey, in 2017 the number of people having a positive attitude towards Stalin reached a historical maximum in 16 years. In March 2016, 37% of respondents “respected”, “admired” and “felt sympathy” for Stalin but in January 2017 their number increased to 46%. At the same time the number of people who were dissatisfied with Stalin also increased. At the beginning of 2017, 17% respondents had “fear”, “hatred”, “animus” and “disgust” towards Stalin while in 2017 the number increased to 21%.
The attempts to memorialize Stalin in the Caucasus
At present there are dozens of monuments to Stalin in the North Caucasus, some of them have been preserved since the soviet time and several have been erected just recently. Most of them are located on the North Ossetia territory, with many busts located in Beslan and Vladikavkaz. There are several monuments in Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria and in Stavropol. In Makhachkala, Tskhinvali and some other towns there are even streets named after Stalin.
There had been a monument to Stalin in his homeland, in the town of Gori (Georgia) until 2010. At present, there is a museum complex operating in the town, including a building where Joseph Jughashvili spent the first years of his life.
On the threshold of the 71st anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War, Yunus Bek Yevkurov, President of Ingushetia, stood against portraits of Stalin being placed in schools. According to him, the portraits of soviet generals and WWII heroes were to be placed in schools, but there should be no Josef Stalin portraits there. “It’s quite clear that he is an enemy to us, as well as to twelve other repressed nations. It was Stalin who decided on deportation,” Yevkurov stated.
It is noteworthy that in February 2017, on the eve of the 73rd anniversary of the deportation, members of the National Assembly of Ingushetia passed in its first reading a bill, prohibiting the memorialization of Stalin in the region.
A wave of initiatives to memorialize Joseph Stalin arose in Russia, including its southern regions, ahead of the 70th anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War. Banners with Stalin’s images appeared in Makhachkala at the end of April 2015, but they were removed the next day. On 6 May 2015, there were reports on the removal of a billboard with Stalin’s portrait in Krasnodar.
On the threshold of the 70th anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War, three placards with Josef Stalin’s portraits were placed in Mikhailovsk after dismantling of a similar billboard in Stavropol. Banners with congratulations on the Victory Day as well as portraits of Stalin were placed on public transport stops by the CPRF regional branch in Krasnodar. On 6 May 2015, all billboards vanished. Dagestan City Lights authorities refused to erect a monument to Stalin ahead of the 70th anniversary of WWII, referring to the public’s dubious feelings towards him.
In 2015-2016, new monuments to Stalin were erected in several Russian cities.
On 9 May 2016, Josef Stalin’s bust was inaugurated in Ozrek village, Lesken district, Kabardino-Balkaria. The decision to erect the monument was made at a village community meeting. 70% of villagers supported the initiative. The initiative to erect the monument was later sanctioned by local government members.