Activists Denounce Stalin in Station

MTPolicemen standing near the criticized phrase УStalin raised us to be loyal to the nationФ in the Kurskaya metro.

The freshly renovated Kurskaya metro station reopened this week as the newest front in a bitter controversy over the legacy of Soviet leader Josef Stalin, whose name was returned to the facade after more than 50 years.

The entrance hall of the Circle Line station once again bears a verse from the 1944 version of the Soviet anthem: “Stalin raised us to be loyal to the nation; He inspired us to work and be heroic.”

Human rights activists condemned the reference to Stalin as distasteful and said it was part of broader effort to soften history’s depiction of him, while the Moscow metro maintains that it was just trying to be faithful in its restoration of a historical monument.

“Recreating the original station with Stalin’s name is the same as restoring a Nazi memorial with Hitler’s name on a swastika,” Oleg Orlov, head of human rights organization Memorial and an outspoken critic of the Stalinist terror, told The Moscow Times.

Stalin ordered mass executions during the Great Terror in the 1930s and beyond. The disputed inscription — penned by Soviet poet Sergei Mikhailkov, who died Thursday at the age of 96 — was removed after Stalin’s successor, Nikita Khrushchev, launched a campaign against his personality cult in the mid-1950s.

The verse was replaced by another from the anthem: “The sun of freedom shone through thunder, and great Lenin lit up our path.”

Alexander Cherkasov, also from Memorial, said Stalin’s return to the station might have been encouraged by the current political establishment. Last year, the Education and Science Ministry approved a new history textbook for Russian schools, which argues that Stalin’s terror was justified as an “instrument of development.”

Metro spokesman Pavel Sukharnikov said such accusations were flimsy. Metroinzhrekonstruktsiya, the company that managed the renovation, merely sought to restore the station’s original appearance, he said.

“We went by the project that was used in 1949,” he said. “We wanted to stay true to history.”

Although controversial, Stalin is a part of Russia’s past, said Sergei Obukhov, a Communist State Duma deputy, who does not see Stalin’s role as outright negative.

“It would be wrong to compare him with the Nazis, as we did not have an equivalent of the Nuremberg Trials, where Nazi crimes were recognized by the international community,” he said.

The Kurskaya metro station, Obukhov said, should be protected like any other historical monument.

Sergei Nikitin, head of the Moscow branch of Amnesty International, argued that restoring the citation was a curiosity more than a scandal.

“I understand that some people are outraged, but I also think that it was important to preserve the original architecture with all the decorations,” he said. “After all, references to Stalin and also Lenin can be found at many other stations of the metro, not just Kurskaya.”

While Stalin’s name returned, a statue of the Soviet leader did not. Sukharnikov said the original was lost in the 1950s. The station had been closed since July 3, 2008, for a thorough renovation and reconstruction.