Russia must exorcise Stalin's legacy - Kremlin aide

MOSCOW Tue Dec 7, 2010 1:39am IST

Mikhail Fedotov, Russia's top rights adviser, attends a news conference in Moscow October 13, 2010. REUTERS/Alexander Natruskin/Files

Mikhail Fedotov, Russia's top rights adviser, attends a news conference in Moscow October 13, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Alexander Natruskin/Files

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia has no future unless it can overcome its totalitarian mindset and understand the full scale of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's repressions, the Kremlin's top human rights advisor said on Monday.

Mikhail Fedotov told Reuters that people's minds were still shaped by decades of oppressive Soviet rule which discouraged them from questioning authority and taking initiative.

"It is necessary to overcome the remnants of the totalitarian regime, because it is the most important aspect of the policy of modernisation," Fedotov said in an interview.

He said Russia's Soviet legacy was inextricably linked with its main problems such as corruption and lack of press freedom.

Criticising Stalin still causes outrage among some Russians but Medvedev has done so himself on various occasions, suggesting Fedotov's plans may not fall on deaf ears.

Fedotov, previously head of Russia's liberal-leaning Union of Journalists, was named by Medvedev as the head of the Kremlin council on human rights in October.

Last month, Russia's lower house of parliament backed a resolution that, for the first time in a public document, blamed Stalin for the 1940 massacre of 22,000 Polish officers.

Fedotov said he expected to present Medvedev with a package of proposals to eradicate "totalitarian thinking" in January.

It will contain concrete measures such as building more monuments to Stalin's victims -- which are very scarce -- and increased compensation payments for survivors.

Russia pays a minimum monthly compensation of 300 roubles ($10) to surviving victims of Stalin's repressions. Western historians say up to 60 million people died in Stalin's gulag labour camps, executions and forced farming collectivisation.

"For someone who spent months in a gulag ten dollars a month doesn't mean very much," Fedotov said.

SENSITIVE ISSUE

Chipping away at Stalin's legacy is a sensitive issue in Russia where some history textbooks still portray him in a positive light. Words of praise for the dictator have been recently restored to a Moscow metro station vestibule.

Rights groups say they have been alarmed by attempts by some officials -- especially during Vladimir Putin's 2000-2008 presidency -- to whitewash Stalin's crimes and play up his role in industrialising the country and defeating Nazi Germany.

Enraging some liberal-minded Russians, Moscow authorities put up posters portraying Stalin during celebrations of the 65th anniversary of the war victory in May.

Fedotov said only by coming to terms with the atrocities of the past can Russia deal with current problems like corruption.

Investors say corruption is one of the most serious barriers to doing business in Russia, which Transparency International rates as joint 154th out of 178 nations in its corruption perceptions index, along with Cambodia, Kenya and Laos.

Medvedev's push to modernise, which centres on using technology to diversify Russia's $1.2 trillion economy and wean it off reliance on oil and gas revenues, is a key part of his policy, without which he has said Russia has no future.

(Editing by Maria Golovnina)

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