I see that Bush is scheduled to be a guest on May 9 at the Russian ceremony commemorating the victory over Nazi Germany in 1945. German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder is also scheduled to be there. (Verlorene Siege von Uwe Klußmann Der Spiegel Online 06.05.05.)
There is an official Web site for the event, in Russian and English: www.may9.ru
The Spiegel article talks about how security from possible Chechen terrorists is a major priority at the event.
But it also goes into some detail about how the event is being celebrated. Putin is returning to the previous practice of encouraging a grand celebration of the victory in the "Great Patriotic War," as it's called in Russia, as a way of validating the current regime. This was the case during the years of Communist rule. The Brezhnev regime particularly encouraged grand, patriotic celebrations and hoopla around what Americans called V-E Day ("Victory in Europe") as a way of bolstering the prestige of his regime.
One of the aspects of this year's celebrations that it mentions is the open recognition of the role of Generalissimo Josef Stalin's role as wartime leader. (Yes, among his other titles he was a Generalissimo, too.) This is one of those symbolic issues that's difficult to characterize in any simple way. Which is always a problem in our simple-slogan political landscape of today.
During the Khrushchev years and just after, Stalin was denounced as a criminal and recklessly irresponsible and so forth. Brezhnev's regime was sometimes called neo-Stalinist in the sense of pursuing more traditional Soviet-type policies in both politics and economics, e.g., more control and censorship, less "market-oriented" economic policies. And, in its official symbolism and preferred version of history, Stalin was given a more positive treatment, though not to the level of the "cult of personality" of Stalin's own time. Klussmann writes in Spiegel:
Dabei kommt auch Generalissimus Stalin wieder zu Ehren. War es in der Ära Gorbatschows und Boris Jelzins Mode, den Oberbefehlshaber der siegreichen Sowjetarmee als politischen Verbrecher und militärischen Dilettanten darzustellen, wird derDiktator nun wieder als Staatsmann geschätzt. Boris Gryslow, Vorsitzender der Staats-Duma und intellektuell anspruchsloser Putin-Freund aus Leningrader KGB-Tagen, nannte Stalin kürzlich einen "außergewöhnlichen Menschen", der als "Führer des Landes" während des Zweiten Weltkrieges "viel getan" habe. Auch wenn damals "auf dem Gebiet der Innenpolitik Überspitzungen" geschehen seien, die Stalin "nicht schmücken". Damit pendelt sich der offiziöse Blick auf die Stalinzeit wieder bei der Position der KPdSU in der Ära Leonid Breschnew ein.
[Translation: [As part of the current Russian historical view], even Generalissimo Stalin is again being honored. If in the era of Gorbachev and Boris Yelsin it was the fashion to portray the commander-in-chief of the victorious Soviet Army as a political criminal and military dilletante, now the dictator is again valued as a statesman. Boris Gryslov, Chairman of the State Duma and intellectually modest friend of Putin's from their KGB days in Lenigrad, recently called Stalin an "outstanding man," who as "leader of the country" during the Second World War had "done much. Even if back then "in the field of domestic politics excesses" occurred that don't make Stalin "look good." Thereby, the official view of the Stalin time again swings back to the position of the CCCP [Soviet Communist Party] in the era of Leonid Breshnev.]
So I guess the trend that the Los Angeles Times reporter picked up the oither day wasn't just a quirky view or isolated incidents.
But at this point, its hard to say what this celebration (or at least a more positive valuation) of Stalin indicates. A justification for authoritarian internal politics? A signal of a more aggressive foreign policy? An indication of more controls to be placed on private companies? Or is it mainly a way of celebrating a moment of greatness in world politics that was a national victory against a powerful and cruel enemy in which people can take pride?
Ron Hutcheson writes (Bush's relationship with Putin to be tested during trip Knight-Ridder 05/05/05)
Russians have long felt that their wartime sacrifices and their role in winning the conflicthave been downplayed by the West. The Soviet Union's losses - as many as 9 million soldiers and 18 million civilians, by some estimates - dwarf the death tolls in Europe.
By comparison, the United States lost about 300,000 soldiers.
For Putin, the anniversary is a chance to set the record straight and bask in the glory from a conflict that Russians call the Great Patriotic War. The Russian leader has testily rejected suggestions that he use the occasion to distance Russia from the Soviet Union's 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact with Germany and Soviet oppression after the war.
Kussman's article has some interesting historical observations about the Second World War period:
Die rote Fahne des Sieges auf dem Reichstag in Berlin ist eine Episode geblieben, die Gründung der DDR, die Stalin für einen "Wendepunkt in der Geschichte Europas" hielt, eine Fußnote der Geschichte. Stalins Nationalbolschewismus, sein "Sozialismus in einem Land" war Hitlers Nationalsozialismus strategisch überlegen, weil, wie Stalin nüchtern analysierte, die NS-Rassenideologie eine Besatzungspolitik bewirkte, die Europas Völker gegen den "Führer" mobilisierte. Stalin habe es "großartig verstanden, dem Kampf des Bolschewismus gegen das Reich einen nationalen Charakter zu geben", erkannte neidvoll Reichspropagandaminister Joseph Goebbels im Januar 1943 in seinem Tagebuch. Mit dem Krieg von 1941 bis 1945 war das sowjetische Russland ein Imperium geworden.
[ Translation: The red flag of victory on the Reichstag in Berlin remains a episode of history; the founding of the GDR [German Democratic Republic, aka, East Germany], which Stalin held to be a "turning point in world history," is a footnote. Stalin's national Bolshevism, his "socialism in one country" strategically survived Hitler's National Socialism [Nazism], because, as Stalin soberly analyzed, the Nazi racial ideology produced an occupation policy that mobilized the peoples of Europe against the "Führer." Stalin "understood very well, to give the fight of Bolshevism against the Reich a national character," recognized the envious Reichs Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels in January 1943 in his diary. With the war of 1941 to 1945, Soviet Russia had become an empire.]
She also tells a bit about Chechnya during that time:
Im Kaukasus des Jahres 2005 ist für Russland kein Sieg in Sicht. Rebellion hat dort Tradition. Am Fuße des Elbrus, des höchsten Kaukasus-Gipfels, hatten große Teile der Bevölkerung 1942 die einrückende deutsche Wehrmacht als Befreierin begrüßt. In Tschetschenien entfesselten die Großväter der heutigen Rebellen im Herbst 1942 einen Aufstand im Hinterland, um sich mit den Deutschen zu vereinen. Umfangreiche Dokumente darüber hält die russische Staatsmacht immer noch unter Verschluss. Wie schon in der Sowjetzeit vor Michail Gorbatschow gelten historische Streitfragen wieder als unerwünschter politischer Sprengstoff. Das offizielle Russlandbevorzugt ein geglättetes Geschichtsbild.
[Translation: In the Caucusus of the year 2005, no victory for Russia is in sight. Rebellion has a tradition there. At the foot of the Elbrus, the highest Caucasian peak, large parts of the population in 1942 had greeted the advancing German Wehrmacht as a liberator. In Chechnya, the grandfathers of the present-day rebels in the spring of 1942 unleashed an uprising in the interior, in order to join forces with the Germans. A large number of documents about that are still being withheld by Russian authorities. As it used to be in the Soviet times before Mikhail Gorbachev, disputed historical qestions are regarded as unwanted political explosives. Official Russia prefers a smooth historical image.]
Salon just this week published a long review of two books on Stalin: The human monster by Andrew O'Hehir Salon 05/05/05.
O'Hehir discusses both Stalin: A Biography (2005) by Robert Service and Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (2004) by Simon Sebag Montefiore in this article.