Television viewers in Russia have voted Soviet dictator Josef Stalin — who sent millions to their deaths in the Great Purge of the 1930s — Russia's third-greatest historical figure.
Human Rights activists have naturally got all hot under the collar and have - to use tabloid terminology - blasted Stalin's inclusion in the 90-day, nationwide project by the state-run Rossiya channel. They say authorities are trying to gloss over Stalin's atrocities and glorify his tyranny.
The project, called "The Name of Russia," culminated with the announcement Sunday night that Russian medieval leader Alexander Nevsky had been voted the greatest Russian, with more than 524,000 Internet and SMS votes. Stalin garnered more than 519,000 votes, and even led in early voting.
Nevsky defeated various European invaders during his 13th-century reign and was subsequently canonized. In second place was Pyotr Stolypin, a prime minister early in the 20th century under Czar Nicholas II. Stolypin was recognized for land reform but gained notoriety for his brutal quashing of leftist revolutionaries. He saw to it that thousands were hanged for attempting to overthrow the imperial rulers. Stolypin received more than 523,000 votes,
The 12-person shortlist for Sunday's final vote featured various historical heavyweights from writers Alexander Pushkin and Fyodor Dostoyevsky to Soviet father Lenin and Ivan the Terrible. Lyudmila Alexeyeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki human rights watchdog, has called Stalin's inclusion a "requiem for humanitarian education."
I first came to know of Alexander Nevsky through the works of Sergey Eisenstein and Sergey Prokofiev. Eisenstein's film features the famous battle on ice at Lake Chudskoye in 1242, Prokofiev was asked to work with the director on the soundtrack and the resulting film and music were seen as an artistic triumph and also, due to the release of the film in 1939, as a reminder of Soviet values in the wake of resurgent German militarism. When the Museum of Moving Image opened its doors in the late 1980's the section on Russian 'Agit-Prop' films was the only one I was really interested in. In my usual eschewing of anything overly popular I declined the opportunity to fly over London as Superman or read the News At Ten - I wanted to sit in the replica Russian railway carriage and watch the black and white films that went around the huge country and were shown to the workers on projectors in railway carriages. I impressed (or embarrassed) both our young Russian hostess and Janis with my knowledge of Russian cinema, art and music - I mean I had Tchaikovsky played on the radio for my tenth birthday!
Prokofiev's music for the film has become one of those pieces that now exists on its own merits, the seven section cantata is now regarded as one of the best pieces of choral music ever written.
Sadly the Museum of Moving Image (MOMI) closed in 1998, the opportunity to get close up and personal with new technology and the history of all things cinematic lacking appeal at the time, which is a shame.