Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Nevsky Edges Out Stolypin and Stalin in ‘Name of Russia’ Competition

Paul Goble

Vienna, December 29 – An opponent of the expansion of the Christian West into medieval Russia rather than a tsarist prime minister who gave his name to a hangman’s noose and prison railcars and a viciously cruel Soviet dictator whom the current Russian government views as “an effective manager” has won the informal poll as “the name of Russia.”
On Sunday, voting on the “Name of Russia” competition organized by the “Rossiya” television channel, the Institute of Russian History of the Academy of Sciences, and the Public Opinion Foundation last May was declared closed and the winners announced on the “News of the Week” program (lenta.ru/news/2008/12/28/namerussia/).
Some 2,888,000 people took part in this Internet poll, with Aleksandr Nevsky garnering 524,575 votes, only slightly more than the 523,766 votes for Petr Stolypin and the 519,071 for Joseph Stalin – despite the fact that thanks to spamming and hacking Stalin for most of the last months had been in the lead.
Although everyone involved acknowledged that this poll – which began with 500 names and then narrowed the final choice down to 50 – was anything but scientific or accurate as a reflection of Russian public opinion, it attracted enormous attention in both the electronic and paper media not only during its course but after the announcement of the winners.
One reason for that, Moscow commentator Anatoly Baranov suggests, is that in Russia today “referenda, except those initiated by the powers that be themselves, are de facto prohibited.” And consequently, this Internet poll gave Russians a chance to express themselves more freely than normal (forum.msk.ru/material/news/675766.html).
An article by Yevgeny Lesin in today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta” is typical of the reactions of many Russian journalists and commentators. Entitled “The Rus-Troika: Stalin, Stalin and Stalin,” it regrets that the list did not include “anyone who worked on behalf of Russia, for Russia and for the glory of Russia” (www.ng.ru/politics/2008-12-29/2_rusname.html?mthree=9).
According to the Moscow journalist, the top three should have been Pushkin, Mendeleyev and Lenin, Russia’s greatest poet, her greatest scientist, and a man who however mistaken some of his ideas have proved to be set Russia on an entirely new course almost a century ago.
As for the three leaders, Lesin continues, their selection is even more disturbing than the absence of those who should have been there instead. Nevsky was a military leader and prince about whom little is known beyond the legends behind Sergei Eisenstein’s classic film on the ice campaign against the Teutonic knights.
He did win “a number of victories [but] was extremely close to the so-called Tatar-Mongols,” conquerors rather than developers of the Russian land. The film about him is “brilliant” as is the music, Lesin says, but why should his name be listed as “the name of Russia?”
Stolypin, the pre-revolutionary prime minister who suppressed the 1905 revolution prior to being assassinated, is even less appropriate on this list, the “Nezavisimaya gazeta” writer continues. Famous now for the prison rail car and the noose named in his honor and for his tough economic policies, Stolypin is better than Beria certainly but hardly “an ideal figure.”
And finally, Stalin himself. As Lesin suggests, there is little need to say anything: “Stalin simply destroyed people. Was that evil? Yes, it was. But it is a part of our history, a part which must not be forgotten.” Indeed, Stalin’s contribution to the country is summed up in prosecutor Vyshinsky’s infamous call to shoot the victims of the show trials “like mad dogs.”
Mendeleyev and Pushkin would have been far better symbols of Russia, Lesin concludes, but as so often happens in Russia, in a paraphrase of Chernomyrdin’s now classical remark about reforms in that country after the collapse of Soviet power, “we wanted to choose someone better, but we chose like always.”

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