The Stalin Puzzle: Deciphering Post-Soviet Public Opinion

Source: Getty
Joseph Stalin, the Soviet leader responsible for the deaths of millions, still commands worryingly high levels of admiration in some post-Soviet countries.
Related Media and Tools

Joseph Stalin is not yet dead, it would seem. The Soviet leader who was responsible for the deaths of millions over his thirty-year rule still commands worryingly high levels of admiration for a host of reasons. These findings are clear in the first-ever comparative opinion polls on the dictator in the post-Soviet countries of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Russia. The surveys, commissioned by the Carnegie Endowment in 2012, suggest de-Stalinization has not succeeded in the former Soviet Union and most post-Soviet citizens have not come to grips with their history.

Poll Findings

  • In Russia, support for Stalin has actually increased since the end of the Soviet Union.

  • There is a correlation between Stalin’s rehabilitation in Russia and the presidency of Vladimir Putin.

  • There is a growing level of indifference toward Stalin, especially among young people. This is especially apparent in Azerbaijan, where 39 percent of young respondents do not even know who Stalin is.

  • Georgians display alarmingly high levels of admiration for Stalin—45 percent of them express a positive attitude toward the former Soviet leader.

  • The polls are symptomatic of a case of “doublethink.” Respondents say that Stalin was both a “cruel tyrant” and a “wise leader.”

Analyzing the Results

Post-Soviet citizens are confused. The poll results are more an illustration of feelings of dependency and confusion than genuine support for a dictatorial government. Russians in particular lack alternative historical models.

Stalin is still identified strongly with victory in World War II. The memory of the defeat of Nazi Germany remains very strong in all four countries polled, especially among older citizens. Stalin is still admired as a wartime leader—even as the same people reject his acts of repression.

De-Stalinization in Russia has been half-hearted. There have been two-and-a-half attempts to engage the public in a debate on Stalin’s crimes, but only one of them, begun under Mikhail Gorbachev, had some success. Putin’s Kremlin has found the image of Stalin useful in his effort to solidify his authority.

A new generation thinks differently. Many Russian urbanites are de-Sovietized, more self-sufficient, and more critical of Russian history. Stalin is losing his power to attract or repel this segment of society.

De-Stalinization in Georgia has not run deep. The anti-Soviet and anti-Stalin campaigns launched by the government of President Mikheil Saakashvili were conspicuous but superficial, and underlying opinions of the leader remain favorable. However, for Georgians, Stalin is much more a national icon than a political model.

End of document

About the Russia and Eurasia Program

The Carnegie Russia and Eurasia Program has, since the end of the Cold War, led the field of Eurasian security, including strategic nuclear weapons and nonproliferation, development, economic and social issues, governance, and the rule of law.


In Fact



of the Chinese general public

believe their country should share a global leadership role.


of Indian parliamentarians

have criminal cases pending against them.


charter schools in the United States

are linked to Turkey’s Gülen movement.


thousand tons of chemical weapons

are in North Korea’s possession.


of import tariffs

among Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru have been eliminated.


trillion a year

is unaccounted for in official Chinese income statistics.


of GDP in oil-exporting Arab countries

comes from the mining sector.


of Europeans and Turks

are opposed to intervention in Syria.


of Russian exports to China

are hydrocarbons; machinery accounts for less than 1%.


of undiscovered oil

is in the Arctic.


U.S. government shutdowns

occurred between 1976 and 1996.


of Ukrainians

want an “international economic union” with the EU.


million electric bicycles

are used in Chinese cities.


of the world’s energy supply

is consumed by cities.


of today’s oils

require unconventional extraction techniques.


of the world's population

will reside in cities by 2050.


of Syria’s population

is expected to be displaced by the end of 2013.


of the U.S. economy

is consumed by healthcare.


of Brazilian protesters

learned about a massive rally via Facebook or Twitter.


million cases pending

in India’s judicial system.

1 in 3


now needs urgent assistance.


political parties

contested India’s last national elections.


of Egypt's labor force

works in the private sector.


of oil consumed in the United States

is for the transportation sector.


of Chechnya’s pre-1994 population

has fled to different parts of the world.


of oil consumed in China

was from foreign sources in 2012.


billion in goods and services

traded between the United States and China in 2012.


billion in foreign investment and oil revenue

have been lost by Iran because of its nuclear program.


increase in China’s GDP per capita

between 1972 and today.


billion have been spent

to complete the Bushehr nuclear reactor in Iran.


of Iran’s electricity needs

is all the Bushehr nuclear reactor provides.



were imprisoned in Turkey as of August 2012 according to the OSCE.

Stay in the Know

Enter your email address in the field below to receive the latest Carnegie analysis in your inbox!

Personal Information
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
1779 Massachusetts Avenue NW Washington, DC 20036-2103 Phone: 202 483 7600 Fax: 202 483 1840
Please note...

You are leaving the website for the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy and entering a website for another of Carnegie's global centers.