Saturday, July 14, 2012

Seeing Lenin & Stalin

I'm going to skip ahead on our trip because I watched a movie about Stalin over the past two days. Besides France, we were able to visit three other countries: Finland, Estonia and Sweden. While in Estonia for three days, we went on a semi-private tour (7 people of which we were 5) of occupied Estonia. One of our stops on the tour was a pile of old statues behind a museum - primarily statues of Lenin, Stalin, and some soldiers.
our family with statues of Lenin and Stalin in Tallinn, Estonia
We took some photos of all of us around a statue of Lenin. To tell the truth, at the time I didn't know which statues were Stalin and which were Lenin. We were smiling and that later disturbed me. Would we have been smiling around a statue of Hitler? Is it because we don't understand the horror of these men? Maybe. But, as I thought more about it today, I realized that we were primarily smiling because of where we were... we were standing next to a piece of history. And, these statues weren't terrorizing people any more... they were piled up and neglected and no longer a threat. The people of Estonia are FREE!
my photo of Stalin statue in Tallinn
The History Channel documentary I just watched (online) is called "Stalin: Man of Steel." It was an amazing tale of a ruthless man who led to the death of millions of his people... but was strangely still their beloved Father. At the end of this post I'm going to share some of the notes I took - many of them actual words from the movie. But, if you are interested in learning more about him, I recommend this movie.

My notes:

The Romanov's had ruled Russia for over 200 years and it was the goal of revolutionaries, including Stalin, to overthrow them. On October 25, 1917, the Bolshevik's stormed the winter palace in St Petersburg and the Tzar was toppled. Lenin became the new leader of Russia. (Question: did Lenin take power immediately?)

Stalin worked as an enforcer in the Communist party during the next five years and was then elected General Secretary. Eventually, he became Lenin's right hand man. When Lenin died in 1924, there were two possible successors: Stalin or Trotsky. Congress went against Lenin's will and chose Stalin and exhiling Trotsky (who would be later assassinated under Stalin's orders).

Stalin, wanting only loyalty to himself, banned the Russian Orthodox religion and had all religious materials destroyed. He had the churches destroyed and thousands of priests executed. Then, he set himself up as a new god... and his image hung in every home.

Russia was a land of peasants and swamplands, but Stalin started industralizing building major factories and railroad tracks. Then, he took all of the agricultural land and created "collectives" - giant state-owned farms. The farmers who refused to deliver their harvests were subject to violence.

By 1932, modernization was taking its toll on the rural population. As 5 million people starved, Stalin had 5 millions TONS of grain exported! But, life in Moscow was good... if you followed the party lines!

A wave of political execution  followed with neighbors turning against neighbors and quotas set for how many people needed to be killed. Troika (groups of 3) went around conducting brief trials before executing people. In two years, 1.5 million people were killed.

Kolyma Goldmine from Wikipedia
Even as millions of people died in the Gulags, the prisoner's put their trust in Stalin. They thought he didn't know what was going on and would save them if he only knew. They thought he was a saint. In the Kolyma Gulag, a camp where gold was mined, the death rate was nearly 100%.

In the late 1930's, Stalin ordered a purge of his fellow party members and military leaders. He had 8 of his top generals executed and over 30,000 officers were killed over the next two years. Stalin wanted to raise up new leaders who would be faithful only to him.

In 1939, Hitler and Stalin signed a non-agression pact, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. But, on the 22nd of June, 1941, Hitler ignores the pact and attacks Russia. The Red Army is surprised and suffers heavy losses. The Soviet people fight for the Motherland and for their beloved Stalin.

Russia suffers massive losses, until winter sets in and they are able to save Moscow. Leningrad, however, is under seige by Germany for 900 days and over 1 million people die.

Yalta Conference from Wikipedia
Stalin had been pushing the Alllies to start another front, but that didn't come until June 6, 1944... D-Day. In 1945, the Yalta Conference takes place in the Crimea with Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill. Stalin demands control of German territories in the East and the other leaders, tired of war, concede.

In April 1945 the war is basically over, but Stalin pushes his army hard to be the first to reach Berlin. He sacrifices hundreds of thousands of soldiers and his officials discover the body of Hitler in his bunker. However, he keeps this information top secret. Russia is now a Superpower and Stalin is a hero.

The Postdam Conference takes place in July of 1945 when the leaders of the 3 Superpowers - Stalin, Churchill & Truman - divide territory among themselves.

On March 2nd, 1953, Stalin has a stroke and dies three days later. Russia mourns. Even those who have lost loved ones weep. Stalin has created himself into a mythical being... and he's turned a country full of peasants into a Superpower.


Jess Ferro said...

Wow, thanks so much for posting this! It sounds like you guys had or are having a really great trip :)

I believe Lenin came to power right away, but I'm not 100% positive, but pretty sure. It's interesting that the documentary said that even people in the gulags still retained faith in Stalin...I've never heard that, the books I've read set in a gulag always seemed to portray characters who were aware of how horrible Stalin really was; I'll have to look into it more now because I'm curious.

And yes, it's crazy how badly Stalin wanted to retain his power but also raise new leaders who had the "ideals" he had. He was soooo invested in creating the "perfect Soviet" childhood, and invested a lot in education/brainwashing of the young generation.

Thanks again!

Dawn said...

What a powerful post. Thanks so much for posting it. I love the way you have your travels set up in you blog by continents.
Blessings, Dawn

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