MOSCOW (AP) — An opinion survey commissioned by the Carnegie Endowment says that Soviet dictator Josef Stalin has remained widely admired in Russia and other ex-Soviet nations, even though millions of people died under his brutally repressive rule.
The Carnegie report, released Friday, was based on the first-ever comparative opinion polls in Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. It found that support for Stalin in Russia has actually increased since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
The report has concluded that public attitudes to the dictator have improved during Russian President Vladimir Putin's 13-year rule as the Kremlin has found Stalin's image useful in its efforts to tighten control.
The tyrant led the Soviet Union from 1924 until his death in 1953. Communists and other hardliners credit him with leading the country to victory in World War II, and making it a nuclear superpower, while others condemn the brutal purges that killed millions of people.
One of the report's authors, Lev Gudkov, a Russian sociologist whose polling agency conducted the survey, noted that in 1989, the peak of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's efforts to liberalize the country and expose Stalinist crimes, only 12 percent of Russians polled described Stalin as one of the most prominent historical figures.
In the Carnegie poll last year, 42 percent of Russian respondents named Stalin as the most influential historical figure.
"Vladimir Putin's Russia of 2012 needs symbols of authority and national strength, however controversial they may be, to validate the newly authoritarian political order," Gudkov wrote in the Carnegie report. "Stalin, a despotic leader responsible for mass bloodshed but also still identified with wartime victory and national unity, fits this need for symbols that reinforce the current political ideology."