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All the most portentous cases in our country, as it happens, wind up in Moscow's Basmanny District Court. And the defamation suit filed by the grandson of Josef Stalin against "Novaya gazeta" is no exception.

The basis of the case is a well-known article by Anatoly Yablokov headlined "Beria Is Guilty." Among other things, Yablokov asserted that Stalin personally signed execution orders for Soviet citizens and then handed them over to his security chief, Lavrenty Beria, to be carried out. The grandson doesn't agree with this. And so they're off to court.

Well done, Yevgeny Dzhugashvili. He is acting properly. To some, Stalin is a blood-soaked tyrant and executioner. To Dzhugashvili, he is a grandfather. A dear relative for whom he feels offended. He is taking to court a newspaper that, in his opinion, unjustly accused his grandfather. And that's the way it should be. No matter who your father is, you don't betray your father. No matter who your grandfather was, defend your grandfather. Don't be a Pavlik Morozov. I say this in all seriousness and my attitude toward Dzhugashvili's actions is, generally speaking, one of sympathy.

But there is more that is interesting in this case.

Defense lawyer Genri Reznik has called this trial "extraordinary." And he is right, because this case is practically a trial of Stalin himself.

Rather, it is a trial in defense of Stalin. Of course, looking at the matter this way is absurd because Stalin and Stalinism must be condemned. It shouldn't be possible for a district court (even the Basmanny District Court!) to justify Stalin in the course of hearing a civil case.

Past And Present

The real joke here is that there haven't been any other courts or trials. At first, Stalin was a god. Then, at the 20th party congress, he was exposed. Then, under Leonid Brezhnev, he was de facto rehabilitated. His crown was taken away again during perestroika. And now he is being rehabilitated again in the form of many tiny things such as the restoration of the Kurskaya metro station and of large things, such as when the country's highest leaders tell us that Stalin had no choice but to sign a treaty with Hitler.

I agree with Reznik when he says that for us, Stalin is not the past but the present. Stalin is everywhere today. Neither our top leaders, nor the Supreme Court, nor the State Duma has ever given an assessment of the actions of this figure in any form. What is there except for the decisions of that old 20th party congress and a few declarations from the perestroika era?

Was he an executioner or an effective manager? Could he have built an advanced industrial society by some means other than destroying millions of people? Could he have won the war without sacrificing millions more?

So, inasmuch as in the 56 years since Stalin died our country has in no way drawn its ultimate and irrevocable conclusion about Stalin and Stalinism, we now find ourselves in the position of having the question decided by some district court. And who can tell how the case will end? What if the judges decide Stalin did not sign the execution orders and that this remarkable man is not guilty? Will "Novaya gazeta" have to publish a retraction and an apology?

Anton Orekh is a Moscow-based journalist. The views expressed in this commentary, which was originally published on "Yezhednevny zhurnal" are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL

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