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Obituary: Stalin's Daughter Struggled In The Shadow Of Her Father

  • Nikola Krastev

Svetlana Stalina (aka Lana Peters) embarrassed the Soviet Union when she defected to the United States in 1967.

Svetlana Stalina (aka Lana Peters) embarrassed the Soviet Union when she defected to the United States in 1967.

The only daughter of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin -- who denounced communism after defecting to the United States in the 1960s -- has died in the U.S. state of Wisconsin.

Authorities there said Lana Peters, better known as Svetlana Alliluyeva, died of colon cancer on November 22, at the age of 85.

Born Svetlana Stalina, she defected to the United States in 1967, at the height of the Cold War, and denounced her father and communist rule in the Soviet Union.

"Of course, I disapprove of many things, but I think that the many other people who still are in our central committee and politburo should be responsible for the same things for which [my father] alone was accused," she told reporters in April 1967, a month after her defection. "And if I feel someone is responsible for those horrible things, killing people, injustice, I feel that the responsibility for this was and is the party, the regime, and the ideology as a whole."

She wrote two memoirs about her life which became bestsellers in the United States and reportedly made her a wealthy woman. She married an architect, William Peters, in 1970.

Svetlana Alliluyeva (as she was then known) speaking to reporters following her defection in 1967

Svetlana Alliluyeva (as she was then known) speaking to reporters following her defection in 1967

Svetlana Stalina took her mother’s name, Alliluyeva, after the death of Josef Stalin in 1953 in an attempt to distance herself from a person responsible for the deaths of millions of people and for unleashing a wave of political terror.

But according to people who knew her, she struggled all her life between her desire to lead an ordinary, private life and the unwanted publicity brought upon her by the association with her infamous father

Sergei Khrushchev, the son of the late Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, told RFE/RL that he was saddened by the news. Even though that they’ve never met, he claimed he had always felt a strong affinity with her.

'A Tragic Figure Of Shakespearean-Tolstoyan Dimensions'

"[She] lived a difficult life," he said. "Svetlana is a tragic figure of Shakespearean-Tolstoyan dimensions, so to speak. To live first with Stalin, then to be in Stalin’s shadow throughout her life. I myself have also lived in the shadow of my father but he was a totally different figure [than Stalin]; she had to live in the shadow of someone [perceived as] a tyrant, a criminal even."

Stalin's daughter defected to the United States in 1967, a move she said was prompted in part by the Soviet authorities' poor treatment of Indian communist Brijesh Singh -- a man she would later refer to as her husband, though they were never allowed to marry.

Her defection was seen at the time as a big ideological victory for the West, in particular for the United States. The reasoning went that, if even the privileged daughter of the most fearsome communist leader had decided to defect, the Soviet system had to be completely rotten.

Her defection was indeed judged a heavy political blow by Moscow and instantly a search for a scapegoat was launched.

Vladimir Semichastny, then the head of the Soviet KGB, was deemed responsible by the Politburo for this political failure and he was relieved of his duties.

Complicated Relationship With Russia

After moving to the United States, Lana Peters published "Twenty Letters To A Friend," a memoir of her life with Stalin which became a bestseller.

Even though she made a number of statements denouncing the communist system, her approach to the subject was complicated.

She returned to the Soviet Union in 1984 and her Soviet citizenship was restored.

In later years, Peters talked about her ambivalent feelings toward Russia and her adopted country.

In later years, Peters talked about her ambivalent feelings toward Russia and her adopted country.

Nonetheless, she had a fall out with the authorities just over a year later and returned to the United States.

In "Svetlana About Svetlana," a 2008 documentary that explored her life and literary work, she described how impossible it was to escape the shadow of her father.

"People say: 'Stalin's daughter, Stalin's daughter'. This means I am supposed to walk around with a rifle and shoot all Americans," she said.

"Or [others say]: 'No, she moved to [the United States], she is an American citizen, meaning I am [supposed to be walking around] with an atomic bomb against [Russia]. No, I am neither this, nor that, I am somewhere in between. And that 'somewhere in between', people don't get..."

Before her marriage to William Peters, whom she divorced in 1973, Lana Peters had been married two times previously: in 1945 to Grigory Morozov, with whom she had a son, Josef, who predeceased her; and in 1949 to Yury Zhdanov, with whom she had a daughter, Yekaterina. She also had another daughter, Olga, with Peters.

• Svetlana Stalina (aka Svetlana Alliluyeva, Lana Peters), writer, Soviet defector, born February 28, 1926; died November 22, 2011

Yuri Zhigalkin of RFE/RL's Russian Service contributed to this report

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