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Aleksandr Nevsky: A Fitting Hero For Today's Russia

Russians have just voted for their favorite historical figure. The 13th-century Prince Aleksandr Nevsky came out on top. Pyotr Stolypin, a reforming prime minister from the early 20th, was second. Stalin came in third.

People basically voted based on what they were fed by television.

Rossia state television channel was so embarrassed to see Stalin leading the poll, they rehashed the Nevsky myth, and dug out the story of the tsarist prime minister (there was a miniseries about Stolypin aired recently), to push "efficient manager" Stalin into third place.

The Nevsky myth is so old and badly sourced that any regime can use it to its advantage. Take these two portraits:

The 19th-century portrait shows Nevsky as a benevolent saint/uniter, while film director Sergei Eisenstein (the 1942 portrait is basically an addition to his film "Alexander Nevsky") essentially stripped him of Christian sainthood and used him to symbolize Russia's resistance to the invader, with the emphasis given to a powerful leader figure followed by adoring masses.

It is only fitting that in an increasingly xenophobic Russia, a militant Christian saint uniting Russians against foreign invaders becomes the greatest national symbol.

It's funny too how Stolypin has evolved from being associated in Russian textbooks with the term "Stolypin's neckties" (i.e. the gallows) to be recast as a national reformist hero.

If they'd rerun the movie about Pushkin's last days starring Bezrukov, then maybe "our everything" would have taken the place he deserves.

But of course Pushkin is above any rating.

-- Pavel Butorin

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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