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Russian Court Throws Out Stalin Libel Case

MOSCOW (Reuters) -- A Russian court has thrown out a libel case brought by Josef Stalin's grandson against a newspaper that said the leader had personally ordered the killings of thousands of Soviet citizens.

Judge Aleksandra Lopatkina ruled that the "Novaya Gazeta" newspaper had not smeared Stalin's name and refused to award the 10 million roubles ($340,000) that his grandson, Yevgeny Dzhugashvili, was seeking in damages from the paper.

The decision was greeted with cheers by the newspaper's supporters in Moscow's Basmanny Court while a group of elderly Stalinists screamed "shame" and vowed to appeal.

Historians said the court's decision was a victory in Russia where they say there is a creeping attempt to paint a more benevolent picture of the Soviet Union's most feared leader, under whose rule millions perished.

"This means you can...say Stalin personally ordered the deaths of citizens and not fear the repercussions," said Nikita Petrov, an historian from the Memorial human rights group. "Reason has won," he said.

Lawyers for Stalin's grandson, who did not appear in court, had argued that the "Novaya Gazeta" article -- based on declassified Kremlin documents -- had smeared Stalin's name by saying he personally ordered the deaths of Soviet citizens.

"This was a very poor decision, a silly decision made with numerous procedural mistakes," said Leonid Zhura, a convinced Stalinist who is representing Dzhugashvili in court. "We shall of course appeal to clear Stalin's name."

The Stalin Myth

The many sides of the Stalin myth -- tyrant and war leader, pipe-smoking Kremlin puppet master and economic miracle worker -- are still the subject of a heated debate in Russia 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The newspaper's chief defense lawyer, Genri Reznik, said the case showed that Russia had still not come to terms with Stalin's legacy and that the country should not seek to ignore the horrors of the Soviet Union.

"Stalin is dead but Stalinism is still unfortunately alive," he said. "We need to prove calmly, quietly with documents that Stalinism has nothing to do with our society, which is, in theory at least, based on freedom."

Soviet-era dissident and author Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who was sent to a Gulag [labor camp] for making a joke about Stalin, was buried last year in a religious ceremony which bore all the hallmarks of a state funeral.

But there is still very little public discussion about the millions of Soviets who perished in Gulag labor camps or from famine during Stalin's rule.