Stalingrad Victory Commemorated
Published: February 4, 2013 (Issue # 1744)
MOSCOW — Russia on Saturday celebrated the 70th anniversary of the decisive Soviet victory over the Nazis in the Battle of Stalingrad amid talk of the revival of Stalinism, the temporary renaming of Volgograd to Stalingrad and the launch of buses bearing Stalin's image.
In Volgograd on Saturday, President Vladimir Putin laid flowers at the eternal flame dedicated to the watershed battle, which lasted some 200 days and left 1.25 million dead. He was accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and regional Governor Sergei Bozhenov.
Putin, who has reportedly been suffering from back problems, has made only three trips around the country since early October, including the one to Volgograd on Saturday.
He used the celebration to reiterate his stance that patriotism is important for maintaining a unified Russia. Putin has been actively promoted patriotism since his return to power last May.
At a meeting with veterans Saturday in Volgograd, temporarily renamed Stalingrad to reflect its Soviet namesake for the celebration, Putin said that "understanding the importance" of the Battle of Stalingrad was "essential" for "preserving our national identity," "reinforcing" Russia and "breeding patriotism."
"Patriotism, as we know it, is love for the motherland," Putin said, according to a transcript on the Kremlin website. "No country can exist without it. It would simply melt like a sugar cube in tea."
Ahead of Putin's visit, local deputies Thursday decided that the city would officially be called by its 1925-1961 name, Stalingrad, on six holidays dedicated to World War II.
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin praised the renaming Friday in a post on Twitter.
"I have never disguised my unequivocally positive attitude toward it [the renaming], including from the economic and investment point of view," he wrote.
The renaming prompted some observers to speculate about the revival of Stalinism in Russia, although Putin has never unambiguously praised Stalin.
On Friday, the British daily The Times ran an opinion piece on the renaming, saying that under Putin school textbooks have described Stalin as a "competent manager" whose actions were "entirely rational."
"The purges, the gulags, the famines are all downplayed in favor of 'Little Father,' the mighty leader who modernized the U.S.S.R. and led his country to victory against Nazi Germany," the commentary states.
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