The year 2012 marks the 75th anniversary of Stalin’s Great Terror. On July 2, 1937, Joseph Stalin signed the resolution that ordered an immediate arrest, trial, and sentencing of any active “kulaks” and criminals. The sentence often was a death penalty performed by firing a gun into one’s nape. If not killed, people were sent to the labour camps, including the infamous Gulag. Their homes were ravaged and parents and children were separated, the latter carrying the stigma of their parents’ “treachery” for years, until the rehabilitation.
These were not the only outcomes of the years of repression. By sending multitudes of statesmen, men-at-arms and scientists to jail or the deathblock, Stalin practically decapitated Russian armed forces ahead of Hitler’s invasion. The attempt to secure the power cost the improbable losses at the start of the Great Patriotic War.
Stalin died in 1953. The year 1954 saw the famous defamation of Joseph the Terrible, and for a while he remained just one of the Russian leaders of the Soviet time. Then perestroika began, with all its notorious revisions of the Soviet past, and Stalin came back to life, figuratively speaking, as a symbol of strength of the Russian state, the symbol of power and fear.
This ambiguity in attitude toward Stalin continues to this day and is unlikely to ever subside. Both supporters and haters choose to see but one side of the coin: Stalin is either a strong leader who secured Russia’s place in the international arena, or a ruthless dictator and murderer who orchestrated the purges, repressions, the war, and who knows what else.
Such are the opinions of the older generations of Russians. Yet there are younger people who are extremely susceptible to brainwashing, as are many youngsters. History teaching at schools has deteriorated in the last ten years, while the number of popular books that cite sometimes fictional, or at best unreliable, sources has grown. Younger generations are practically caught between the lack of knowledge and historical chimeras, and this needed tackling.
The Organisation for the Victims of Illegal Political Repressions thought they had a cracking idea. Since Russian youngsters spend their time browsing YouTube, Facebooking and Twittering, there was no better way to alert them to the problem of political repression than through the use of those familiar symbols. So seven posters appeared, each comparing Stalin to one of the social media services.
As witty as it was, the project backfired. The Facebook group comments indicated that people did not consider the use of social media appropriate. One user stated that “this could be used against anyone”, and in many ways he is right. Those who denounce Stalin for purges found the posters “too funny” for the occasion. Some still pointed out that the campaign managed to create a rather positive image of Stalin.
Incidentally, in Russia and elsewhere social media continue to be vilified. Be it the time they consume, the sharing opportunities they offer, or the data they request at registration, all attract criticism from those who think they are a dangerous loss of time. “Stalin is like Facebook: he urged to share information” sounds more like a pun on Facebook than on Stalin.
One is puzzled at the fact that Google is nowhere to be seen in this campaign. You may put it down to Russia’s love for Yandex. The Yandex poster parodies its slogan: instead of “Find everything” it is “Find everyone”. Meanwhile, both Yandex and Google, especially the latter, provide a wealth of information on people in search engine results pages (SERPs), whereby “find everyone” is not even funny anymore.
One cannot predict whether the campaigners have succeed at educating younger audiences about the atrocities of Stalinism. What is true is that in the long run this has been a most intelligent and witty PR campaign. Perhaps its cleverness and plays on words will be the reasons why it is not a massive hit: masses rarely enjoy subtle jokes. But those who are capable of appreciating the subtlety will see the point of Orwell’s 1984: be it Stalin or social media, Big Brother is watching you.
Stalin is like Apple: he cost a lot
Stalin is like Facebook: he urged to share information
Stalin is like Foursquare: he showed each their place
Stalin is like Twitter: he spared words
Stalin is like vKontakte: he captured millions
Stalin is like Yandex: he sent queries
Stalin is like YouTube: he allowed to load and send.