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Many Stalinists of today

The Red Soul
Regissør: Jessica Gorter

Through interviews, observations and archive films we gain insight into the marvelous and widespread Stalin worship in today's Russia.


Up to the 1960 years, the map of Russia was covered with dots that marked GUlag-driven forced labor camps for criminal prisoners – ranging from thieves to political prisoners. The number of prisoners in these reached the peak under Josef Stalin's rule, and millions of people have disappeared without a trace, despite their families' attempts to uncover what happened to them. The GUlag prisoners often worked themselves to death, and it was they who built much of today's Russia – especially the large industrial cities in the Arctic, such as Norilsk, Vorkuta and Magadan. Bone remains are still found for people on the ground where the bodies of deceased prisoners were dumped. How, then, is it possible that a large part of Russia's population still views Stalin as a national hero? That they gather in the streets of Russian cities, bearing portraits of him, to show his support for his vision for Russia? One interviewed in the documentary claims that the Stalin supporters make up over half of the population.

Fascinating people. Gorter searches for answers through interviews, observations and archive recordings of a suitable sample of people, all of whom are astounding in their own way: the secret nostalgics of the Stalin regime in the Russian countryside; the old ladies who gather and lay flowers at Stalin statues in the cities; children of people who were sent to the forced labor camps for no real reason, who are nevertheless unwilling to condemn the regime today; the guests in a television program discussing the pros and cons of Stalin's policies; the young people gathered for a pro-Russian celebration in Crimea; a Stalinist with his own museum dedicated to the former Soviet leader, who answers Gorter's questions in a defensive, yet challenging way. And finally, a school class with teenagers who experience discussing the country's past with their parents as taboo, and their teachers who have difficulty refraining from condemning. Occasionally there are interviews with people who try to establish the brutal realities of the Stalin regime in the collective consciousness, a work that takes place practically without the support of the current authorities. This last point is perhaps somewhat superfluous as the film's audience (presumably outside Russia) probably does not need to be convinced of how oppressive Stalin's regime was (or of the current political situation in Russia).

Not brave enough. It's a shame that The Red Soul is not a film brave enough to drop the familiar in favor of what we rarely hear about, if at all. I wish the film was entirely dedicated to the exploration of the psyche of today's Stalinists, who are without a doubt the heart and soul of the film.

Thanks to the people we meet The Red Soul really an engaging documentary. But unfortunately, it only engages as far as the people in it do. The Red Soul is a mix between classic descriptive and participatory documentary, and it might have been served by a little more formal boldness, especially considering the fascinating subject it addresses. In terms of content – in the search for answers to the documentary's driving questions – it seems as if the film only moves on the surface of the problem and fails to explore how the answer can be found in the present rather than in the past.

However, the documentary does not say anything about the explicit links between Stalin and Putin.

Misses comparison. The film hints at a spooky parallel between Stalin's personality traits and politics – as they are emphasized by admirers, fanatics and nostalgics – and current politics in Russia. Stalin had – in the opinion of the supporters – won the war, enlarged Russia and made the country a superpower; he had been a strong leader, and "a strong government with a strong leader can achieve anything." This is reminiscent of Putin's rhetoric today – they praise how Russian politics seeks to restore Soviet greatness, belligerence and expansionism, they rejoice over Putin's tough and macho personality, and they even see Putin as the "king" who ended chaos. .

What the film does not say is how explicit the connection is between the leader of the most famous communist state in history and today's post-reformed Russia, which praises a neoliberal economy – a policy that in some people's opinion makes today's Russia a private for-profit organization rather than a state. . Gorter does not examine why Putinism has been linked to Stalinism in the media so many times, what the changed image of Stalinism and the growing nostalgia for Stalin under Putin means, or the fact that Putin himself has failed to criticize Stalin's legacy. And with that, the film may be missing an important point when it comes to how oppressive and authoritarian regimes are generally linked.
Poglajen is a regular film critic in Ny Tid, resident

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