STEVE INSKEEP, host:
So that's how Russia looks in Venezuela. Let's explore the way Russia looks right now to Russians. Many Russians are watching a 13-part television series that began airing this month. It's on the greatest Russians of all time. And the program asks viewers to vote for their choice. Voting on the Internet temporarily put Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin at the top of the Russian list. NPR Moscow correspondent Gregory Feifer reports.
GREGORY FEIFER: State-controlled Russian television is billing it as the project of the year. Once a week until the end of December, a panel will debate who is the greatest figure in Russian history. Almost everyone on the panel is a well-known conservative, on the first program, an Orthodox Church bishop named Metropolitan Kirill argued for medieval ruler Alexander Nevskii. His legendary battlefield victories over Swedish and Germanic knights, the bishop said, had saved Russia from annihilation.
Bishop METROPOLITAN KIRILL: (Russian spoken)
FEIFER: Kirill compared Alexander Nevskii's battles to Russia's invasion of Georgia in August, saying both had signaled Russia's rebirth as a great power. The show's host, Alexander Liubimov, says such historical comparisons are especially instructive to Russians today, when relations between oil-rich Moscow and the West have sunk to Cold War levels.
Mr. ALEXANDER LIUBIMOV (Television Show Host): As a host, I want to make this show strictly connected to today's politics. Is today's problems of Russia with NATO different to what Alexander Nevskii was about?
FEIFER: Voting for the greatest Russian began on the Internet earlier this year. And temporarily puts Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin at the top of the list. Liubimov dismisses that as the work of computer hackers.
Mr. LIUBIMOV: That all brought us publicity, it gave us good promotion. Real people, they don't believe this kind of Internet voting means anything.
FEIFER: But Stalin is still on the list of 12 finalists now under consideration for the top spot. Stalin's totalitarian regime is believed to have killed around 20 million people. But a recent poll showed a majority of Russians today support the dictator's policies. Stalin wasn't Russian but actually from Georgia. Still on Moscow's main shopping street, Igor Stepanov says whatever ones opinion, Stalin's candidacy for the greatest Russian deserves serious consideration.
Mr. IGOR STEPANOV: (Russian spoken)
FEIFER: Whether the consensus decides that Stalin was good or bad for Russia will have to be seen, Stepanov says. But it wouldn't be right to ignore his role in history. Lenin is also on the list, as are Peter the Great and Ivan the Terrible. Of the 12 finalists, eight are former Russian leaders. Critics point to the many famous Russian writers and scientists who've had little support. Yan Rachinsky of Memoriale, a human rights organization that documents Soviet crimes, said the show will only harm viewer's understanding of Russia's past.
Mr. YAN RACHINSKY: (Through Translator) That kind of program is fine in Democratic countries where historical archives are open and the problems of history are freely discussed. Russia is not that kind of country.
FEIFER: Yachinsky says the show is helping to perpetuate the traditional view that Russia's history consists of a string of great victories by strong leaders. He says the Kremlin encourages that because it helps convince the population it has no influence on the will of the state. The only thing left to do, he says, is to hope is for a good czar. Gregory Feifer, NPR News Moscow.
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