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Russians Choose Stalin as One of Their Greats

Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, responsible for the murder of millions of innocent people, has been voted Russia's third greatest historic figure. The greatest Russian of all outpolled Stalin by just over 5,200 votes out of 4.5 million cast in the final round of a television contest called, The Name of Russia.

Josef Stalin's third place finish late Sunday ended the final round of a seven-month contest on the state-run Rossiya television network to name the greatest Russian. During that time, viewers cast votes by telephone, text messages, and the Internet, whittling down a field of 500 famous Russians in the first round to 50 in the second, and to 12 finalists in the last round.

Nevsky in First Place

The winner, with more than 524,000 votes, was Alexander Nevsky, a Russian prince who turned back an attack of the Swedes and Teutonic knights in the 13th century. Ironically, many Russians today know about Nevsky largely because of a classic 1938 movie about him by Soviet film director Sergei Eisenstein, who received an award for the film from none other than Josef Stalin. Critics say the film exaggerated Nevsky's victory for Soviet propaganda purposes to address the growing threat of Nazi Germany in the late 1930s. But Stalin then signed a non-aggression pact with the Nazis and withdrew the film, only to release it again when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union.

PM, Reformer Stolypin in Second

Second place went to Pyotr Stolypin, a reformer and Prime Minister, who was assassinated in 1911. He worked under Nicholas II, Russia's last czar, who shared the lead in the contest with Stalin four months ago, but did not make the final round.

Other finalists included Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin, Czars Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great, Czarina Catherine the Great, poet Alexander Pushkin, writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and scientist Dmitri Mendeleyev.

In its capsule summary of Stalin on the contest website, the dictator's bloody crimes are acknowledged - the starvation of millions in Ukraine, Russia and the Northern Caucasus; a system of labor camps where an estimated 10 million perished, use of free prison labor to develop the Soviet industrial and transportation infrastructure, and other crimes. Nonetheless, the website notes that despite the defects of Stalinism, the country reached all of the goals it had set; indeed, industrialization is linked to victory in World War II.

Genocidal Dictator in Third Place?

Human rights activists are concerned that such a high rating for Stalin reflects badly on Russian society. Lyudmila Alexeyeva of the Moscow Helsinki Group also questions the methodology of the contest, saying it was manipulated by organizers for political purposes.

Alexeyeva said if Russian TV was not cheating, it would give access to a human rights organization like "Memorial," and to serious historians, who could systematically explain the truth about Stalin's time, then he wouldn't even be on the list. She said the fact that he is listed does not reflect the people's choice, but rather that of those who deceive the people.

In early December, authorities in Saint Petersburg raided the offices of Memorial. The organization said all of its computer discs and archives were confiscated; including documentation of Stalinist repressions compiled over two decades. A representative of Memorial told VOA the material has not been returned.