Uncertainty over Josef Stalin begins with the date of his birth. Stalin himself said it was December 18, 1878 -- until he came to power. Then it became December 21, 1879.
That he starved, shot and exiled millions is not as controversial as how many millions. Nobel laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn and others have cited figures in the tens of millions of innocent victims. Pro-Stalinist Alexander Batov, First Secretary of the Russian Communist Youth League, says those numbers are a fantasy, but acknowledges two million perished. And many of those, says Batov, willingly died for the sake of Soviet industrial progress and victory in World War II.
But there were others, says Batov - those who thought first of all about themselves, their own lives, and secure existence. He claims they spit on the country and the people, and they were the ones repressed.
Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin had cautioned that Stalin was rude and intolerant. In the so-called Secret Speech to the Communist Party in 1956, Stalin's successor, Nikita Khrushchev, condemned the dictator's ruthlessness.
Khrushchev advisor and speechwriter Fyodor Burlatsky told VOA that his boss made the mistake of condemning Stalin's personality instead of his system. Some of that system, he says, continues to exist in Russia, including subservience.
Burlatsky urges people to look at Russian leaders today. He says they sit and read from a piece of paper surrounded by 30-40 major government officials who merely gawk and listen. That, says Khrushchev's advisor, is not a parliamentary system, and does not resemble modern relations. He adds that such behavior is a holdover from the past.
Burlatsky says the basic flaw of Stalin's Soviet system was reflected in the word soviet itself. It means "council" and implies giving advice, not making decisions.
Burlatsky says the soviets did not have a future, but they could have been an institution for gradual transition, perhaps over half a century, to a parliamentary system. He says whatever name you give that system; it should reach a final decision and adopts laws. Burlatsky notes that soviets only confirmed measures proposed by the Council of Ministers, which meant the Politburo, which meant Stalin.
Batov says the need to fight counter-revolutionaries and to ensure victory over Nazi Germany forced Stalin to assume nearly absolute power.
The youth activist says that, unfortunately, it became necessary to subvert the Soviet system and Soviet democracy only for the sake of the USSR's survival during World War II. He claims that had it not been for the Nazi intervention, had it not been for the world war, the Soviet system would have developed, including democracy.
Recalling the millions of victims of Stalin's rule, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev recently said nothing can justify the human cost.
The Kremlin leader says he is convinced that no development of the country, nor its success and ambitions may be achieved at the expense of human suffering and losses; nothing can be placed higher than the value of human life.
Alexander Batov says Mr. Medvedev is hypocritically diverting attention from an annual population decline of about one million people in former Soviet republics due to poverty and hunger.
Fyodor Burlatsky says Stalin was the devil incarnate, who not only slaughtered the innocent, but cowed survivors and prevented establishment of a system that would address Russian problems today.
And though he doesn't assess Stalin as a whole, Prime Minister Putin says the Soviet leader's crimes against his own people are a fact that should not be forgotten.