“However” opens the special project “Russian Tsars: View from the West”. This topic is interesting primarily because Russian leaders have always been the embodiment of their country for the Western elite and the townsfolk. And in relation to the “king” figure, one can judge which image of Russia was in demand in the West at one time or another.
It should be noted that most of the portraits in our gallery are “holographic pictures”. After all, when it was beneficial for Western politicians to conclude a tactical alliance with Moscow, the king was portrayed as a wise ruler capable of pragmatic deals, when the need for an alliance with the Russians fell away, the picture was shown from a different angle - traditional Russophobic stereotypes were reborn, and the king turned into a "cunning Byzantine" , an unpredictable despot or a mindless comedian.
If we talk about the current epoch, the image of Putin, like the image of his predecessors, in the West is constantly transforming depending on the foreign policy conjuncture. (However, in the Medvedev period, the existence of a tandem facilitated the task: the portrait of one leader was served in light, the second - in dark colors). In most cases, however, Western portrait painters operated with exactly “holographic pictures”, occasionally turning them with the right side: “wolf - hare”, “hare - wolf”, as in Soviet stickers based on “Well, wait a minute”.
“Holographic” is somewhat different kind, when the Russian tsar (and, consequently, our country) is viewed by researchers from different eras. It is easy to see that contemporaries evaluate people and events in the system of values and concepts of “time of action”, and historians of later periods unobtrusively approach the past with the criteria of the future - when out of good motives, and when out of all the same applied ones.
By the way, we should remember about such a “holographic feature” when, for some internal political considerations, Russian adherents of various ideologies trump these or those quotes that characterize “objective Western evaluations”.
In our special project, we just want to consider how the “holographic portrait” of this or that Russian tsar plays with various colors depending on times and circumstances.
Perhaps the most striking example of such a holographic technique is the image of Joseph Stalin, who, of course, is the most ambitious figure in the Russian stories XX century. In the West, he appeared then ruthless "Kremlin Highlander", then turned into a good mustache "Uncle Joe." True, after Stalin’s death, the Western elite began to actively gloss over his portrait with black paint, hoping to preserve the image of a “bloody tyrant” and “paranoid” in history. Indeed, as one of the most shrewd American political scientists Zbigniew Brzezinski taught, “in order to bring down the ideological support of Russia, Stalin must be equated to Hitler”.
It is no coincidence that today, arguing about the personality of Stalin, Western historians do not stint on epithets. “In his cruelty the Soviet dictator did not yield to Hitler,” wrote the author of the book “Stalin: the court of the red king” Simon Montefiore. “Former seminarian was no stranger to religious fanaticism, and his instructions to the executioners are reminiscent of the times of the Holy Inquisition.”
"A wise leader who raised Russia from its knees"
However, in the middle of the 30 for many in the West, the Soviet leader was neither a fanatic nor an inquisitor. On the contrary, he was perceived as a pragmatic prudent politician who overcame the chaos that occurred in Russia after the civil war and managed to build a powerful nationally-oriented state.
“After the horrors of the revolution,” said Konstantin Melnik-Botkin, head of the French special services under De Gaulle, “a positive period began in Russia that is associated with the name of Joseph Stalin, who raised the country from its knees.”
In the 1936 year, after the trial of the Zinoviev and Kamenev bloc was completed in Moscow, an article by Winston Churchill appeared in the London Times, stating that the Soviet Union had finally become a country with which to deal.
For the West, the defeat of the left globalists, who dreamed of a world revolution, was of great importance. Many anticipated Stalin's turn from communist utopias to traditional imperial politics. “And when the imperial paraphernalia appeared, the West reacted positively to it,” says a former official of the SVR, Mikhail Lyubimov, “for the Western powers, the Comintern paraphernalia was much more dangerous: the world revolution, we will inflate the world fire on all bourgeois.” They were afraid of this, and it was quite possible to conduct a dialogue with Russia, the reviving traditions of the tsarist times. ”
Understanding in the West reacted to the struggle of Stalin with the party nomenclature. In contrast to the racial purges organized by the Nazis, Stalin’s repressions, according to Western contemporaries, were fully justified: the stagnant party apparatus interfered with the accelerated development of the country. Some experts even argued that the events of 1937 of the year were explained by the rebellion of the bureaucracy against the attempt of democratization carried out by the Soviet leader, and they praised the Stalinist Constitution.
As for the victims, it was believed that Stalin simply had no choice. Just as, for example, there was no choice for Churchill, who during the Second World War gave the order to drown the French fleet in Oranta so that Germany would not get it. Politicians who lived in the era of world wars were convinced that if it was in the interests of the state, the most stringent methods could be applied.
Practically no one in the West doubted the veracity of the accusations made in the Moscow trials. “When the trial of the right-wing terrorist bloc was underway,” Russian historian Roy Medvedev says, “However,” Roosevelt sent his special representative, Joseph Davis, to Moscow. And Davis was present at this trial and reported to the president that the defendants are in fact enemies of the people who wanted to form an alliance with Hitler. ”
Davis's book Mission to Moscow was a real apology for Stalin. “Lawsuits,” wrote Davis, “allowed the Soviet government to defend its power not only from an internal upheaval, but also from an outside attack. The purge put things in order in the country and freed her from treason. ”
The same opinion was shared by the German writer Lion Feuchtwanger, who visited Moscow in 1937 year. “They were state criminals,” he wrote, “and all my doubts were dissolved, like salt in water, under the influence of direct impressions of what the defendants said and how they said it.” Stalin Feuchtwanger described as "the great organizer, the great mathematician and psychologist."
On the side of the Soviet leader were European leftist intellectuals, especially the Communists. Their accolades for him were not inferior to the best examples of Soviet propaganda. Louis Aragon called him "a wise and great leader," HG Wells assured that he had never met a more sincere, decent and honest person. And Bernard Shaw, who visited Moscow back in the 1931 year, argued that "Stalin is a giant, and all Western leaders are pygmies."
"Pragmatic and very necessary ally"
Stalin became a villain for Europe and the United States only in the 1939 year (and then only for a short time) when he concluded a non-aggression pact with Germany - and thereby made radical adjustments to the scenario of world war advantageous for the West. Political cartoons appeared in the newspapers, in which the theme of “rapprochement between two European dictators” was played up. The Washington Star, for example, published a cartoon depicting the wedding of Stalin and Hitler. The elegant bridegroom Adolf leads the black-sided bride of Joseph to the altar. The wedding cake is decorated with sickles, hammers and swastikas. “I wonder how long the honeymoon will last?” The author asks maliciously.
Meanwhile, it is well known that throughout the 30s, the Western allies themselves actively flirted with Hitler, the leading concerns willingly carried out German military orders, and in 1938, Paris and London went to the Munich Agreement with the Nazi regime.
After Germany attacked the USSR and began negotiations on the creation of an anti-Hitler coalition, attitudes towards Stalin changed overnight. From the dictator and friend of Hitler, he became a close ally, mustache uncle Joe. “When the British give diminutive nicknames,” said Viktor Sukhodrev, a personal translator of Khrushchev and Brezhnev, in an interview with “However,” this indicates special respect. For example, they tenderly called Winnie Churchill Winnie the war leader. ”
A mustache, a pipe, a tightly-fastened tunic ... On the one hand, Stalin was a mysterious giant for the West, embodying the will of the people, who with unimaginable losses, but nevertheless emerged victorious in world war. On the other hand, Western leaders saw him as a pragmatist who, unlike Hitler, never made decisions under the influence of emotions and considered the situation a few moves ahead. They could speak with the Soviet leader in the same language, negotiate with him about spheres of influence and discuss the post-war world pattern.
“Stalin had enormous authority, and not only in Russia. He knew how to “tame” his enemies, not to panic when losing, and not to enjoy victories, ”General de Gaulle wrote about him.
Austrian political scientist Joseph Schumpeter, in his book Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, published in 1945, insisted that there is no leader in the modern world who is equal to Stalin in intellect.
In 1943, the American Time magazine called Stalin the man of the year, giving him an extremely flattering testimony: “This son of a shoemaker and a laundress is a real nugget. He has outstanding intellectual abilities. He quotes whole paragraphs from the Bible and the writings of Bismarck, reads Plato in the original, writes his own speeches and articles. Moreover, its style is simultaneously distinguished by clarity and sophistication. ”
Such an ode to a Soviet leader in an American magazine now seems to be something of a fantasy. However, one should not forget about the special relations that have developed between Stalin and US President Franklin Roosevelt. During the “Big Three” meetings, Roosevelt constantly sought ways to meet Stalin alone, forcing Churchill to feel like a third person.
“Stalin made an indelible impression just by his presence at the meetings of the“ Big Three ”,” Sukhodrev says, “something about him was so hypnotic. He charmed the people around him like a cobra mesmerizing the mouse. ”
According to a number of historians, Stalin skillfully played on the contradictions of the Anglo-Saxons and, if it were not for Roosevelt's death, perhaps the story would have turned differently. At least in April 1945, the American president planned to make a landmark speech about relations with the USSR and once again emphasize the role of the Soviet generalissimo in the Allied victory.
It should be said that Churchill also gave Stalin his due. After the war, the British prime minister said that he was a great leader who accepted Russia with a plow and left with an atomic bomb.
At first, the Soviet leader made a positive impression on the successor of Roosevelt Harry Truman. “I like Stalin,” he wrote in his diary after the first meeting with the leader of the Soviet Union in Potsdam. “He’s straight but damn smart.” He knows what he wants and is ready to compromise when he cannot get what he wants. ”
"New Genghis Khan"
However, it soon became apparent that the Anglo-Saxons needed the Eastern ally only to crush Germany, and they could not find a place for him in the new picture of the world. It was no accident that the US naval minister, James Forrestal, declared that America now puts an equal sign between Hitlerism, Japanese militarism and Stalinism, and called for a preventive war against the Soviets, "which should be started before they can recover the war-torn economy."
And 5 March 1946, at Westminster College in Fulton, USA, Churchill, who left the premiership, delivered his famous speech that marked the beginning of the Cold War: “From Stettin on the Baltic to Trieste on the Adriatic, the iron curtain was lowered across the continent” - Churchill proclaimed and blamed the USSR.
The image of Stalin in the West has changed radically. The smiling uncle Joe turned into a new Genghis Khan, who terrified American and European inhabitants. “Stalin is an indescribable Russian dictator,” proclaimed Truman. “And I also liked this little son of a bitch!”
Popularity became the parable-story of George Orwell's “Animal Farm,” in which Stalin appeared in the form of a pig named Napoleon, who perverted revolutionary principles and established a one-man totalitarian dictatorship.
"Not a thing of the past, but dissolved in the future"
And although it was this image of the Soviet leader that was now established in the West, historians sometimes recall the reverse side of the holographic portrait created by Stalin’s contemporaries. They note that the USSR had enjoyed the results of socialist modernization carried out in the Stalin era for a long time, and called Stalin a “personification of Soviet power”.
According to the University of London professor Jeffrey Hosking, “this Georgian ruler turned out to be the most successful Russian nationalist. And, despite the mass repressions, executions and the Gulag, in the epoch of his rule, the neo-Russian empire reached its apogee. ” Like Peter the Great, Western realist historians say, Stalin lifted Russia upside down, proving that genius and villainy are two things quite compatible.
“Stalin did not become a thing of the past, he disappeared into the future,” de Gaulle proclaimed at the time. And, apparently, the holographic portrait of the Soviet leader will in the West more than once turn at different angles.