Of all the headlines the good editors/jokesters over at The Onion have devised, the best may have been the one they ran over an obit of Josef Stalin:
Soviets Mourn Loss of Stalin
'Who Will Crush Our Spirits and Destroy Our Will to Live Now?'
Hard as it may be to believe, there actually were those who mourned Stalin's demise when it finally, finally came. Call it the Stockholm Syndrome on a mass scale, in which the tormented learns to love his tormenter. A well-regimented press and decades of brutal oppression will have that idolatrous effect.
There are those who still see the positives in Uncle Joe. Even in this country. After all, he was the embodiment of Our Fighting Russian Ally in the Second World Unpleasantness.
What's more, we had our own propaganda apparatus in this country, with Hollywood taking the lead, to see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil of Comrade Stalin.
What's harder to believe is that there are still those in Russia who would honor Comrade Stalin today. But there are. In that land, old tyrants never die or even fade away. They become icons.
Word is that an exercise book for kids -- featuring Comrade Stalin on the cover -- is flying off the shelves. You remember what a fondness Uncle Joe had for staying fit.
Moscow's best-known bookstore, Dom Knigi, is a combination of the Strand in New York and Powell's in Portland, Ore., and it can't keep this exercise book featuring Uncle Joe in stock: "We had to restock the exercise books with the portrait of Stalin yesterday," a spokesman said. "They are selling very fast."
The book is one of five featuring great figures of Russian history, including Catherine the Great, Rachmaninov and Napoleon's nemesis, Marshal Kutuzov, hero of Borodino. And the publishing house decided that Stalin needed to be among those distinguished honorees. (What, Ivan the Terrible wasn't available?)
Remarkable. By which we mean somebody should remark on how strange it is that anybody would honor this arch-tyrant of the 20th Century, which had more than one nominee for that dubious honor -- beginning with A. Hitler and Mao Zedong, that sweetheart.
Why, for goshsakes, put Stalin on the cover of a kids' book? Here's how the art director of that publishing house put it, and not in The Onion: "Stalin is the leader who stayed in power the longest and who headed the country during the hardest time of its history."
Agreed: Stalin was the Soviet leader who stayed in power the longest. At the point of a gun. Not to mention gulags.
Yet his popularity continues unabated. Time softens even the worst memories. Russians can't seem to get enough of the Generalissimo, complete with greatcoat, generous mustache and enough medals to outshine Catherine the Great's diamonds. It's a wonder he was able to stand up under the weight.
It's not exactly a new thing, revisionist history. In a way, all history is revisionist. Example No. 1: The Lost Cause right here in the South. Erase that bit about slavery, fill in any blanks with scenes from "Gone With the Wind," and all was paradise back then.
In old-new Russia, Comrade Stalin's image now is being refurbished under the aegis of Vladimir Putin. It figures. One autocrat covers for another.
The good news is Russia still has dissidents, and they're still speaking out. Even shouting out. And when Comrade Stalin is featured as one of Russia's saints, they don't just shout but scream. Bloody murder. It's almost a free country over there these days. Thank you, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II. No thanks to those who could always be counted on to make excuses for tyranny, or at least suggest a detente with it.
One of the reasons Russia has produced perhaps the greatest dissenters in the history of world literature -- from Dostoyevsky to Solzhenitsyn -- is that they have had so much to dissent from.
An exercise book featuring a cover photo of Josef Stalin? Really?
Coming soon: Pol Pot on a Cambodian cookbook. Or maybe Herr Hitler on the cover of a German manual on motorcycle repair.