7 May 2010
Two days ago, members of the St. Petersburg Communist Party realized a long held wish, when a bus operated by the Network of Passenger Transports (SPP) rolled onto Nevsky Prospekt, sporting a ten-foot-tall image of Josef Stalin (see photo). The following two phrases appear on the side: “I would like to raise a toast to the health of the Soviet people and, foremost, to the Russian people!” (a quote from Stalin, dated May 24, 1945) and “Eternal glory to the victors!”
The same day the Stalin Bus appeared, somebody decided to smear white paint all over the Vozhd’s face, ears, and hair. A KPRF spokesman, Sergey Malinkovich, blamed Yabloko activists, to which local Yabloko leader Maxim Reznik responded by calling Malinkovich insane. As it turns out, two Yabloko activists were indeed responsible for the vandalism (see their video here). Yabloko has ruled out the further use of paint, but it does plan to stage a protest aboard the Stalin Bus sometime today. They’ll be carrying signs reading “The Doctor’s Plot,” The 1937 Terror,” and “The Tukhachevsky Affair.”
The Stalin Bus is the brainchild of one man, Viktor Loginov, who was awarded a medal today by the Petersburg city committee of the KRPF for his show of initiative. The advertisement will run for two weeks at the cost of 35 thousand rubles (1,145 USD). Apparently, he used social networking sites to raise the money collectively.
RFE/RL published an article on this story yesterday, asking why the government hasn’t cracked down on the bus company, which five years ago the City Committee on Transport apparently banned from carrying passengers. “Why has the city been unable to remove a bus line that lacks an official license?” author Fabian Burkhardt of RFE/RL asks. Burkhardt adds, “Political will to prohibit public portrayals of Stalin is still weak, and officials keep sending conflicting signals.” The ‘weak will’ to which he refers is likely the City of Moscow’s recent flirtation with including images of Stalin in the upcoming Victory Day celebrations, and the ‘conflicting signals’ is undoubtedly the much-repeated perception that Medvedev is trying to ‘undo’ the pro-Stalinism of Vladimir Putin. (See Gazeta.ru’s article today arguing exactly this point in response to Medvedev’s Stalin-themed interview with Izvestiia.)
I don’t know the specifics of the SPP bus company’s history, but I presume it’s not the only transportation operator in Russia with a bad safety track record. Anybody who’s risked his life in a marshrutka van is intimately familiar with the perils of wheeled-transit in Russia. If they’re indeed an illegal operation, I hope this publicity takes them off the streets. If only all the dangerous services in Russia would sponsor Stalinist advertisements, maybe RFE/RL could become an excellent consumer watchdog.
Forgetting the inherent dvusmyslennost’ of images of Stalin (a fascinating topic recently explored on Sean’s Russia Blog), the real irony in this story, to me anyway, is that RFE/RL is suddenly concerned with a lack of leadership and coordination from Russia’s political leadership. Burkhardt seems to find the ruling tandem’s comments on Stalinism to be ‘equivocal’ and ‘conflicting’ – the insinuation being that the federal government needs to dedicate itself to a single ideological line and purge itself of dissenting opinions. Perhaps they could even call it a ‘power vertical’?