Jan Plamper


On his book The Stalin Cult: A Study in the Alchemy of Power

Cover Interview of February 14, 2012


The Russian translation of the book appeared in early 2010 when Moscow mayor Luzhkov had agreed to a veterans organization’s demand to carry, for the first time in decades, Stalin portraits during the annual May 9 celebrations of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany. Luzhkov’s decision reignited public debates about Stalinism, in which the Kremlin appeared more anti-Stalinist than in previous years. (In retrospect, the Kremlin probably merely used the Stalin poster scandal to sack Luzhkov, which it did during the summer.)

At the height of this scandal, the book earned me an invitation to Pust govoryat—a Russian talk show in the Jerry Springer style (that translates “Let them talk”).  I declined the invitation, but the book had become a political argument.  Russian democrats used it to assail Stalin’s legacy, going so far as to warn about post-Soviet image politics drifting into a personality cult (recall Putin’s bare torso photo op on the Yenisei or Putin shooting a Siberian tiger with a tranquilizer gun).  Russian nationalists accused me of foreign intervention; one blogger suggested that “the Fritz”—apparently, me—“better go and study his Hitler.”

I had never expected the book would have this kind of relevance to contemporary politics. However, if The Stalin Cult helps to uncover the mechanics of personality cults and makes it a bit more difficult for, say, a pseudo-popular initiative to rename a mountain after Putin (after some staged reluctance from him), that’s not too bad.