Stalin's birthday marked in Russia and beyond

December 21, 2012 - 2:33 PM
Georgia Stalin's birthday

Ushangi Davitashvili kisses the bust of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin that stands in the courtyard of his apartment building in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, Friday, Dec. 21, 2012. Stalin was born in Georgia in 1879 and led the Soviet Union through decades of totalitarian reforms and political purges. (AP Photo/Shakh Aivazov)

TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — People across the vast territory where Josef Stalin once imposed his terror have marked the 133rd anniversary of the dictator's birth, some in hatred but others in reverence.

In Moscow, several hundred Russian Communists led by their leader Gennady Zuyganov laid flowers at Stalin's grave at the Red Square Friday, while smaller rallies were held across Russia and several former Soviet republics.

Leftists in neighboring Belarus said they found a Stalin statue that was buried after denunciation of his personality cult in 1956, but refused to specify its whereabouts because they fear authorities will order its destruction. Authorities in Stalin's hometown of Gori, Georgia, they will reinstall his statue that was removed in 2010.

In southern Ukraine, several ethnic Crimean Tatars trashed a small street exhibition on Stalin. The entire Crimean Tatar population of Ukraine was hastily deported in cattle trains on Stalin's orders in 1944 for their alleged collaboration with Nazi Germans during World War II. Of the 200,000 Crimean Tatars, almost a fifth died of starvation and diseases, and the survivors were allowed to return only in the late 1980s.

According to the prominent Russian right group Memorial, Stalin ordered the deaths of at least 724,000 people during the purges and repression of the 1930s, while millions died as a result of the forced labor system in Gulags, the Soviet prison system.

But, some people believe he was a strong and valiant leader whose grip on the nation was needed for security and his popularity in Russia has been climbing amid Kremlin-backed efforts to defend his image.

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Mansur Mirovalev contributed to this story from Moscow.