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Russia: Court Okays Calling Stalin a Murderer

(Oct. 30, 2009) On October 14, 2009, a local court in the city of Moscow refused to rule in favor of Joseph Stalin's grandson, who sued an independent Russian newspaper for defamation and damage of the reputation of his grandfather, after the newspaper published an article in which the former Soviet dictator was named a “mass murderer who ordered the execution of his political enemies.” (Fred Weir, Call Stalin a Murderer? Russian Judge Says an Opposition Weekly Can, CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR, Oct. 14, 2009, available at

The plaintiff demanded payment in an amount equal to US$320,000, to be paid jointly by the newspaper and the journalist who, in April 2009, published an article about an investigation of the Katyn massacre, the killing of several thousand Polish officers in the spring of 1940. These officers were imprisoned by the Red Army after Soviet troops occupied eastern Poland in September 1939, under the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact (the Nazi Germany-Soviet Union treaty of non-aggression). The Russian authorities continue to deny these killings.

Based on documents that were temporarily disclosed in 1992, during the investigation of the massacre, the journalist in question concluded that the decision about the murders was made by Stalin; later this decision of Stalin's was implemented by the executioners. The plaintiff insisted that the court recognize this statement as false and derogatory. Because almost all of the information related to the case of the Polish officers is classified, both parties petitioned the court to request the release of the information from the archives. The court rejected these requests and refused to evaluate any historical evidence, even though both the democratic and the conservative, nationalist circles viewed the trial as concerning Stalin's historical role.

In his ruling, the judge simply stated that the journalist had the right to describe Stalin as a “bloodthirsty cannibal” based on the materials in his possession. Both parties to the case were disappointed with the ruling, and the plaintiff said that he will appeal the decision, because a person (Stalin) cannot be declared a criminal without evidence. Liberal observers believe that this decision is a victory for those who are fighting growing attempts by the Russian government to justify Stalin's actions. (Fred Weir, supra; Ignat Belovshki, Dzhugashvili Was Wrong [in Russian], GAZETA.RU, Oct. 14, 2009, available at