After the morning slate of World Cup games, Fox Soccer had a special segment in collaboration with National Geographic about Russian history. The subject was Stalin’s Dacha, his vacation home situated in a forest in Sochi.
The segment starts with the presenter, Sergey Gordeev, saying: “Think what you will about Joseph Stalin, but there’s no denying that this was one of the most formidable figures in all of history.”
Gordeev then talks about the home, and how the location within the forest was picked because of the health benefits of mountain and sea air, and the access it has to beaches and healing mineral springs. “It ended up being his favorite place to get away from it all.”
Gordeev says that Stalin lived in constant fear of assassination, which informed elements of the house, such as the green exterior color to match the forest, hardwood floors so that Stalin could hear the steps of anyone approaching, and the two-feet-thick walls and bullet-proof couch, on which he would sit and watch Charlie Chaplin movies.
Towards the end of the segment, Gordeev asked the curator of the home, Anna Khovantseva, how tourists perceive Stalin. Whether they see him as “a great man in history, or as a dictator?”
She replied: “This person, as a human being, was very complex and very difficult, and some of his actions ... well, they are difficult for me to comprehend. He was creating a rather great country, but his methods, they are arguable still today.”
Gordeev ends the segment with a quip about the Dacha being living history, and whether the history is good or bad, “it makes us who we are.”
While it’s understandable that Fox Soccer would want to explore Russian history during the World Cup, it was eery to see the channel humanize Stalin, a dictator who killed millions of people, including his own. He was estimated to be responsible for the death of more than 20 million people.
The narrative of the video is very easy and straightforward and presents Stalin as an almost inconsequential individual, glossing over his legacy with a few vague phrases. He went to the Dacha to “get away from it all,” but the “all” is never defined. Stalin was in constant fear of assassination, though the reason for his paranoia is never mentioned. He is presented as a very complex man, who had “arguable” methods, but those methods — such as forced labor camps, the gulags, killing and exiling people who wouldn’t cooperate with him, secret police, and the creation of a surveillance state — are never explained.
The presentation of Stalin as a neutral figure is made all the more strange considering that the presenter, Gordeev, is a host on NTV, which is owned by Gazprom. In 2001, Gazprom acquired a controlling stake at the company and purged the board, including Vladimir Gusinsky, who founded the holding company that encompassed NTV. Gusinsky claimed that he was forced to sign over the company at that time under threat of criminal prosecution, and that he was being silenced by the Kremlin.
so the lead reporter on that "Stalin: What a Guy!" segment that Fox just ran is Sergey Gordeev, who is an anchor on NTV, a Russian tv channel owned by Gazprom.https://t.co/rutHWTOjIH— Michael Caley (@MC_of_A) June 25, 2018
The segment was aired during a time when there is a movement to rehabilitate Stalin’s image. That rehab effort has even seeped into the white-washing of his “methods” in textbooks. Via The Independent:
”There is pitifully little on so many of the dark periods of Soviet life under Stalin. The deportation of the Chechens, for example, [when in 1941 Stalin forcibly expelled nearly half-a-million Chechens to Central Asia, with thousands dying along the way], has only one or two paragraphs devoted to it in history textbooks for kids. Why is something so important given such little attention?”
Whether it was intentional or not, Fox Soccer, in presenting Stalin as someone who may have been wrong, but was still “formidable” and a complex man with “arguable methods,” works in service of this rehabilitation effort. The segment hides his history — the truth of those methods, and why he was denounced as a dictator and a stain on history — under jargon and hand-waving phrases. He is presented without a reckoning of what he actually did.
But it’s not exactly abnormal for Fox Soccer’s coverage of the World Cup so far. Leading up to the tournament, they had an ad for England, which made explicit references to “The Empire” as if the British empire was something to casually joke about. Nevermind that the World Cup includes many countries whose people were victims of that empire.
The video was stunning to watch. The casual and lighthearted manner in which Stalin and his home were presented contradicted what his life actually meant. At best, it was a stupid idea that should have never been produced. At worst, it was something much more foul.