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Stalin Billboards for Victory Day

Stalin?€™s cap, seen at the Russian State Archive. City Hall is planning to post signs explaining his role in World War II. Igor Tabakov

City Hall plans to set up billboards in central Moscow to explain dictator Josef Stalin's role in the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany, an idea that has drawn criticism from a senior state official and rights activists alike.

 The billboards will be erected on the request of "numerous veterans organizations" in time for Victory Day on May 9 as part of the celebrations of the 65th anniversary of the defeat of Germany in World War II, Moscow Advertising Committee head Vladimir Makarov said in an e-mailed statement Thursday.

Makarov, who is currently under investigation for purportedly giving illegal advertising discounts, was released from pretrial detention this week.

 The Stalin billboards will be placed at traditional meeting places of veterans on Poklonnaya Gora, Manezh Square, Gogolevsky Bulvar, Sokolniki Park, Vorobyovy Gory and several other places, Makarov said.

The content of the billboards will be sent for approval either to the Defense Ministry's Institute of Military History or to the Central Museum of the Great Patriotic War in Moscow, Makarov said.

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, Yabloko leader Sergei Mitrokhin and several human rights activists decried the move Thursday.

 "Stalin made many mistakes, especially ahead of the war and at the start of it," Gorbachev said, Interfax reported. He speculated that for many the informational billboards would "elicit misunderstanding and surprise."

 Prominent human rights activists Lev Ponomaryov and Lyudmila Alexeyeva promised to organize demonstrations to protest the Stalin billboards, RIA-Novosti reported.

 "Stalin is a criminal, and it is a shame to advertise his regime that killed millions of people," Alexeyeva told RIA-Novosti.

 Gryzlov called the move "wrong," saying that "posters can't change the dubious role of Stalin in the life of our country," Interfax reported.

Mitrokhin said in a statement that “numerous documents and facts” discovered after the war provide “indisputable proof that the victory was achieved not thanks to, but rather despite, Stalin and Stalin’s system."

Rights activists have criticized the government for what they see as a broad attempt to rehabilitate Stalin in the public's mind while playing down or justifying the violence and terror of his regime against Soviet citizens.

 In August, city authorities reopened a vestibule at the Kurskaya metro station that had been refurbished with an inscription of a verse from the 1944 version of the Soviet national anthem that praised Stalin. Proponents argued that the verse merely restored historical accuracy to the station, while critics called it a disturbing lionization of the dictator.

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