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Kent Union Poster: Is Stalin And Soviet Imagery Acceptable?

The Soviet Famine of 1932-33 is estimated to have killed around five to eight million men women and children.

To put this in perspective, the total number of Jews murdered in the Nazi death camps was around six million, which, of course, does not include the millions of non-Jews also murdered by the regime.

The Soviet Famine occurred under the tenure of Joseph Stalin and though the causes are much disputed, it remains clear that the authorities did little – if anything – to ease the suffering of their people. This was just one famine of many.

It has indeed sparked much debate and discussion, though not of the democratic process.

In light of these truly horrific figures, it seems odd that the University of Kent’s Union decided it was appropriate to use the face of Stalin (more-or-less) to “promote and spark discussion”. It has indeed sparked much debate and discussion, though not of the democratic process, but rather on the ethics of using mass murderers in order to promote the discussion of the democratic process.

It is well established that dressing as a Nazi, or using Nazi-orientated material, is a definite no-no; it is not, and will never be, acceptable to use the swastika or any other associated symbols in the promotion of political events or any kind of activity. And nor should it be.

Yet the hammer and sickle, or the red star, or the face of any of the Soviet leaders, seem not to attract the same kind of abhorrence. How many schools, running mock elections, have seen the Communist Party attracting a large number of ‘joke-votes’?

Soviet leaders seem not to attract the same kind of abhorrence.

It isn’t just schools or universities either. In 2012 a European Union poster promoting European unity used the hammer and sickle multiple times – putting it alongside a wide variety of religious symbols. These symbols formed a star-shape – an important motif in the EU flag – with the statement: “We can all share in the same star.”

Daniel Hannan MEP summed up the thoughts of many I suspect when he wrote:

‘For three generations, the badge of the Soviet revolution meant poverty, slavery, torture and death. It adorned the caps of the chekas who came in the night. It opened and closed the propaganda films which hid the famines. It advertised the people’s courts where victims of purges and show-trials were condemned. It fluttered over the re-education camps and the gulags.

For hundreds of millions of Europeans, it was a symbol of foreign occupation. Hungary, Lithuania and Moldova have banned its use, and various former communist countries want it to be treated in the same way as Nazi insignia. Yet here it sits on a poster in the European Commission, advertising the moral deafness of its author (I hope that’s what it is, rather than lingering nostalgia)’

Even a supposedly responsible institution such as the European Union is able to fall foul of historical ignorance and see no issue with calling upon Soviet motives for the promotion of something positive. Never would it have used the swastika in the same way.

For some reason, it’s worse to be a Nazi than a Soviet; it’s worse to allude to the Holocaust than to the entire despotic history of the USSR.

They failed to understand was the insensitivity that the face of Stalin would inevitably cause.

The decision by Kent Union to feature Stalin on a political poster is just another example of this historical ignorance. The claim that it’s designed to promote discussion is pure naivety on the part of its creators which reflects more their instinct for preservation than it does their keen interest in the democratic process.

I can understand why they used it – it’s controversial – but what they failed to understand was the insensitivity that the face of Stalin would inevitably cause. If they really wanted to spark discussion why haven’t they used Hitler? Why not Mao? Or would they consider that too far?

I’m not arguing for the removal of the posters – taking offence is indicative of a healthy society – but it does seem more a mark of stupidity than political wit to use Stalin in such a way.

Perhaps though, the saddest revelation of this whole debacle is not the ignorance of some misguided officers, but rather the state of student apathy towards Union elections, which requires such crass techniques in an attempt to pique their interest.

Jamie Hodsdon

@jodderwock

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