while some honour Stalin others hate him

RUSSIA'S Communist Party has paid tribute to Josef Stalin 130 years after his birth, with debate still raging in the country over the reputation of a leader seen in the West as an evil tyrant.

RUSSIA'S Communist Party has paid tribute to Josef Stalin 130 years after his birth, with debate still raging in the country over the reputation of a leader seen in the West as an evil tyrant.

While historians blame Stalin, pictured, for the deaths of millions in purges, prison camps and forced collectivisation, many in Russia still praise him for leading the Soviet Union to victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.

Leaders of Russia's post-Soviet Communist Party, one of the remaining champions of his legacy, were due to mark his birthday yesterday by laying wreaths on his grave at the Kremlin wall.

In a poll by the Russian Centre for the Study of Public Opinion, published last week, 54percent of Russians gave a positive assessment of his leadership qualities, while 8percent gave a low assessment. Last year, the Georgian-born strongman even came a close third in a TV poll for the greatest Russian ever.

"Today people continue to hate Stalin. And continue to love him. What are the causes of this love beyond the grave?" asked the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper.

Communist Party deputy chairman Ivan Melnikov told the Rossiiskaya Gazeta daily that Stalin "is one of few leaders of Russia who was a moderniser and a revolutionary. In this respect he stands next to Peter the Great and Lenin".

But leading human rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva told the same newspaper: "He was a villain. And a tyrant. A cunning, wily person, capable of weaving intrigue. These were his only virtues. If they can be called virtues."

In an unusual move, President Dmitry Medvedev in October condemned the mass killings under Stalin, saying "the memory of national tragedies is as sacred as those of victories."

But such discussion remains rare in Russian politics.

There has long been uncertainty about exactly when Stalin was born in the Georgian city of Gori. But since he came to power his official date of birth has always been given as December 21 1879. - Sapa-AFP

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