Saturday, October 3, 2015

A footnote to Stalinism and Great Russian Chauvinism

Do you recognize that face?  Not so fast!

That's the 19th century Russian explorer 

Nikolay Przhevalsky.  

And what does this explorer, who died in 1888, have to do with Stalinism and its use of Great Russian chauvinism?

The Medvedev brothers tell the story:

Portrait of the generalissimo

After the Soviet victory in the Second World War all traces of Stalin's
Georgian origins disappeared from his official portraits. The process
actually started earlier, at the beginning of the 1930s, when they
began to soften Joseph Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili's pronounced
Caucasian features. But the Georgian element disappeared entirely in
the post-war portraits of the generalissimo, whose majestic new
image was devised appropriately to depict the leader of all times and
of all peoples. The forehead was raised a little, the Georgian pointed
nose made smaller and a little broader, the nostrils aligned with the
upper lip, the arched left eyebrow lowered and the chin moved
slightly forward. The face became a perfect oval. Only the eyes and
moustache, Stalin's most characteristic features, remained unaltered.
Karpov's portrait of Stalin in his full dress uniform replete with
medals and decorations, painted in 1946, was modelled on a photograph
of the illustrious Russian explorer and geographer, General
Nikolai Przhevalsky. This subsequently led to rumours of a possible
family connection between the great leader and the famous explorer,
although no such tie actually existed.

The official biography of Stalin published after the war provided
no details about his father, and there is still no information about
when or where the latter died. This helps to account for the stories
that began to circulate even during Stalin's lifetime, that the shoemaker
Vissarion Dzhugashvili, hardly an appropriate parent for the
exalted ruler, was not in fact his real father. Several alternative
candidates were suggested, including one of the Georgian princes in
Gori. The rumour that Stalin's father could have been the great
Russian explorer Przhevalsky began to spread after the war and
turned out be the most persistent of all the myths, no doubt because
of the clear resemblance between the two in the famous 1946 portrait.
Przhevalsky, it was claimed, had once paid a visit to Gori. The
story turned up again in the 1997 biography of Stalin by Edvard
Radzinsky: 'The Russian explorer Przhevalsky did indeed visit Gori.
His moustachioed face, in encyclopaedias published in Stalin's time, is
suspiciously like that of ~talin." One of Stalin's granddaughters,
Galina Dzhugashvili, recently wrote that Przhevalsky, 'returning
from one of his expeditions, passed through Gori and later sent
money to the mother of my grandfather'.' But the facts are very
different. Nikolai Przhevalsky not only never went to Gori, but never
even set foot in Georgia. As is customary for a professional traveller,
Przhevalsky always kept a detailed diary. From January 1878 until
the end of 1881 he was in the middle of extended travels in China
and Tibet, interrupted only once by a return trip to St Petersburg
when his mother died.3 The route to China in those years passed
through the southern Urals and Central Asia, and a large part of the
trip east of Ufa had to be made by camel caravan. Georgia would
have been entirely out of the way. Since Moscow and St Petcrsburg
were not linked with Baky or Tiflis by railways at that time, it was
clearly impossible to 'pass through' Gori on the way from China to
St Petersburg.

Nevertheless the perceptible likeness between Stalin and Przhevalsky
did not come about accidentally. Because Stalin never sat for
portraits, painters always had to work from photographs. It was
important to have a standard image as a model, an image that was
younger, nobler and above all more Russian than the actual subject,
and Przhevalsky's face was perfect. The Russian people, whom Stalin
had already proclaimed to be 'the most outstanding nation of all
nations within the Soviet Union, needed to have a leader whose
appearance had no trace of 'alien' features. In post-war films such as
The Third Thrust and Thc BattIc of Stalingrad, a Russian actor,
Alcksei Diky, was chosen to play the role of Stalin (replacing the
Georgian Mikhail Gelovani), and appeared on the screen without a
Georgian accent. Stalin personally approved this change, and Diky
was awarded the Stalin Prize for cach of his films.

Towards the end of the 1980s, in order to put an end to speculation
about Stalin's parentage, the Stalin museum in Gori
miraculously managed to find a photograph of Vissarion Dzhugashvili,
aged 25 or 30. There was a clear resemblance between father and
son, but doubts have been expressed about the authenticity of this
recent discovery. Th e print lacked certain qualities typical of nincteenth-
century photographs, while the face of Vissarion
Dzhugashvili was partly covered by ail army cap and beard, although
beards were rarely seen in Georgia at that time. No
photographs have ever been found of Stalin's mother as a young

from The Unknown Stalin by Roy and Zhores Medvedev, London: 2003

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