Supporters of Josef Stalin opened a slander case a Moscow court on Friday that critics say is part of a campaign to rehabilitate the Soviet dictator decades after his death.
Stalin's grandson Yevgeny Dzhugashvili is seeking 10 million rubles ($330,000) and a retraction from liberal radio station Ekho Moskvy over a claim that Stalin sanctioned the execution of children as young as 12 during the 1930s purges.
The case comes amid emotional debate over Stalin's legacy ahead of celebrations of the 65th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two on May 9.
"The people who want to return us to those years are becoming more active," Alexei Venediktov, chief editor of Ekho Moskvy, said after Friday's hearing. "There are a mass of people who think that ruling with an iron fist is a good thing."
Critics blame Stalin for millions of deaths in his forced collectivisation of farms and in Gulag hard labour camps, and contend that victory came despite mistakes that contributed to estimated war death toll of 27 million Soviet citizens.
"Even if the court decides against us, it will allow people to listen and reassess Stalin for themselves," said Yuri Mukhin, one of three advocates for Dzhugashvili, who lives in Stalin's native Georgia and did not attend the hearing.
Dzhugashvili lost another defamation suit last October over his grandfather's memory. A Moscow judge rejected his claim that the newspaper Novaya Gazeta smeared Stalin's name in an article that said he personally ordered the deaths of Soviet citizens.
The accusation at the centre of the new trial -- that Stalin issued an order sanctioning the shooting of 12-year-olds deemed "enemies of the people" -- is more specific, but Venediktov said he was confident it was accurate.
On Friday, the first day of arguments after two technical hearings, Dzhugashvili's team asked the judge to ignore much recent history as politicised and said Stalin was not responsible for the decisions of Soviet officials and courts.
Venediktov presented the text of a conversation in which Stalin defended the shooting of minors and a list of teenagers shot dead for political crimes under his rule. He also demanded proof that Dzhugashili was indeed Stalin's biological grandson.
Supporters of Dzhugashvili said that the Russian Civil Code allows blood relatives of a dead person to bring such cases to court under clauses governing compensation for moral damage.
The hearing was postponed until April 16 to allow the Ekho Moskvy radio presenter accused of slandering Stalin to attend.
Stalin was discredited after his death in 1953, but praise for his leadership has become more common in recent years.
Opinion polls show many Russians think he was a talented manager and a tough wartime leader who defeated a strong enemy. Stalin was voted Russia's third most important historical figure of all time in a nationwide television show.
Last year, an inscription praising Stalin was restored to a Moscow metro station and officials spoke of plans to install a statue of the leader there as well. Critics say Stalin statues have popped up in a few places in Russia.
Moscow authorities have floated a plan to place information stands describing Stalin's role in the war on May 9 when several world leaders visit, sparking angry debate about his role.
About a dozen elderly communists attended the hearing on Friday, some muttering any time Stalin was criticised.
"We are sick of all the lies," said Nina Vlasenko, 79, clutching a book emblazoned with Stalin's portrait. "No one respects Stalin any more."
ReutersGüncelleme Tarihi: 27 Mart 2010, 10:02