Obituary – Yevgeni Dzhugashvili

dzhugashviliYevgeni Dzhugashvili, grandson of Joseph Stalin, who devoted his life to defending the Soviet leader’s reputation, died on 21 December 2016.

The resemblance was uncanny: the same short powerful build, low forehead, thick moustache, iron-grey hair and dark, watchful eyes. Like his grandfather, he spoke slowly and quietly. His family name was little known outside Georgia but the name he preferred and the one he spoke with pride was the one which led the Soviet people through a period of extraordinary difficulty and exceptional opportunity, a period of remarkably unparalleled achievements in the fields of collectivisation of agriculture, socialist industrialisation of the Soviet Union, creation of a scientific and cultural base, culminating in the crowning glory of victory in the Great Patriotic War against the fascist Hitlerite aggressors.

He was seven when his father died in Sachsenhausen concentration camp in 1943. He is believed to have been shot after Hitler tried to bargain with Stalin to exchange him for Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus, the Nazi commander who, along with 25 other German generals, surrendered at Stalingrad. Stalin had none of it. “I will not trade a field marshal for a lieutenant,” he said. Besides, every Soviet soldier was treated by Stalin as his own child. “They are ALL my sons,” he is reported to have said. True to his truly admirable moral stance, he would not favour his own son over of tens of thousands of other Soviet prisoners of war held in fascist concentration camps.

Dzhugashvili had to forge his own career, his family links more of a liability than a doorway into the Soviet elite thanks to the usurpation of state power by the renegade revisionist Khrushchevite clique following Stalin’s death and the 20th Party Congress of the CPSU. He was allowed to enter university. He graduated from the Zhukovsky Air Force Engineering Academy in Moscow and was a senior teacher at the Voroshilov General Staff Academy of the Russian Armed Forces in the 1980s. He gave lectures in military academies for more than 25 years. When Nikita Khrushchev denounced Stalin in 1956, Dzhugashvili also felt himself personally denounced, although he was only 20. He sought instead the anonymity of the Soviet army and studied at Kalinin Suvorov military school. There he began work on the Soviet space programme. As a military engineer he was involved in pre-launch preparations and launches, taking part in Yuri Gagarin’s pioneering space flight.

For about 30 years, little was heard of him. Dzhugashvili soldiered on in silence. He became secretary of the Komsomol, the Soviet youth movement, at the engineering plant at which he worked.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and his retirement from the army in 1991, with the rank of colonel, he took up the cause of Stalin. By then he held dual citizenship — Russian and Georgian. His loyalties and personality were clearly torn. Dour, disciplined and taciturn, he was thoroughly Russified and spoke only Russian. Yet he was happier in sunny Georgia, where he also had a home and where Stalin was long revered as a national hero.

He was a warm family man, married to a Georgian wife and proud of his children. Although he routinely condemned the West, he sent one of his two sons to Glasgow for three years to study art.

He used to place flowers regularly on Stalin’s grave, where The Times once interviewed him, standing in silent honour in front of his grandfather’s bust – a grave removed to the back of the mausoleum on Red Square where Stalin lay for a few years next to Lenin. He denounced Boris Yeltsin as an “enemy of the people”, and his Stalinist Bloc’s promise of a return to orthodox communism – the abolition of the Russian presidency, the return of power to the people and the return of stolen property.

He was popular with pensioners and those left confused and bitter by the Soviet collapse. He promised, in his 1999 election campaign across Russia, to confiscate the wealth held by oligarchs, to renationalise all land and industry, and to set up local soviets to run the country under the party’s central command. Crowds thronged the schools, halls and meeting places where he spoke, anxious to see the flesh and blood of Stalin. However, he did not achieve electoral success in the prevailing chaotic circumstances.

Dzhugashvili, nevertheless, brought the language of Stalin to his campaign. Those in charge in post-Soviet Russia would be put on trial, he vowed. “It will be a normal criminal trial,” he observed drily to The Times. “If they are guilty, they will be punished.” Many would probably be shot: Dzhugashvili said capital punishment was the only way to cut crime. And little mercy would be shown. “I can hardly bring myself to wring the neck of a chicken. But for Yeltsin — I would personally execute him with an axe.”

He had little time for post-communist Russia and its brash materialism.. He said that the mess in Russia would have been avoided if Stalin had lived for another five years.

Defending Stalin’s legacy chimed with the more recent mood in Russia. Yet his grandson was always quick to rebut historians’ estimates that Stalin murdered some 20 million people in the purges. This was “completely absurd”, he told The Times in 1999. “Now Russia loses some two million people a year in crime, killings and accidents.”

Dzhugashvili vowed to put those in charge of post-Soviet Russia on trial.

In 2009 he began a long and bitter feud with Novaya Gazeta, one of the few remaining ‘liberal’ newspapers in Russia, after it accused Stalin of personally giving the order for the execution of thousands of Polish officers at Katyn during the Second World War. He sued the paper for damages, but his case was, not unexpectedly given the bourgeois nature of the Russian state, thrown out by a Russian court. Surprisingly he then took his case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg – it was again, unsurprisingly, rejected.

Stalin’s immediate family were all granted personal pensions after his death of 1,000 roubles a month, a considerable sum in those days. However, they were left no legacies, no dachas and no privileges. “When Stalin died he did not leave an inheritance,” Dzhugashvili said. “When he died, everything he possessed returned to the people. He was a true believer in the communist system.

So too was Dzhugashvili. He did not seem to be just playing a part – but his grandfather clearly dominated his life. His own apartment in Moscow was spartan. Several huge photos of Stalin stared down from the walls, an ornate clock and a faded map showed the world frozen in time as it was when the Soviet Union was a superpower. Perhaps the high point for the grandson was to bring him back to life on screen. In 1991 Dzhugashvili put on a tunic, thickened his moustache, picked up the familiar pipe and played Stalin in a Georgian film about his grandfather. He did so, he insisted, because no other actor seemed right for the part, but one could sense that this was a point of lasting pride. For a few brief weeks he had become the Stalin he so revered.

According to Radio Free Europe, Yevgeny published in 2015 a book entitled My grandfather Stalin: he is a saint.

We are proud to say that Evgeny Dzhugashvili was highly elated when he heard of the existence of the Stalin Society in Britain which devotes itself, as did Dzhugashvili, to preserving the memory of this great Marxist-Leninist and the achievements of the Soviet Union during his time at the helm of Soviet affairs. The Stalin Society had some friendly correspondence with him.

Yevgeny Dzhugashvili, grandson of Joseph Stalin, was born on January 10, 1936. He died on December 21, 2016, aged 80.