Russian secret service shows off Stalin’s house

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

MOSCOW - Fifty-seven years after Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s death the Russian secret service officially threw open the doors of his Moscow estate Wednesday.

The dacha (country house) contains a bunker dating from 1942, historian Sergei Devjatov of the Federal Protective Service (FSO) told a select group of Russian journalists who were given a tour of the site Wednesday.

Contrary to urban myths, however, there is no metro line or tunnel running between the house and the Kremlin, Devjatov said.

“We looked for a metro access, but didn’t find any,” Devjatov said.

Stalin died of a stroke March 5, 1953 at the dacha in the western Moscow suburb of Kuntsevo.

Reporters on the tour described the furnishing of the dacha, which is nestled in dense forest a 12-minute car ride from the Kremlin, as not very luxurious.

What struck them were the numerous gifts Stalin had received from Chinese revolutionary Mao Tse Tung.

They also remarked on how Stalin had decorated the walls with photographs from Soviet magazines, which he himself paid to enlarge, but pointedly avoided hanging any portraits of himself.

Many Russians are still fascinated by Stalin, whose forced collectivisation of agriculture and gulags (slave labour camps for dissidents) cost millions of lives.

Those who admire him do so mainly because of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.

After the personality cult of Stalin had fizzled out the Soviet Communist Party allowed the 1,000-square-metre dacha to be used as a hotel.

But the hotel staff had to swear not to reveal that Stalin had once lived there.

In 1991 the site was handed over to the Russian secret service, which only allowed access to select guests.

Former US vice-president Al Gore was one such guest, when he visited Russia 15 years ago.

FSO historian Devjatov said a book about the two-storey residence, which would include original archival material, would be published in early 2011.

Although the dacha has been officially opened there are no plans as yet to throw it open to the general public, FSO deputy director Victor Tarassov said.

“The time for that hasn’t come yet,” he said, without offering any further explanation.

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