ABC's Alexander Marquardt reports from Moscow:
Lemon-flavored Stalin? Sounds…controversial.
A debate has been raging here in Russia over whether society is forgetting the brutality of Josef Stalin’s rule of the Soviet Union. Positive references to his time have re-emerged in Moscow’s subway, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin endorsed a textbook calling him an “efficient leader,” he placed third in a TV poll for the greatest Russian (when he was actually from Georgia).
Adding fizzy fuel to that fire is a carbonated drinks manufacturer’s decision to put the infamous dictator’s face on a limited-edition lemon-flavored soda next month to mark the 67th anniversary of the battle of Stalingrad.
The city has since been re-named Volgograd, where the Pivovar drinks company has decided to honor three World War II commanders, including Stalin, on the anniversary the battle that lasted almost seven months and claimed some two million lives.
Russia eventually won and the head of Pivovar sees no problem with paying tribute to the man accused of killing millions of his own citizens.
"I don't think there's anything bad here. All three military commanders were significant historical figures and each of their names is closely tied with Volgograd," Pivovar head Boris Izgarshev told the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper.
"I think there will be demand for this soft drink," he added.
Nikita Khrushchev, who succeeded Stalin, tried to expunge the cult of personality Stalin had created. But these days there is an increasing divide over whether he was such a bad guy.
Even Russia’s two leaders aren’t entirely on the same page.
“I am aware how sensitive it is,” Putin said during a television Q&A when asked about Stalin’s role. “I see an ambush here. If I say positive some people will get angry, and if I say negative other people will be angry.
“We won the Great Patriotic War [World War II],” he continued. “Even if we go back to the question of casualties, you know, nobody can today throw stones at those who organized and led us to victory…”
However, he added, “such a method of running the state, of achieving results is unacceptable.” President Dmitry Medvedev’s position on Stalin is clearer and not as forgiving.
"It is important to prevent any attempts to vindicate, under the pretext of restoring historical justice, those who destroyed their own people," he wrote on his blog in October.
As the 65th anniversary of the end of the Great Patriotic War (as Russians call World War II) approaches, Stalin’s mustache is sure to pop up more and more often and the debate over his legacy will only grow.