It turns out that the correct meaning of ‘Stalinistic” is kind, family-oriented, and greatly loved. Or, at least that is the view expressed in a Russian court by Joseph Stalin’s grandson, Yevgeny Dzhugashvili. (Stalin’s given name was Joseph Dzhugashvili). He is suing opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta for publishing declassified death warrants from the period and offering an unvarnished account of the atrocities under Stalin.
As we recently discussed with regard to an infamous column by the Toronto Star, the common law rule is that “you cannot defame the dead,” which of course means in practical terms that you can defame the dead. I have long been a critic of that rule, here.
Stalin has become a rallying point for people who feel that Russia has lost respect and that the general lifestyle in the nation has declined.
Of course, even if you can sue for defamation for a dead man, truth remains a defense. What is fascinating about this issue is that it deals with documents. Looking at this case from an American standpoint raises some interesting torts questions. In the United States, under the New York Times v. Sullivan standard, the family would have to prove knowing falsity or reckless disregard of the truth for a public figure. However, document cases are different. There is a separate privilege for reporting of public documents and reports. These are documents released by the Russian government itself. Of course, many of the Russian records from the Soviet period are met with some skepticism. However, these death warrants are consistent with every credible historical work showing Stalin to be a pathological and murderous tyrant.
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