How did Stalin get to know Beria

History Reloaded - What history teaches us

Feared even at the moment of death: Stalin laid out in his coffin. Photo: Serge Plantureux (Corbis, Getty)

The old Cold War was better: you hear this comparison often today. The Soviet Union was indeed a grim opponent, but it was directed by real politicians with reliable standards. The current leadership in Moscow is completely different: They tick more like a gang of gangsters. Most recently, ex-oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky resorted to a mafia comparison and said that Russia was ruled by a “criminal syndicate”.

Really? The nostalgic recognition might fit the Soviet Union from Brezhnev to Gorbachev. A deeper tradition is being forgotten: until the 1960s, conditions prevailed in the Kremlin that would shake any Mexican cartel boss today (which incidentally also included targeting political opponents abroad).

It started out terribly

Under Stalin, every act of state could be used as a stab in the back. Whether foreign policy, potato cultivation or road construction: the communist politicians were interested in every decision as to who would be eliminated and executed, including their families if necessary. The British historian Simon Sebag Montefiore wrote an impressive work about it, "Stalin", raised as a report from a degenerate royal court.

Because it started horribly and ended grotesquely. The lackeys in the party and the Politburo blackened each other at an ever faster pace and tried to present themselves as particularly communist through plans for massacre. As a result, even worse characters moved into the Kremlin Palace after each round of intrigues. In the end, Nikita Khrushchev was to succeed the head of state, “as ignorant as the Negus of Ethiopia” (Stalin) - a man who, as the leader of the Communist Party of Ukraine, had already murdered himself among the great criminals in world history.

But because Khrushchev later, in 1956, distanced himself from the bloodsucker Stalin, he was remembered in the West as an acceptable politician.

Now the gang can be laughed at in the cinema: In “The Death of Stalin” director Armando Iannucci describes the last hours of the tyrant as a coal-black comedy.

"... full of horror before death"

Indeed, the murderer of millions ended up drooling helplessly in madness. “I don't even trust myself anymore”: At the end of his life he grasped the paranoia with which he had contaminated his empire.

When Stalin suffered a stroke in his bedroom on March 1, 1953, nothing happened. For almost a day no one dared to indulge in the silence in the dacha. When Stalin was found gasping in his piss, nobody dared to look for a doctor: because in his mistrust the dictator had just started a wave of arrests against doctors. Those doctors who were belatedly found were so frightened that they just examined him, trembling. At first the ministers did not dare to even ask questions about Stalin's state of health. Then they didn't dare to decide anything.

Film trailer: "The Death of Stalin", Great Britain 2017.

'The face was turning. The features were disfigured beyond recognition, the lips turned black. In the last two hours he simply suffocated »: This is how Stalin's daughter Svetlana described the agony. Apparently at the last minute he suddenly opened his eyes. ... It was a terrible look, half mad, half angry, full of horror before death. "

As soon as it was so far, as soon as death was certain, the politicians present ran to their limousines - first and foremost, the secret service chief Lavrenti Beria. They all rushed into the Kremlin to scramble into the best position to seize power. And to burn any documents that might encumber them. Because everyone felt that they had taken the terror too far.

Molotov's murder theory

Former Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov later claimed that Beria poisoned Stalin. Because he knew that the dictator wanted to have him executed next. But that is doubtful. And the murder would have been of little use: Beria was arrested and executed a few months after Khrushchev took office.

It is not so much power itself that corrupts: it is more the lust for power. This, too, teaches the story of Stalin and his bullies. It shows how much the fixation on one man and the state leadership through loyalties can paralyze an entire country. And it suggests that in the end the personality cult always turns against the celebrated. The film "The Death of Stalin" was immediately banned in Russia.