The FSB itself has never rejected its Soviet legacy. Its headquarters are still located in the Lubyanka, where so many of Stalin's victims were tortured and shot in the building's infamous basements. In the Russian informal system of patronage, the agency's political clout is unparalleled. Throughout his leadership, Putin has drawn on the FSB for many of his high-level government appointments and put members of the FSB in charge of lucrative business assets.
Medvedev's half-hearted de-Stalinization basically wound down as soon as his substitute presidency ended and Putin returned to the Kremlin. To this day there is no consistent official narrative of the Soviet past in general or Stalinism in particular. Nor is there a memorial to the victims of Stalin's rule.
While the official discourse reduces mentions of Stalin to a minimum, public discussions have merely been marginalized, not banned or suppressed. Memorial, a well-known nongovernmental organization that conducts archival research documenting Stalin's crimes, has been able to continue its commemorative work. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago and other literature about Stalin's terror are easily available in bookstores and libraries. At the same time, books glorifying Stalin, with titles such as The Forbidden Truth about "Stalin's Repressions" or USSR Without Stalin: The Path to Catastrophe, are on sale in major bookstores. A conservative estimate of the total print run of the most popular titles amounts to over one hundred thousand copies.
This juxtaposition reflects controversial perception of Stalin as both a dictator to blame for the deaths of millions and a wise and powerful leader who won the war against Hitler. In the minds of many Russians, in fact, the two perceptions are not infrequently combined. In the collective post-Soviet psyche, national greatness is inseparable from violence and brutal force.
For the Russian people, their nation's greatness is best embodied by the Soviet Union's 1945 victory in the Great Patriotic War. In today's Russia, the man who led the nation to this victory, comes in handy as symbolic compensation for a nation suffering from Russia's loss of status in the period following the collapse of the Communist empire.
Stalin's ranking as the greatest Russian may be seen as an indirect reflection of a mentality that is common to many of today's Russians, who maintain passive loyalty to the nation despite the injustice, corruption, and egregious abuse of authority by state government officials. The historical experience has taught the Russian people that they are powerless against the omnipotent state and that their best strategy is to adapt to the will and whims of their rulers. About 80 percent of Russians tell pollsters that they have no "influence on political life in Russia."
The years of post-communist development have not been fully wasted, however. The past few years have witnessed the rise of what one might call "non-Soviet Russians". It was these younger Russians -- and particularly those better-educated Moscow residents with modern professional skills -- who joined the mass protests against Putin's regime that erupted in the Russian capital in late 2011. In the Carnegie survey these same younger Muscovites do not agree that "our people will always need a leader like Stalin, someone who will restore order."
Russian society is becoming more diverse, and people's relation to the state is a major line of division. The paternalistic model that Putin has established derives its legitimacy from a system of symbols that could be called "Stalinist": an infallible state, patriotism understood as loyalty to the ruling authorities, disloyalty regarded as a criminal act. These symbols may still be accepted by a conservative Soviet-style majority, but they have also become divisive.
A true de-Stalinization process will require no less than a reinvention of Russian nationhood based on a rejection of the traditional concept of the state, an end to the political and historical immunity of the secret police, and the emergence of a concept of "we, the people." It is impossible to say whether and when Russia will rise to this challenge. But until that happens, Stalin will not die.