For many in the former USSR, May 9 - or Victory Day - marks the day that the Soviet Union defeated Nazi Germany’s forces during World War II. Typically feted with fireworks and parades, this year’s Victory Day may also feature a number of commuter buses decorated with portraits of ex-Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.
The concept of the “Stalinobus” ruffled feathers even before it first appeared two years ago. Human rights activists and democracy groups kicked up a fuss in the run-up to the 2010 Victory Day festivities after hearing news of the bus and did everything they could to block it. Only one “Stalinobus” got through. The vehicle made a brief debut in the city of Saint Petersburg, before it was sprayed with white paint. The whole stunt lasted barely a day.
"Stalinobus" debut in Saint Petersburg in 2010. Video posted on YouTube by victorybus.
"Stalinobus" sprayed with white paint. Video posted on YouTube by Soshnikoff.
Despite its cold reception, “Stalinobus’” organisers were not to be discouraged. The following year, the vehicle was again spotted at Victory Day celebrations, and multiple buses were seen rolling through a number of Russian cities on November 7, a date that marks both the beginning of the country’s 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and a major show of military force at Moscow’s Red Square in 1941. Although the “Stalinobus” was welcomed by a number of towns in Siberia, Russia's capital Moscow refused to allow the vehicle onto its streets.
If all goes according to plan, “Stalinobus” organisers hope to have vehicles decked-out with Stalin portraits in 40 cities in time for Victory Day this year. But, as in the past, their ambitions have been met with resistance. In addition to vehicles in major Russian cities, “Stalinobuses” have also been planned in the capitals of former Soviet states, such as Latvia and Estonia. The two countries, like other Baltic states, hold a very different view of the role the former USSR played in their liberation from Nazi control. As a result, a number of countries, including Latvia and Estonia, have banned the use of Soviet symbols.
With Victory Day just around the corner, on-line Russian news source reported that authorities in Moscow, Latvia’s capital Riga had already vowed to prohibit “Stalinobuses” from taking part in celebrations. However, Tallinn city official Johannes Merilai, however, told FRANCE 24 that as long as the proposed images do not violate any laws [apparently, Stalin's portrait is not considered a Soviet symbol], the city will not intervene.
Thus far, “Stalinobus” organisers have been unfased by the hostile or indifferent reactions to their project, saying they have already raised about 225,000 rubles (5,800 euros) to buy ad space on commuter buses.
During his 24 years in power, Stalin ruled the Soviet Union with a totalitarian grip, using terror as a means of control. Millions were killed under his regime and scores others exiled to forced labour camps known as gulags.

“I was fed up with the way our country’s great history is always portrayed in a negative light and all the anti-Stalin propaganda”

Viktor Loginov founded and organises the “Stalinobus” project.
I decided to launch this project because I was fed up with the way our country’s great history is always portrayed in a negative light and of all the anti-Stalin propaganda. I regard Stalin the same way that a lot of Russians regard Peter the Great. Whether founded or not, Russians like Peter the Great because he is considered as one of the great architects of the Russian Empire. On the one hand, it’s widely known that ‘Saint Petersburg was built upon human bones’ [Saint Petersburg’s foundations are said sit above the bones of an estimated 100,000 skeletons of forced-labourers], but on the other hand people also recognize that Peter the Great ‘opened a window onto Europe’. I would like it if people viewed Stalin in the same light, because he did a lot of good for our country even if it came with some bad.
In France, the name ‘Stalingrad’ is still respected [in France’s capital Paris, there is even a metro station called Stalingrad], but here they chose to rename the city Volgograd to please a handful of people [Stalingrad was renamed Volgograd in 1961 under Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev as part of his de-Stalinisation programme].
I don’t want to share any further details about our project in 2012 because I don’t want to give those who are trying to block us any tools to do so. Latvia and Estonia’s governments have already done everything they can to prevent us from deploying our buses. These countries are supposed to be democratic, but they’re trying to stifle our democratic right to freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
Post written with freelance journalist Ostap Karmodi.