Fifty three years ago, on March 5th 1953, Josif Vissarionovich Djugashvili died aged 74.
He had a stroke on March 1st. However it was many hours before any aid came to him. The fear he inspired meant that no one would disturb him. Even when he was found, befouled and lying senseless on the floor, he was left to lie still longer. Eventually he was put on a chaise longue. Finally, speechless and angry, he died. The tyrant Stalin was dead.
No-one knows how many people his regime butchered and tortured.
Even today so many still suffer from the loss of their family members. The degradation and hopelessness of Stalinism crushed the human spirit. Alcoholism was a frequent result. Those taken to Siberia, and who yet returned after the blessed news of Stalin's death were shadows of the people who had left. Millions upon millions of people were casually left to die, or worked to death or tortured to death. Even those who survived could never forget. The destruction of generations has left a lasting legacy. The rot of post-Stalinist Communism, while less monstrous, was more despairing.
A beautiful girl, when a small child, lost her father to an accident as the result of alcohol. What stability there was in her Soviet life was lost. Her late childhood and early teen years became a journey from place to place with no security. She has left her country and lives now in the West. Even now she can not feel comfortable in her own skin. Her pysche is frozen.
When we talk about the crushing of humanity that Stalin led, each individual bears the stress of these crimes even down the generations. As I think back on to the death of the monster, I think grim thoughts indeed. In those long hours that he lay, immobile and filthy- did he contemplate his crimes? Did he understand that his name would become reviled through the ages? That his death could only bring a leap of hope to the hearts of those he tormented? As he struggled with his own death, did he think of the deaths of so many others, for which he was directly responsible?
Part of me hopes that his death was hard- that every breath was an agony, that his fear and rage choked him as he lay helpless. Even I, unknown to him and far away, have been touched by the results of the vile machine he created. Love can be poisoned by the past that makes us who we are.
Yet in the end, the death of Stalin was just another old man finally entering the dark. Those of us who still walk in the light might think about what we owe to each other: to love one another or perish.
Fifty three years ago- nearly two generations. I wonder when the sorrow that this man caused can ever be healed.