Stalin's death still wrapped in mystery: Historians

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Moscow, Mar 5 (UNI) Soviet leader Joseph Stalin died on March 5, 1953 at his dacha, outside Moscow, in mysterious circumstances.

But 55 years since his death, there are still rumours that he was killed by someone very close to him, as even at the age of 74, he was not in poor health.

''Here in Russia he is still a legend, his greatness is remembered and his victory over fascism - but it was not his victory, it was the victory of the people,'' Nikolay Svanidze, an eminent historian told Russia Today television channel.

''There are myths surrounding Stalin's death due to the mentality that someone that great and powerful can't die naturally; therefore he must have been murdered,'' Mr Svanidze said.

The night Stalin died, he was surrounded by his closest political circle, including secret police chief Lavrenty Beria and his successor Nikita Khrushchev. There is a theory that he was poisoned by Beria.

In 1993, in his memoirs, Stalin's protege Vyacheslav Molotov claimed that Beria had told him, ''I did him in! I saved all of you!'' In the 1930s, many members of the Party were executed as traitors and over a decade later, those close to Stalin feared another round of purges.

''In 1953, there was a feeling among his comrades that there was going to be another wave of repressions, so there were motives,'' Vladimir Simindev, another historian, said.

But those who doubt this theory say the evident satisfaction of those close to Stalin after his death is proof enough that it was not planned.

''His circle was happy and relieved to hear he had died. You would think the opposite as they were close and living good lives, but they feared for their lives. It is difficult to appreciate a good position when every night you are waiting for a knock at your door-to be taken away and killed,'' Mr Svanidze said.

During Stalin's rule, the Soviet Union played a key role in defeating Nazi Germany and became one of the two superpowers, a status which continued for decades after his death.

Despite the purges and the famine in Ukraine, the Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov has compared Stalin to 'the most grandiose figures of the Renaissance'.

A recent poll by the All-Russian Public Opinion Centre showed that more than half of all respondents believed Stalin's role in the Russian history to be 'positive', while 20 per cent called him 'wise and humane'.

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