St Petersburg's Communists are convinced their vision will come to pass Photo: AP
The Communist party in St Petersburg has petitioned the Orthodox Church to canonise Josef Stalin if he wins a television poll to nominate the greatest Russian in history.
By Adrian Blomfield in Moscow
Last Updated: 11:02PM BST 22 Jul 2008
The Soviet dictator, who was responsible for the deaths of around 15 million people during his 31-year reign of terror, is in second place in online voting for the Name of Russia competition.
Stalin last week surrendered a narrow lead to Nicholas II in the contest, which is based on the BBC's Great Britons series.
But with a result not expected until the end of the year, the country's Communists are convinced that Stalin will still emerge the victor.
While the poll, conducted by the state run Rossiya channel, has been criticised for allowing multiple voting, there is little doubt that Stalin has undergone a remarkable renaissance in recent years.
Opinion polls regularly name him Russia's greatest post-revolution leader after Vladimir Putin, the prime minister.
The wartime leader's resurgence owes much to the Kremlin, which under Mr Putin's presidency appeared to support a campaign to rehabilitate Stalin, with television documentaries, films and books released in recent years eulogising him.
A newly published history text book, approved by the Kremlin for use in all schools, glossed over the more unappealing parts of Stalin's rule and ultimately concluded that he was the Soviet Union's most successful leader.
"Stalin is the most popular name in Russia," said Sergei Malinkovich, the Communist party leader who is driving the Stalin canonisation campaign.
"The people have forgiven him for the repressions, the collectivization, the elimination of cadres of the Red Army and other inevitable errors and tragedies of those cruel military and revolutionary times.
"Stalin has become the true national leader of Russia. He turned a backward country into an industrial giant."
Yet the idea of tuning Uncle Joe into Saint Joe has so far won little official backing from the Orthodox Church, which was one of Stalin's chief victims.
Seeking to establish atheism as the Soviet Union's official creed, Stalin destroyed thousands of churches and sent tens of thousands of priests to the gulags and their deaths.
Despite the church's reluctance, St Petersburg's Communists are convinced their vision will come to pass. They have already commissioned religious icons depicting Stalin with a halo round his head that have reportedly sold very well around the city.
"By the end of the 21st century, icons of St Josef Stalin will be in every Orthodox Church," Mr Malinkovich said.