MOSCOW— Respect among Russians for Josef Stalin has surged to the highest level of President Vladimir Putin’s era, with 70 percent saying his rule had been good for the country, according to a poll tracking attitudes toward the Soviet dictator.

A record 51 percent viewed Stalin positively in March, up from 40 percent a year earlier, the survey published Tuesday by the Moscow-based Levada Center showed. The proportion regarding him with admiration, respect or sympathy was the highest since it began the survey in April 2001, Levada said on its website.

Communist party supporters carry portraits of Josef Stalin as they mark the 66th anniversary of his death in Moscow, Russia, in March. Associated Press/Pavel Golovkin

“Nostalgia over the collapse of the Soviet Union is at a peak this year. In addition, Stalin is seen as a figure who ensured social justice,” something Russians are increasingly seeking amid discontent with falling living standards and a government reform of pensions, said Karina Pipia, an analyst at Levada. Even so, the people who admired Stalin “don’t really want to go back to those times,” she said.

Russians were more willing to defend the mass killings and political persecutions that accompanied Stalin’s 31-year rule until his death in 1953, according to the survey. Some 46 percent agreed that repressions were “definitely” or “in some way” justified by the results achieved under Stalin, up from 36 percent in 2017 and the highest level since the question was first posed in 2008. Another 45 percent said progress under Stalin didn’t justify the repressions.

The rise in Stalin’s standing follows Kremlin efforts to play down his tyranny in school history books and recast him as a modernizer who transformed the Soviet Union into a superpower through rapid industrialization and victory in World War II. It comes amid deepening disenchantment among Russians with Putin, the longest-serving Kremlin ruler since Stalin, following the unpopular increase in the pension age last year. There’s also growing hardship after five straight years of declining consumer incomes.

The March 21-27 survey of 1,600 people had a margin of error no greater than 3.4 percentage points. An increase of 12 percentage points in the proportion expressing respect for Stalin explained the jump in his ratings this year, while there’s been a gradual decline in the number of Russians with indifferent or negative attitudes toward him, according to Levada.

An “irrational romanticization of the Soviet past and of the figure of Stalin” was expressed not only by older people in the poll but also by those aged under 25 who didn’t live in the communist era, Pipia said.

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