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Portrait of Stalin stirs mixed emotions among Russians

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Under a lowering sky, the visage of Joseph Stalin gazes down from the Byelorussian train station near the center of Moscow. The massive portrait -- part of the set for a 1940s-era film -- stirs decidedly mixed emotions from the onlookers below.

``He was a villain,'' says one white-haired man, old enough -- and fortunate enough -- to have survived the Stalin era.

``There's nothing special about it,'' says another older, heavy-set man in a beret. ``It's only a film. And besides, he was the leader of our state.''

The public display of his portrait stands as one of the most vivid examples to date of how the Soviet Union, in 1985, is once again acknowledging Stalin's three-decade rule over this country.

The disparate comments from the Muscovites who see the portrait indicate that the country is still struggling to come to grips with Stalin's mixed legacy of wartime leadership and widespread terror, of admiration and fear.

At one time, such massive outdoor portraits of Stalin were almost as common as street lamps. For 31 years after he came to power in 1922, Stalin ruled by this country as a dictator, altering virtually every aspect of Soviet life.

His excesses -- secret arrests, forced relocations, and summary executions -- held this country in a grip of fear. Yet his iron will also helped engineer not only this country's victory in World War II, but also the rapid industrialization that transformed a backward nation into a front-rank economic power.

In 1956, then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev denounced Stalin's ``violence, mass repression, and terror,'' his violations of ``all existing norms of morality.'' Stalin's embalmed body was later removed -- literally overnight -- from its resting place alongside Vladimir Lenin in a red granite mausoleum in Red Square. Stalin was expunged from most of the official history books, leaving a 30-year gap in the record.

It was perhaps inevitable that Soviet authorities would have to acknowledge Stalin during this year's 40th anniversary observances of the end of World War II.

Yet on May 9, when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev mentioned Stalin's name during a Victory Day speech, he was forced to pause by sustained and enthusiastic applause.

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