Friday, December 2, 2011

Stalin's daughter Lana Peters dies in US of cancer - 29 Nov 2011

The only daughter of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin has died in the US at the age of 85

Svetlana Alliluyeva, also known as Lana Peters, died of colon cancer at a care home in the state of Wisconsin last Tuesday, officials say.

Her defection from the Soviet Union in 1967 was a propaganda coup for the US. She wrote four books, including two best-selling memoirs.

But she said she could not escape the shadow of her father

'Little sparrow'

When Peters arrived in the US, she said she had come for the "self-expression that has been denied me for so long in Russia".

She said her defection was partly motivated by the Soviet authorities' poor treatment of Brajesh Singh, an Indian communist whom she had a relationship with
Although she later referred to Singh as her husband, the two were never allowed to marry.

Peters went to India in 1966 to spread Singh's ashes, but instead of returning to the Soviet Union she walked into the US embassy to seek political asylum.

She burned her passport, denouncing communism and her father, whom she called "a moral and spiritual monster".

She graduated from Moscow University in 1949, initially working as a teacher and translator.

Peters was married three times and had two daughters and a son.

Her first memoir, Twenty Letters to a Friend, was published in 1967 and made more than $2.5m (£1.6m).

She took the name Lana Peters upon marrying architect William Wesley Peters in the US.

The couple settled in central Wisconsin and had a daughter, Olga, before divorcing in 1973.
She returned to the Soviet Union briefly in the 1980s, renouncing the US, but left again after feuding with relatives.

In an interview in 1990 with Britain's Independent newspaper, Peters said she had no money and was living with Olga in a rented house.

Stalin, who died in 1953, is deemed responsible for the deaths of millions of his countrymen.

Peters - who was six years old when her mother took her own life - was once close to her father, who called her his "little sparrow". But they grew distant in his final years.

He sent her first love, a Jewish filmmaker, to Siberia.

Her brother, Jacob, died in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II when her father refused to exchange him for a German general, and her other brother, Vasili, died an alcoholic, aged 40.

Lana Peters bemoaned the constant association with her father.

"People say, 'Stalin's daughter, Stalin's daughter,' meaning I'm supposed to walk around with a rifle and shoot the Americans," she once said.

"Or they say, 'No, she came here. She is an American citizen.' That means I'm with a bomb against the others.
No, I'm neither one. I'm somewhere in between."

While Peters denounced her father's regime, she also blamed other communist party leaders for the Soviet Union's policy of sending millions to labour camps.

Speaking to the BBC in 1990, Peters said that life in the USSR became much easier for everyone, herself included, after Nikita Khrushchev came to power.

She revealed that Khrushchev showed her his speech to the 20th party congress in advance, so she wouldn't be shocked. In this address, three years after Stalin's death, Khrushchev denounced his predecessor as a brutal despot.

Interviewed in Cambridge, Peters said "When my mother left us, he [Stalin] was left completely alone. And I think what came next, in the late 30s and after the war in the 40s - I think that was a result of his complete loneliness on top of the world. Nobody would argue with him anymore."

How Stalin's daughter defected in India

The only daughter of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin has died in the US, aged 85. In 1967 she travelled to India to scatter the ashes of her Indian Communist lover in the river Ganges. During that visit she defected to the US causing a political sensation. Indian journalist Inder Malhotra recalls the scandal.

Svetlana Alliluyeva, also known as Lana Peters, had a strong connection with India.

She was what is known as the common law wife of Brajesh Singh, one of the many Indian Communists who made Moscow their home in the 1930s and thereafter.

In early 1967 Mr Singh died. Svetlana saw to it that he was cremated according to Hindu rites and then decided to bring his ashes to India to consign them to the Ganges river, held sacred by Hindus.

This took time because Soviet leaders tried hard to dissuade her from making that journey.

Political upheavals

Enough evidence emerged later to show that Alexi Kosygin, then prime minister, had personally told her that she was taking a grave risk as orthodox Hindus sometimes burned the widow along with her husband.

But she was determined to press ahead despite the protestations.

An Indian visa was no problem because, apart from other reasons, Brajesh's nephew, Dinesh Singh, was a confidant of then prime minister Indira Gandhi and a member of her council of ministers.

After completing the rituals in her late husband's ancestral village in Uttar Pradesh, she arrived in Delhi at a time when India was in the throes of a general election, the first without Jawaharlal Nehru - India's first prime minister after independence.

The political upheavals consumed India: the Congress party was returned to power, though with a considerably reduced majority and there was a tense leadership struggle between Indira Gandhi and Morarji Desai, who would end up being her deputy prime minister.

It was because of the excitement over these developments that neither the media nor any of the political leaders took any interest in Svetlana's presence in Delhi.

And then the sensational news broke one morning, with nuclear force, that Stalin's daughter had defected to the United States on Indian soil.

The Soviet Union was incensed and said so but there was nothing India could do. Tension between Moscow and Delhi persisted for some time despite previously close relations.

American escape

The story of the great escape could not have been more dramatic.

Svetlana was staying at the Soviet embassy where Ambassador Nikolai Benediktov was advising her to return home.

Telling him that she was going out to finalise her travel arrangements, she called a taxi and drove straight to the American embassy, only a short distance away.

The embassy had shut for the day. She told the duty officer who she was and what she wanted.

In panic, the duty officer rang up Ambassador Chester Bowles and told him that he must come to his office immediately to deal with a matter that could not be discussed on the phone.

Mr Bowles arrived, talked to Svetlana and gave her a lined pad to write down why she wanted to go the US, not to her own country.

She duly did, and when published in her book a year later, it turned out to be a cogent and readable document.
While Svetlana was writing her piece, Ambassador Bowles sent an "Eyes Only" telegram to the Secretary of State Dean Rusk explaining the situation and asking for instructions.

He took care to conclude his cable with the words: "If I do not hear from the State Department by midnight (Indian time), I would, on my responsibility, give her the visa."

According to the ambassador's subsequent account of the incident, as he had expected, there was not a word from Washington by the deadline.

So he arranged to send Svetlana to the airport in the company of a CIA officer to catch a flight to Rome.

Only after she had reached there safely did the sensational news leak out.

BBC, 29 Nov 2011

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