Of all the people in the world who were directly ‘haunted’ by the existence and the aftermath of twentieth-century soviet communism, perhaps nobody was as personally affected as Lana Peters, who has died this week at the age of 85 in Wisconsin, USA. Born Svetlana Alliluyeva in 1926, she was Stalin’s only daughter.
Both the BBC and the New York Times have well-researched and detailed obituaries, and both make the point that Lana apparently found it impossible to come to terms with the hand that fate dealt her, spending her life moving from country to country, defecting from the USSR, re-defecting back, re-re-defecting away again, living in a bewildering array of places, marrying and divorcing numerous times, adhering to various religions and philosophies, apparently spending her whole life trying to run away from her own demons.
It is probably somewhat inevitable that most of the coverage of her death has been accompanied by the two famous photos of her as a child: the first showing Svetlana in her father’s arms, and the second showing her in the arms of the sadistic NKVD chief Lavrentiy Beria. The images — famous for their implicit ironic juxtaposition between the savagery of these men and the innocence of the child they hold — represent exactly what Svetlana spent her life attempting to escape.
Given this lifelong effort, it seems appropriate not to show those images here. Instead, perhaps it’s better to let Lana hold the stage in her own right. Here she is in 1967, talking to the press after her initial defection from the USSR to the USA.