While the cruel reign of Josef Stalin marked a grim period in Russian and Soviet history, the story of his daughter Svetlana is, in many ways, no less fascinating. In cold war Russia, she caused a major furore when in 1967, at the height of the Cold War, she defected to the United States.
But what was behind this dramatic decision?
Svetlana Stalin was born in Moscow on February 28, 1926 in the early years of her father’s reign as General Secretary of the Communist party.
Even in the early days and years of her life it is said that she rarely saw her parents and was brought up largely by a nanny.
Sadly, that situation was exacerbated with the death of her mother in 1932.
Officially, the cause was listed as peritonitis as a result of a burst appendix but the story is that she committed suicide after a violent quarrel with her husband.
One can only speculate as to how much of an effect this upbringing had on Svetlana Stalin but it seems unlikely that she experienced a happy childhood and it’s certain that after her mother’s death, she continued to see very little of her father.
A further turning point in their relationship came when, at the age of 16, Svetlana fell in love with Aleksei Kapler, a Jewish filmmaker who was 24 years her senior. While all father’s may have disapproved of such a union, few would be able to wield the same power as Josef Stalin and Kapler quickly found himself sentenced to ten years in exile.
A year later, Svetlana met her first husband, Grigory Morozov who was studying with her at Moscow University. Her father allowed them to marry but a measure of his relationship with his daughter was the fact that he made a point of never meeting her husband.
This first marriage ended in divorce in 1947 after which, Svetlana married Yuri Zhdanov, the son of one of her father’s closest associates and therefore someone who was much more suitable as far as Josef Stalin was concerned. This union was also to end in divorce.
Upon the death of her father in 1953, Svetlana showed the first signs of contempt for him as she adopted her mother’s maiden name and became Svetlana Alliluyeva. However this rebellious act was of little significance compared with what was to follow.
Svetlana met Brajesh Singh, an Indian Communist who was visiting Moscow in 1963. Sadly, in keeping with her early, unhappy relationships, they were not allowed to marry and Singh subsequently died in 1966.
Further reading: How did Stalin Die?
In 1967, Svetlana was allowed to travel to India with Brajesh Singh’s ashes and while in New Delhi, she visited the Soviet and US embassies before announcing her defection to the United States.
In April of that year, she denounced her father’s regime and announced her intention to publish an uncensored biography. Back in 1967, this was a major incident that created uproar in the USSR.
The later years of her life have been much calmer and after changing her name to Lana Peters, Svetlana has lived out her years in England and also in the US. She currently lives in Wisconsin where she will pass unnoticed in a crowd who will be completely unaware of her part in an incredible period in Russian and Soviet history.