Stalin t-shirt
A man poses with his air-brushed Stalin t-shirt as part of war victory celebrationsAlexander Aksakov/Getty Images

An opinion poll shows that a majority of Russians think Soviet leader Josef Stalin was the "most outstanding person" in history.

The survey by the Levada Center released Monday (26 June) said 38% chose Stalin, in a stark contrast to just 12% in 1989 when Russians were beginning to discover the crimes of the Stalin regime. The poll of 1,600 people has a 3.4% margin of error.

Scholars estimate that under Stalin more than 1 million people were executed in political purges. Millions more died in the vast prison camp system or as a result of mass starvation and deportations.

But an increasing number of Russians now admire Stalin as a strong leader who led their country to victory in World War II.

Polling carried out to see who various countries view as their greatest ever son has often produced controversial results. In 2003, when polling for Unsere Besten (Our Best) opened to discover to greatest ever German, the public were specifically banned from voting for Adolf Hitler. In 2004, the show Great South Africans declared white supremacist leader Eugène Terre'Blanche the 25th greatest person in the nation's history.