By Oleg Shchedrov
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Friday said he was concerned that most young Russians were unaware of the scope of Josef Stalin's purges and said the crimes of the past should not be forgiven.
Medvedev spoke on the day Russia honours the victims of Soviet repression at a time when rights campaigners see an attempt by some politicians to whitewash the dictator's legacy.
He warned against attempts to rehabilitate those who orchestrated repression.
"We pay much attention to fighting the falsification of our history," Medvedev said.
"It is also important not to allow the restoration of historical truth to be used as a pretext to rehabilitate those responsible for exterminating their own people."
The day of remembrance for the victims of repression was introduced 18 years ago by the first post-Soviet Russian leader, Boris Yeltsin, who believed that facing up to the horrors of the past was essential to build democracy after years of repression.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva, a dissident who was forced to leave the Soviet Union after helping to found the Helsinki human rights group, Russia's oldest surviving non-governmental organisation, said she welcomed Medvedev's comments.
"I hope this a signal to those officials who had decided to glorify Stalin, to those who had decided that he was an ideal example," she told reporters.
"I simply hope Kremlin policy does not diverge from what Medvedev said as there have been examples of that."
Stalin is still the subject of heated debate in Russia, nearly two decades after the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union.
For some Russians, he was a cruel tyrant who sent millions to their deaths by building a totalitarian system that corrupted the ideals of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.
But polls show that the majority of Russians consider Stalin to have been a tough war leader who defended the motherland from attack and built the Soviet Union into a mighty superpower.
Rights campaigners have been alarmed by what they see as an attempt by officials -- especially strong during the 2000-2008 presidency of Vladimir Putin -- to justify the atrocities of Stalin's rule by focussing on his achievements.
Recent Russian teachers' manuals have described Stalin as an effective manager who acted rationally in conducting a campaign of terror to modernise the Soviet Union. Historians say such a view of Stalin ignores the millions of innocent people who either perished or had their lives torn apart under his rule.
(Editing by Angus MacSwan)