Staunton, September 27 – The monuments a government puts up say more about what is going on inside the minds of its rulers than any speeches they may give or programs they may announce, according to Rosbalt commentator Sergey Shelin. And the Russian government of Vladimir Putin is no exception.
When the Putin regime decided to put up a statue to Mikhail Kalashnikov, the inventor of the machinegun of the same name, the commentator says, he for the first time felt a certain admiration for those Soviet leaders who in the 1980s erected a statue of Yury Gagarin, the first man to orbit the earth (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2017/09/26/1648879.html).
Those who put up the Gagarin statue based it on the proposition not that the spaceman was a Soviet officer whose achievement was the result of competition with the US, Shelin continues. Instead, they viewed him as “a world-historical hero as the first man who was sent into space. Everything in the monument tis only about this.”
Its designers knew something” that those behind the new Kalashnikov monument don’t, and they were able to “distinguish good from evil,” while the current regime simply can’t do that. Even Stalin had enough sense not to make the war memorials he ordered up at the end of World War II about more war but rather about the pursuit of justice, as he understood it.
That of course was a case, as one French existentialist put it, Shelin argues, of “hypocrisy being the last gift that vice pays virtue.” But Stalin paid it; the Putin regime does not seem capable of doing so. Its monument to Kalashnikov is not to the man but to the weapon he designed.
And it is completely devoid of “artistic, professional and intellectual” dignity. Consequently, one can only agree with the Vedomosti writers who point out that “the style of the monument belongs to that of a new Russian cemetery where criminal bosses of the wild 1990s are interred” (vedomosti.ru/opinion/articles/2017/09/22/734902-kulturno-ognestrelnii-brend).
But in another sense, Shelin suggests, these are only external signs. Much more significant is the essence of what the Putin regime has done: it has elevated to the statue of a national brand a gun intended for nothing else but killing. That is the message of this regime to humanity, and it is very different than the one those behind the Gagarin statue wanted to deliver.
The current regime’s thinking is also reflected in its new Alley of the Rulers of Russia which includes busts of seven Soviet ones “from Lenin to Gorbachev.” Esthetically, they are unimpressive; but the messages this assemblage sends is both obvious and disturbing especially for Russia’s future.
That conclusion does not arise from the presence of Stalin among these people: he has been “rehabilitated” for a long time already, Shelin says. Rather, it comes from a reflection about those who are not included: Zinovyev who was viewed as “the first person in 1924” and Malenkov who was in 1953 and part of 1954.
Their absence reflects not so much the historical ignorance of Russia’s current rulers as their view of what a Russian ruler must be: In their minds, he “must be an autocrat” regardless of what his title is; and if he is unable to achieve that power, then he must be “written out of history” and forgotten.
The message this sends to the Russian people is easy to decipher, the Rosbalt commentator says. “On Red Square, if one stands facing the Mausoleum, there ise a necropolis to the right. And in the necropolis – in so-called ‘granite ranks’ are monuments with busts of 12 leaders set up over their remains.”
“The visual and ideological similarity of the new ranks with the old is simply striking,” Shelin suggests, “all the more so because four of the seven ‘rulers of Russia’ -- Stalin, Brezhnev, Andropov and Chernenko -- are memorialized by extremely similar busts also on Red Square.”
And what this means is this, Shelin says. Russia’s current rulers aren’t so much concerned with “’a single history’” as they are with a cemetery. Or “if you like,” their view of history is one “understood as a hierarchically organized cemetery” where everyone is buried in ranks not by the personal qualities but by how much power they had.
Thus, the commentator concludes, “the presentation of the machinegun and the busts is not a cultural measure. It is the regime’s confession of its most secret feelings. What then do you want to know” or possibly expect to find out “from the current powers that be about the past, the present or the future?”