Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Monuments Going Up in Moscow and Elsewhere at Unprecedented Rate, Sparking Controversies

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 29 – Because of new construction, there are now more than 900 monuments in the city of Moscow, a trend that other places in the Russian Federation are following as well, Novaya gazeta reports; but because there is no consensus on who should get a memorial and who should not, this monument “boom” is sparking controversy.

            Journalists Alisa Kustikova and Darya Kobylkina note that “almost 50” new monuments appeared in the last year up from 10 in preceding years; and that number is likely to jump because activists have found a way around getting the required approval from the city’s monument’s commission: they call the plaques or statues not monuments but “exhibits” (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2018/01/29/75306-bolshe-chem-pamyatnik).

                That end-run was pioneered by the Russian Military-History Society in the case of a three-meter bronze statue of Ivan the Terrible, but its tactic has been picked up by many others, a major reason that the government has lost control of the process not only in Moscow but in other places as well.   

            More than a third – “about 40 percent” – of all monuments in Moscow are now about World War II. Lenin still is memorialized in 39, and Aleksandr Pushkin in nine. Most of the monuments are concentrated in Moscow’s central district – “about 250” of the 900 – “at a minimum twice more than in any other part of the city.”

            And the gender imbalance in statuary, the journalists say, is striking: “only one in ten of the monuments in the capital is devoted to a woman.”

            The last year featured scandals abut whether to have a monument to gun inventor Mikhail Kalashnikov, one for the victims of political repression, and one for Boris Nemtsov. In the last case, the population keeps putting up a memorial and the authorities keep taking it down either directly or via allies in the population.

            But there were numerous other conflicts, including whether to put up a statue to former Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov, to move the statue of Lenin from Kaluga Square to somewhere less prominent, and whether there should ever be any memorial for Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

            The year ended with an appeal by the KPRF to Vladimir Putin to restore the statue of Feliks Dzerzhinsky to the Lubyanka Square, but the journalists suggest that there is little likelihood that will happen, at least anytime soon. Indeed, many Muscovites say they’d like a moratorium on all new statuary altogether.

            Because of the use of the category “exhibit,” the two continue, there has been a significant “liberalization” about the range of what can and will be put up. Only if there is a controversy do the authorities get involved, although it is likely that they spark a controversy when they want to.

            One major initiative of memorialization from below is the “Last Address” movement where plaques are put on the last known address of victims of Soviet-era repressions. There are now 630 such plaques around the country, 200 of which appeared in the last year alone. All are paid for by private contributions.

            Specialists on monuments point to several other trends: in many places, people are putting up memorials to local people rather than all-Russian figures, although “the Soviet tradition” of distributing statuary according to a single model continues in the case of Nicholas II. There are now 30 identical statues of the last tsar in various places.

            There are also efforts to use statuary to promote national reconciliation. In Ulyanovsk, for example, there is a plaque honoring both Vladimir Lenin and Aleksandr Kerensky at the school where they both studied.  And there is an especially sizeable memorial boom in occupied Crimea” where for example the authorities wanted a statue of Aleksandr III while the people wanted one of Franklin Roosevelt.

            But perhaps the most intriguing development in 2017 was the appearance of memorials to recent deaths both in combat and otherwise. The authorities don’t seem to be against that in most cases, and consequently there are likely to be more such monuments in the future.

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