Staunton, January 25 – The erection of statues to Russian generals involved in the conquest and subjugation of the North Caucasus, actions taken by local officials to show their loyalty to Moscow, are intended to underline “the Russianness” of this region, Akhmet Yarlykapov says; but such monuments can have exactly the opposite effect.
That is, the MGIMO specialist on the region says, they can exacerbate memories of the tsarist advance into the North Caucasus and cause the various nations there to become more, not less anti-Russian. Thus, putting up these monuments should be done only with extreme caution (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/345152/).
Yarlykapov was just one of the experts Semyon Charny of the Kavkaz-Uzel news agency surveyed on this issue. Others, like Yury Anchabadze, Kadzhimurad Donogo, Vadim Mukhanov and Nikolay Silayev, were equally skeptical of the utility of such statues, although most added that taking don existing monuments could also spark tensions as well.
Anchabadze, a scholar at the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, observed that the problems with the statues reflect the fact that “our society is in crisis.” People are fighting over the past because they lack confidence “in their own futures and in the future of the country.”
Mukhanov, a regional specialist at MGIMO, says that fights over statues about differences among the republics on how the past is to be remembered, about who is a hero and who is an enemy. There is no single “state line” on such issues, and so republic leaders and populations adopt their own.
Silayev, also of MGIMO, says that the statues have the effect of crystallizing opinion. Until they are erected, people do not have a focus for their feelings. Consequently, the clashes may be seen as the unintended result of efforts by local elites to manipulate the views of the populations over which they rule.
Republic elites, he continues, may want to stress their loyalty to Moscow by putting up such statues or they may have other purposes, including sparking nationalist responses they can use in various ways both locally and in their relations with the center. Often, only a few people are involved in deciding whether to put up a statue or not.
Asker Sokht, head of the Circassian Adyge Khase organization, says the fights over monuments are connected to the fact that in Russia, “there is no single view on the past” which the majority would support. There are some who welcome “the colonizing activity of the Russian Empire;” and there are others for whom that remains a disaster.
“In our times,” Sokht says, “I do not see the conditions needed for [the consolidation] of society. Possibly the existence of such diametrically opposed views will be eternal.”
Daghestani historian Donogo agrees and says that decisions about putting up or tearing down statues must be approached “with extreme care.” It may even be necessary in each case too have a referendum or form commissions of “authoritative scholars and politicians” to make decisions before either move has unpredictable and unwelcome consequences.