Staunton, July 20 – Moscow media continue to express outrage at the decision of the Sitka city council to move the statue of Russian conqueror Aleksandr Baranov from the city’s center to a museum, viewing it as a completely unacceptable display of “insolence” by the Americans. (For background, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/06/moscow-outraged-by-calls-to-remove.html.)
Three Russian cities, Arkhangelsk, Irkutsk and Magadan, have offered to purchase the statue and erect in their main squares, and some in the state-controlled media, reflecting Vladimir Putin’s view that the Russian world has no borders have even been declaring that “Alaska is Ours” much like Crimea.
But one Russian opposition commentator is responding in an entirely different way, arguing that the Alaskan capital should get rid of Baranov and have a statue to “the unknown Aleut” instead, a reminder that not all ideological messages the Kremlin sends out are received as it intends (newizv.ru/news/society/20-07-2020/alyaska-nasha-pochemu-televizor-obidelsya-na-amerikanskih-aleutov).
In defending the statue now, Sergey Mitrofanov says, Russians forget that in Soviet times no one would have done that and in post-Soviet times, the Kremlin is defending statues to conquerors of the past rather than the peoples it has or would like to take under its control as in Ukraine.
And the Russian regime does not seem to understand that in taking the position it does, it is alienating those who might be its friends and allies. After all, the commentator says, the Aleuts know that Baranov never came with gifts and humanitarian assistance but only with plans to extract as much money as he could and leave.
The parallels with Russian policy now are so obvious as not to require comment.
Local people in Alaska, Mitrofanov says, have always felt that Baranov was an uninvited guest, someone who is part of their past but not someone who should be honored. In 1986, they lopped off the nose of Baranov statue, and now, as the self-awareness of minorities in America rises, those who believe that “Aleut lives matter” have simply demanded more.
For empires past and present, he continues, “all these historical personages are ‘explorers and travelers’ but for the Indians and the Aleuts, they are colonizers and marauders.” Russia today has chosen sides. Fortunately, he says, that is obvious especially since in the West, respect for minorities and especially native peoples is increasing.
There is every reason to believe that many “native peoples” in Russia feel that way even more strongly.