Saturday, July 18, 2020

Backing Down on Historical Monuments Opens ‘a Pandora’s Box,’ Russian Commentator Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 16 – The decision by the authorities in Sochi to take down a memorial to Russian forces there in the 1830s after protests by Circassians is extremely dangerous, Artemy Lebedev says, because it will only encourage them and others Russia conquered to make more demands so as to rewrite the past and undermine Russia’s future.

            In a commentary that has been translated by the Justice for the North Caucasus portal, the Russian television journalist  uses extremely intemperate language to denounce the Circassians for asking that the monument be removed and the Sochi authorities for agreeing to their requests (

            But Lebedev’s remarks are important as an indication of just how sensitive this issue is and how much any concession by Russian authorities to demands by non-Russians for historical justice now spark heated opposition and at the same time real fears about the future. They thus merit being quoted in extenso.

            According to Lebedev, the Circassians picked up the idea of demanding the memorial be removed from watching “too much television” and seeing “how in America a tiny group of people can ruin the basic features of a society.”  They then decided that they could “do the same thing” in Russia.

            They demanded that a small memorial to Russian soldiers who fought and died in the Caucasus almost two centuries ago be taken down because in their view the monument was not about the past but about Russia’s current and future intentions and represents an insult to the national memory and status of the Circassians.

            The fact that the Sochi authorities backed down and removed the monument “is absolutely the start of the opening of a Pandora’s box,” one in which ever more non-Russian nationalists will emerge and demand that there be no memorials to how their great-grandfathers were defeated by the Russians, the commentator says.

            “As we have always been told that we should not forget our history” and as the new amendments to the Russian Constitution mandate, Russians must defend their history and not concede to others who say that since the actions that Russian forces took then “can’t be repeated now,” they should not be remembered and honored at all.

            Consequently, he continues “everything which reminds us of what happened 200 years ago must be erased” in their view, even though those who feel that way represent only a tiny part of the Circassians who in turn represent only “one percent” of the inhabitants of the place where the monument was put up.

             “What will happen next?” According to Lebedev, it will be a disaster in which “all the other monuments will begin to be demolished because it turns out that there wasn’t a single Russian tsar who did not do something bad. Everyone who increased the size of Russian territory” must be forgotten rather than memorialized.

            If this principle is followed, he says, then “in principle, there cannot be any monument to any war” because in wars people die, deaths are always bad, and “the winner has no right to celebrate anything” if a tiny minority objects. But the majority has rights too, and they must insist on them.

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