Staunton, August 20 – Despite the demise of the USSR in 1991, the Russian government has continued to use Soviet terms like hero cities and cities of labor glory rather than develop a new symbolic language about itself as most of the other post-Soviet states have done, Pavel Luzin says.
On the one hand, the failure to change helps reinforce the Kremlin’s notion that Russia now like the USSR and the Russian Empire in the past is surrounded by enemies and engaged in a permanent military conflict, the Perm analyst says. But on the other, it highlights the absence of any new ideas about Russia and its future (region.expert/valor-cities/).
But what is especially important to recognize, Luzin says, is that what Moscow is doing now is not what the Soviet Union always did but rather what the Kremlin arranged precisely at the time of the degradation of the Soviet system in the 1970s and early 1980s. That was when most of the nomenclature and statuary of this kind appeared.
It is also important to keep in mind, the analyst continues, that “symbolic language of the authorities is not only directed at explaining to their subjects why they must subordinate themselves to these powers. This symbolic language is also directed at explaining to members of this power their own political nature and system of coordinates.”
But what is most striking but frequently lost is that these symbolic expressions are leading indicators of where the regime is heading both because it expresses their intentions and because it shapes them. Thus, the 2006 law on military glory cities preceded Putin’s infamous Munich speech; and the new 2020 law sets the stage for a stance more defensive and aggressive.
This effort to reclaim achievements from the past, of course, highlights the failure of the current regime to produce new ones. Indeed, the focus on the past is clearly intended to distract the attention of Russians and others from that reality. But it also means that the only achievements the current regime can talk about are military ones like the Soviet counterparts.
The 2006 nomenclature law set the stage for an expansion in the number of cities of military glory, but after 2015, Moscow did not add to their number. Instead, it shifted toward a “fortress Russia” model and began to talk about the contributions of cities in the rear. That has led in the 2020 law to praise of cities beyond the Urals as centers of defense production.
This is intended to set the stage for continuing mobilization in the name of the defense of Russia, Luzin suggests, by creating a new “fantasy” about the heroic efforts of people far from the front in defending Russia against its external enemies. That of course reflects the weakening of the state and its needs to concentrate resources in its hands.
The deepening economic crisis “doesn’t promise anything good for the Kremlin,” he argues, and so the Kremlin is using the status of “cities of labor glory” as a means of promoting its political vision of eternal confrontation with the West, something that has become especially obvious with the insertion of patriotic education in the Russian constitution earlier this year.