Saturday, August 1, 2020

Statues of Russian Conquerors in North Caucasus Intended to Reduce Peoples There to ‘Footnotes’ in Moscow’s Narrative, Tlostanova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 30 – “The rhetoric of those who demand the preservation of monuments to military criminals and colonizers and even more the construction of new ones is based on a crude simplification and distortion of history and on barbarism sanctioned from above, according to Madina Tlostanova.

            The Circassian professor at Sweden’s Linköping University argues that the intent of those who do so is to reduce the indigenous peoples in the North Caucasus to mere “footnotes” in Moscow’s imperial narrative (

            Russia is doing what other states have done, using “monuments as mute but powerful symbols of its rule and imposing and normalizing its model of history.” That means that the victims of this imposition must “symbolically exorcise” these monuments as “an important component of decolonialization.”

            “An aggressive policy of memory, which can be expressed both in the destruction of monuments and in the setting up of new ones leads to a situation in which entire peoples are reduced to mere ‘footnotes’ in the historical narrative of the rulers” and thus are kept from dealing with their own history in ways that allow them to overcome continuing traumas.

            In short, what the powers that be are doing with the intent of wiping out the history of the conquered has the effect of reinforcing the importance to them of challenging that narrative and insisting on their own, Tlostanova suggests.

            The Circassian scholar draws on the idea of “colonial aphasia,” a concept developed by Ann Laura Stoler of New York’s New School for Social Research to explain how the deprivation of historical memory by the conquerors continues with new statues and intentionally deprives the subject peoples of their history and even ability to talk about it.

            In such situations, there are invariably “double standards” between how the past of the conqueror and the past of the conquered are treated, she continues, something that distorts the memory of both. The recent erection of a memorial near Sochi to tsarist forces is a clear example of this.

            The memorial was erected “not in a place of memory, however odious” from tsarist or Soviet times, but in “a hastily erected remake among World War II monuments,” thus conflating history and serving to eliminate any real references to what the conquerors did or the conquered suffered in the 19th century.

            Such a pastiche, Tlostanova says, reflects the fact that Moscow has always acted “in narrowly pragmatic geopolitical interests of Russian Empire that is eternally seeking to catch up with the West” and it has taken from other empires models without fusing them into a single and consistent model of its own.  

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