Staunton, January 20 – Today brought news about three statues in Russia, one in St. Petersburg to Bashkir national hero Zaki Validi Togan that officials want to remove, a second in Murmansk of Stalin activists want to go up, and two in Moscow to Stalin’s notorious secret police chief Lavrenty Beria that Rosatom has already put up in Moscow.
These three cases like many others are the results of decisions by the powers that be or allied elite groups rather than product of popular will, an increasing pattern in Putin’s Rusisa (7x7-journal.ru/news/2021/01/19/v-kostrome-vossozdadut-istoricheskij-pamyatnik-romanovu-i-susaninu-mnenie-zhitelej-pri-etom-ne-uchityvalos).
But if the elites are making these decisions, the fact that they are doing so without consultation means that putting up or taking down this or that statue may rapidly acquire broader political meaning, with some in the population recognizing that such monuments are about more than thus the objects themselves. They are about where the system is heading.
In the first case, that involving the statue in the northern capital of Zaki-Validi Togan, the Russian prosecutors have called on St. Petersburg State University to take down the statue to him that was erected there in 2008 because of his work in Germany during the Nazi period (meduza.io/feature/2021/01/20/genprokuratura-ob-yavila-geroizatsiey-posobnikov-natsizma-byust-tyurkologa-ahmeta-zaki-validi-ustanovlennyy-v-peterburge).
The bust of Validi Togan, who is a national hero in Bashkortostan, was given to the university 13 years ago. Now, it is being challenged not because of his role in creating a national republic there or with the Basmachi in Central Asia but because he worked with Turkic emigres while living in German exile during World War II.
The prosecutors are doing no more in this case than they have done in others, treating any memorial to someone who was in Germany at that time as somehow glorifying Nazism and thus both immoral and illegal. But Bashkirs and many others do not view Validi Togan as doing so and are already expressing anger.
They are already protesting that there is no evidence that the Turkic leader was a Nazi and say that calls for his statue to be taken down represent their own kind of historical revisionism, one that insults the Bashkirs (idelreal.org/a/31053409.html, business-gazeta.ru/article/496280 and znak.com/2021-01-20/v_peterburge_snesut_byust_nacionalnomu_geroyu_bashkirii_iz_za_posobnichestva_fashistam).
The statue will likely come down given the current atmosphere in Russia; but its removal will provoke a rise in Bashkir nationalism and cynicism more broadly about what Moscow is doing with its current campaign.
In the second case, communists in Murmansk are pressing the city authorities to erect a statue of Stalin in that northern city because of “his sincere love for Russia, personal modesty, high intelligence, exactingness and efficiency” (kprf-murman.ru/wp-content/uploads/KM/339.pdf).
The head of the city administration says he personally is opposed to such a monument but that the call for one to be erected will be considered in the course of normal business (severpost.ru/read/108944/), likely words intended to all the city head to have it both ways, to signal his opposition but to go with the flow that is leading to more Stalin statues around the country.