Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Civil War Reenactors in Russia Indifferent as to Which Side They Play

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 23 – In the United States, reenacting the American Civil War involves thousands of people most of whom are passionately attached to one side or the other in that conflict. But in Russia, where re-enacting the Russian Civil War is beginning to take off as a pastime, few care which side they are assigned to play.

            One the one hand, the Putin regime is likely pleased by this because it suggests that most Russians have integrated the Reds and the Whites into the single stream of Russian history the Kremlin favors. But on the other, it also likely means that many who take part have little knowledge of what the Russian Civil War was about and what each side stood for.

            This month, reenactors played out the Volochayevsk battle on its 99th anniversary. That fight which occurred between the Soviet-backed Far Eastern Republic and anti-Soviet White Forces in February 1922 is considered by many to be the final battle of the Russian Civil War (

            The Red led by future Soviet Marshal Vasily Blyukher outnumbered the Whites led by General Viktorin Molchanov two to one and were better armed. As a result, Molchanov’s forces were relatively easily defeated and forced to retreat. Molchanov himself ultimately left Russia and died in San Francisco in 1975.

            For the last several years, enthusiasts have re-enacted this battle, paying for their own weapons, most of which are made in Minsk and do not actually fire, and their own uniforms. They may spend as much as 100,000 rubles (1400 US dollars) to fit themselves out more or less appropriately.

            Many of those taking part have little knowledge about or concern over the Russian Civil War. They simply like engaging in these mock battles and being watched by others. (Last year, local cinematographers made a film and are now crowdfunding to get it ready to be shown in the region.)

            Vadim Agapov, a historian who is one of the reenactors, says that most don’t care which side they are assigned to. He believes that Russians should be devoting more attention to the civil war and even erecting monuments not just to the Reds but to the Whites because both groups played an important role in Russia’s history.

            In the United States, the historian notes, “all the heroes of their Civil War, independent of which side they fought on, are part of their culture and historical heritage. We still have not reached that point. And the problem here, as I see it, is that we do not have in our country the civic peace which would allow us to reach a compromise on our history.”

            Only if that happens, Agapov says, will it be possible for residents of Khabarovsk and other places to “decide for themselves if they want to put up a monument to Ataman Kalmykov and the residents of Irkutsk to decide whether they need a memorial to Admiral Kolchak. But when we will have such a civil society,” he says, he doesn’t know.

             Until that happens, however, “it will be as if the civil war is continuing and as if there are as before ‘reds’ and ‘whites.’ But these conflicts now already do not have any relation to history. People simply turn to the past in order to argue their point of view on events of the present day.”

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