Saturday, February 20, 2021

Opposition to Ivan III Statue in Lubyanka Square Animated by Desire to ‘Revive Pro-Western Novgorod Separatism,’ Frolov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 19 – “Orthodox Russian imperialists,” one of their number Kirill Frolov says, are pushing for Moscow to erect in Lubyanka Square a statue of Ivan III because he did so much to “reunite Russian lands by putting an end to pro-Western Novgorod separatism” and absorbing its lands under Muscovy.

            But precisely for this reason, Frolov continues, Russia’s liberals have come out against that idea (, thereby “revealing their Russophobic plans and trying to revive Novgorod separatism” (

            Frolov’s commentary is part of the increasingly heated debate over whether to restore the statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky to the square in front of FSB headquarters where it was taken down in August 1991. The self-described “imperialist” doesn’t think a statue of Dzerzhinsky would be a good idea because of his “Russophobia.”

            And consequently, Frolov plumps for Ivan III not only because he destroyed Novgorod and its remarkably pro-Western and democratic system but also because his reign was the time when the legacy of Byzantium passed to Russia via Crimea and made it “the third Rome, a fourth there shall not be.”

            Thus, putting up a statue to this tsar would simultaneously reinforce Russia’s uniqueness and tie its imperial past to its imperial present, something that was reinforced by the annexation of Crimea in 2014, and especially the anti-Western and anti-democratic nature of Russia properly understood.

            Novgorod remains a serious challenge to Russian thinkers precisely because it calls into question the belief promoted by the Kremlin that the only possible Russian state is a highly centralized and authoritarian one. For 500 years, Viktor Sbitnev points out, the Novgorod regime was more liberal ““than in Ancient Greece and the Venetian Republic taken together” (

            Especially under Putin, Moscow scholars and their progeny elsewhere devote almost all of their attention to the development of the Muscovite state and almost none to the varieties of development of the Russian nation as a whole and republican Novgorod in particular which exceeded its Asiatic neighbor.”

And this commentator continues, such people, and Frolov is very much among them, accept, even celebrate, rather than criticize the unfortunate reality that Moscow destroyed Novgorod not so much to get its wealth as to “destroy the democratic form of the existence of the Russian nation.”

            Novgorod showed that “our ancestors,” Sbitnex says, could and did “built a state based on a republic form of governance, healthy nationalism and Orthodoxy,” none of which, especially the republic form of governance by the people themselves, has been characteristic of Moscow-dominated Russia elsewhere to this day.

            According to Sbitnev, “the state-imperial stereotype” the Muscovite state has always insisted upon claims that “the Russian people without Moscow would not be a people, but Moscow without the Russian people all the same would be the Third Rome.”

            It is certainly true that “the Novogoroders did not unite Rus or establish an empire. They saw their purpose in a completely different direction.  They were able to build a society which they were prepared to defend for centuries” but not one predicated on the idea that they should enslave others.

            “The citizens of the Novgorod Republic did not want to unite with anyone or conquer anyone for one simple reason: they viewed that possibility as a threat to their own well-being and way of life.”   That way of life was well off, educated – the Novgorod residents were more literate than any other Slavs – and for its time amazingly egalitarian. 

            In Novgorod, the boyars were hereditary but not the bureaucracy. In Muscovite and its progeny, the reverse has been true.  As a result, “by its political mentality, a significant part of the Muscovite aristocracy was already prepared to be the foundation for the creation of an empire.” 

That mentality put them completely at odds with the political consciousness of the Novgorod boyars who were essentially “national (Orthodox) and alien to the ambitions of imperial thought.” And the Muscovites do not want to confront the reality that Novgorod “in many respects exceeded the Muscovite principality.”

Then why did Moscow defeat Novgorod the Great?” he asks rhetorically. For much the same reasons that “the wild Germans defeated enlightened Rome” and the “godless hordes of Baty Khan settled Orthodox Rus.”

Not surprisingly, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says that Vladimir Putin would be quite pleased with a statue of Ivan III in front of the Lubyanka, although it is likely he would prefer Dzerzhinsky over even that tsar (

But Frolov’s attack on those opposing Ivan III is about more than just a debate about statuary. It is yet another effort by Muscovite imperialists to denounce anyone seeking to recall and revive the Western democratic traditions of Novgorod, traditions that even now are gaining support especially in the northwestern part of Russia (

No comments:

Post a Comment