Monday, February 22, 2021

Putin's Backing of Statue of Alexander Nevsky Far More Dangerous Sign of Kremlin Leader's Intentions than One of Dzerzhinsky would Be, Pavlova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 21 – The debate over whose statue should go up in the Lubyanka Square in front of FSB headquarters is heating up, with many Putin supporters in Russia and the West expressing happiness that the Kremlin leader has signaled that he would prefer a statue of Alexander Nevsky over Felix Dzerzhinsky.

            Such people argue that Nevsky is a longstanding symbol of the defense of Russia against all enemies while Dzerzhinsky is the still much-hated founder of the Soviet secret police and that Putin’s support of Nevsky over Dzerzhinsky is to his credit. But such people forget both history and the current needs of the Russian leadership.

            Nevsky almost a millennium ago allied himself with the Mongols to fight the Teutonic knights and the papacy in their common Eastern Crusade to spread Catholicism and Western values into Slavic lands, while Dzerzhinsky as the first head of Lenin’s Cheka imprisoned and killed the opponents of Bolshevism.

            Given that and given Vladimir Putin’s own needs now, US-based Russian historian Irina Pavlova says, it should come as no surprise that the Kremlin leader would prefer to have Nevsky as his symbol or that what Nevsky stands for in his mind is more hostile to Western values than almost any other past leader he could choose (

            “The Kremlin doesn’t need Dzerzhinsky, who is associated with the policies of the Red Terror as the current Russian regime does not approve not only the revolutionary shocks of 1917 and its consequences nor its ‘excesses’ as far as repressions are concerned,” she writes in her blog, “About Russia for Intelligent and Serious People.”

            The Putin regime “in general is against mass terror; it is for ‘targeted’ repressions and the aggressive manipulation of social consciousness by means of so-called discussions and political technologies. And thus Alexander Nevsky is what it needs.”

            Not, of course, because of Nevsky’s actual historical role, Pavlova continues. But because of the way he was used by Stalin at the end of the 1930s and during World War II. Stalin celebrated Sergey Eisenstein’s 1938 film on the Russian prince precisely because of its state-centered and anti-Western Russian nationalism.

            Thus, she continues, putting up a statue to Nevsky rather than Dzerzhinsky, is “a demonstration of the attachment of present-day Russia to the state nationalism, great power chauvinism and anti-Westernism” of Stalin. And because that is so, Putin’s choice should not be celebrated as a liberal move but just the reverse.   

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