Staunton, May 16 – Putin’s war in Ukraine has made the residents of some of Russia’s regions far more aware of the costs to their areas of central policies than they ever were before. But at the same time, Yuliya Galkina says, this war is “destroying local patriotism” because it is normalizing violence and making symbols of the past more important than the past itself.
Galkina who for years has covered developments in the northern capital and won international recognition for her works on that city and its residents says she is appalled by how her fellow Petersburgers have been swept along by the militarism that has infected the country and its component parts (holod.media/en/2023/05/15/saint-petersburg/).
She says that the symbols the regime has put up on the streets of her city have made it impossible for her to write about local history since Putin launched his war because while St. Petersburg “didn’t attack anyone,” she can’t feel the same attachment and tenderness toward them that she did earlier.
“The militarization of life and of urban spaces both public and private didn’t happen all at once but rather over the course of the last decade,” she says. The invasion only made the situation worse and demonstrated that the actions of officials were anything but harmless because they have “normalized militarism.”
What has been especially noxious in the Putin-era policies of historical memory, Galkina continues, is that “symbols have become more important than what they symbolize.” Consequently, “if one vandalizes a plaque honoring Marshal Zhukov, he or she will be punished more severely than if one keeps silence about the unheroic past” of the northern capital.
“It is now the case,” she continues, “that a researcher on St. Petersburg can voice either myths or facts that are not yet forbidden to be mentioned but must keep quiet about everything else. Otherwise, he or she might face denunciations, fines or even time in jail. How then is one to write and speak about a city in an unfree country?”
As for herself, Galkina says, she cannot write anymore. And she concludes: “I grieve more not for the city itself but rather for my ability to love it as much as I did earlier.”
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