Saturday, June 17, 2023

Kremlin Continues to Try to Combine the Incompatible by Honoring Russians who Fought for Franco in Spain, Makarkin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 13 – Vladimir Putin is committed to the idea of a single stream of Russian history in which almost all the figures in the past are to be honored as part of that tradition, but such efforts often lead to absurd and even offensive combinations that outrage both historical truth and those who want to believe in it.

            The latest outrage of this kind came recently in Spain when a Russian diplomat laid flowers on a monument to anti-Soviet Russian emigres who fought on the side of Franco in the Spanish Civil War, an action that has sparked serious criticism in Russia because Hitler and Mussolini were Franco’s allies and Soviet forces fought on the side of the republic forces.

            In a commentary, Moscow analyst Aleksey Makarkin says that “it would seem that everything is clear: the republic forces fought for right, and the Franco ones for what was anything but.” But Russia today has “positioned itself as a country respecting traditional values, including religion” (

            Given that the most radical Spanish republicans destroyed churches and killed priests while Franco forces defended the church and killed those who tried to destroy the Catholic community, Russia finds itself in a difficult position. On the one hand, there are clearly good and bad actions; but on the other, those carrying out the one may be involved in the other.

            The simplest and best thing, one that professional historians but only rarely whole societies are capable of, Makarkin says, is to recognize this complexity. But few societies and political leaders committed to national unity are prepared to do that and so they almost inevitably honor people who may have done good things in one regard but bad things in another.

            “The modern world is moving away from the straightforward idealization of historical figures,” he continues; “but the main ‘reference points’ or landmarks remain” in many socities. George Washington is still revered as the founder of the US even though he was a slave owner. And so Russia’s effort to “reconcile the incompatible” is hardly unique.

            Makarkin gives numerous examples of this challenge, but perhaps the most telling is what he says about  Russian agrarian economist Aleksandr Chayanov. Shot under Stalin, Chayanov “dreamed of symbolic reconciliation of Russian society, in which there would be Moscow monument celebrating together Lenin, Kerensky and Milyukov.

            But there were limits even to Chayanov’s hope for reconcilation: even he wasn’t prepared to add Nicholas II to this mix


No comments:

Post a Comment