Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Some Russians Still Deeply Divided by Civil War of a Century Ago, Memorials Conflict Shows

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Nov. 25 – A serious conflict has broken out in Rostov-na-Donu over a memorial bust of Baron Wrangel, a leader of the anti-Bolshevik forces in South Russia during the Russian Civil War, with monarchists praising him and defending the bust and communists denouncing him and demanding the memorial be taken down.

            What is most striking about this is that both sides present their positions as reflecting Kremlin policy and discuss the future of the bust in terms of Moscow’s current military campaign in Ukraine  (kavkazr.com/a/neokonchennaya-voyna-pamyati-kak-pamyatnik-vrangelyu-raskolol-rostov/32700233.html).

            But lest this fight, which close observers say, is really a struggle between two small groups rather than a division in the population at large, the Kremlin has restricted coverage in all-Russian media of this debate lest it exacerbate tensions and highlight the internally contradictory nature of Putin’s belief in “a single stream” of Russian history.

            Russian political scientist Dmitry Dubrovsky says that “Putin has demonstrated that his sympathies are on the side of the white movement and the emperor and not the revolutionaries.” But at the same time, aware of how that might disturb Russians, he has not expressed himself forcefully and consistently on these issues, thus creating an opening for debate.’

            Memorial historian Andrey Petropavlov says that another factor is at work: Moscow can reasonably distance itself from Wrangel because the divide over the civil war is about the war over all rather than about individual personalities. They can be treated in various ways as the Kremlin struggles to define itself on an issue that still divides the population.

           What is taking place in Rostov, he continues, is “an example of an unfinished war of memory in which the Civil War continues in the thoughts” of Russians, a war that will continue as long as the government fails to putout a clear vision of the events of those years and the individuals involved.

            That hasn’t happened, Petropavlov says. The new Medinsky history textbook, for example, refers to Wrangel only once even though it gives more extensive treatment to Yudenich and Chapayev, neither of whom played as important an historical role.

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