The Russian authorities do not like remembering and commemorating events that darken and cast doubt on the beatific picture of the country’s past, meaning conquests, mass murders, deportations, and so on. Not only the authorities but also many people who consider themselves intellectuals, thoughtful and knowledgeable people, avert their eyes and turn up their nose when they are reminded of such events. Why stir up problems? they say.
Another argument is that “there” (which usually means “the west”) things were much worse or no better at any rate. That is right, both the fact that memory has often been used to fuel conflict and political rivalry, and that things were no better “there.” But does this mean we should forget history, forget its difficult and controversial chapters, engage in censorship or self-censorship? Would that really help us solve our current problems in the here and now? Would such a simple trick help us feel that we and our history are “righter” than other countries and their histories?
On October 1, 1783, Suvorov defeated rebellious Nogai troops who had refused to abide by the decision to resettle them and their families from the Black Sea region to the Urals. Many of the Nogais who were not killed in battle or hunted down and killed were forced to scatter across the steppes and mountains, to escape to the Ottoman Empire. Thus, one of the most powerful nomadic powers to exist in what is now Russia perished.
Actually, the apparently much reviled Socialist Street was named Cabinet Street from 1784 to 1821. From 1821 to October 1918, it was named Ivan (?) Street (Ivanovskaya ulitsa), allegedly, after St. John the Baptist Church, which Wikipedia claims was located on the street itself (at No. 7). However, the redoubtable website Citywalls.ru says the church at this address was called the Church of the Transfiguration. Another source (K.S. Gorbachevich and E.P. Khablo, Pochemu tak nazvany? Leningrad: Lenizdat, 1985, p. 357) asserts the street was so called (Ivan is the Russian equivalent of John) because it “led” to the church of that name. The only extant St. John the Baptist Churches in modern-day Petersburg are the renowned Chesme Church at 12 Lensoviet Street, whose official name is, indeed, the Church of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. But it is located approximately eight kilometers to the south of Socialist Street. An identically named church on Stone Island is nearly as far away: it is seven kilometers to the north of Socialist Street.
This is not to mention the fact that most Petersburgers with more than a passing interest in krayevedenie (local lore and history) would know it was the current Pravda Street, which intersects Socialist Street and is so named because the first issue of the newspaper Pravda was run off the presses there in 1912, that long bore the name Cabinet Street, from 1822 to 1921. The street was called that because the quarter was inhabited, among others, by clerks from His Imperial Majesty’s Cabinet, the agency in charge of the Russian imperial family’s personal property and other matters from 1704 to 1917.
His Imperial Majesty’s Cabinet was headquartered in the imposing neoclassical building, on the corner of Nevsky Prospect and the Fontanka Embankment, built in the early nineteenth century by Giacomo Quarenghi and Luigi Rusca. The funny thing is that most locals, if asked, would probably identify the building as part of nearby Anichkov Palace, which originally housed His Imperial Majesty’s Cabinet and then, years later, served as the residence of the future Alexander III and his family. In Soviet times, the Anichkov Place became the Young Pioneers Palace, but is now known as the Palace of Youth Creativity. TRR
Recently, there has been a vigorous public discussion of renaming Voykov subway station in Moscow, just as earlier, the renaming of Bela Kun Street in Petersburg was discussed. I will add my own five kopecks to the topic.
The arguments of those who support renaming the station can be summarized as follows. Pyotr Voykov was a terrorist involved in the murder of the royal family and basically a bad man. Opponents of the renaming argue, on the contrary, that the charges leveled against Voykov are exaggerated, to put it mildly. Apparently, Voykov did not take part in the murder of the royal family personally (except that, along with other members of the Ural Soviet, he was party to the decision to execute them), and many other charges are based on articles published in the yellow press. (You can find the particulars here.) However, in my view, even if all the allegations against Voykov were valid, the station should not be renamed. Why not?
On the one hand, toponymy is just as much as inalienable part of our history as folk songs, architectural landmarks, literature, music, and all the rest. Attempts to change place names many years after they emerged only because our attitude to historical figures has changed are just as much acts of vandalism as demolishing landmarks and destroying historic buildings. In my view, this species of vandalism is much more shameful than the similar renamings committed by the Bolsheviks. At least the Bolsheviks were consistent. They demolished historical landmarks because they wanted to start with a clean slate. Nowadays, on the contrary, the restoration of history is advocated, but the methods used to “restore” this history are Bolshevik and anti-historical.
On the other hand, condemnation of the Bolsheviks is an attempt to judge figures of the past in terms of today’s standards. Such an approach, again, is anti-historical, and this pretext can be used to call for demolition of monuments to any historical figure. Let us condemn Peter the Great for killing his son and the numerous fatalities incurred during implementation of his projects, many of which, in all honesty, the country did not need. Let us condemn Catherine the Great for carrying out a coup and murdering her husband. Let us condemn Alexander I for complicity in the plot to kill his father. Sound good? Moreover, many of Voykov’s opponents say he murdered innocent children. However, the monarchical system was organized in such a way that these same innocent children might have presented a direct threat to their political foes, since they could have served as a standard around which monarchist forces could have rallied. Let us recall that the rule of the Romanovs began with the hanging of three-year-old Ivashka Voryonok (Ivan Dmitryevich), son of Marina Mniszech. But he was no more to blame (and no less to blame) than the Tsarevich Alexei.
In addition, the current situation is also marked by flagrant hypocrisy. There is a lot of talk in Russia nowadays about national reconciliation. However, for some reason, reconciliation takes the form of dismantling monuments and changing place names associated with revolutionaries, while the cult of their opponents (primarily, the “innocent martyr and holy tsar” Nicholas II, who bore direct responsibility for the country’s downfall) is assiduously propagated. Excuse me, but I cannot call that anything other than a scam.
Translated by the Russian Reader
Busts of the “Holy Martyr” Tsarevich Alexei, “Holy Tsar and Martyr” Nicholas II, and “Holy Tsaritsa and Martyr” Alexandra, outside the Theotokos of Tikhvin Church, Petersburg, April 25, 2015. Photo by the Russian Reader
“Those who perished in the war for the Motherland have a indubitable, sacred right to be remembered and honored. […] However, there is a considerable admixture of ‘educational policy’ in all this as well, considerations on how to manipulate the moods of the ‘masses’ […] such as the tomb of the unknown soldier organized recently (God forbid he should prove to be a known soldier), a lot of needless bother, like the five or six of the twenty-eight [Panfilov Division Guardsmen] who utterly embarrassingly turned up alive.”
Tvardovsky then goes on to write about what is totally and even furiously excluded from the national memory and reflections on the topic nowadays.
“No doubt those who perished on the eve of the war and during the war, not at the front, but in the mad regime’s prisons, camps, and torture chambers, also deserve to be remembered in this way.”
Half a century has passed since Tvardovsky penned this diary entry, but nothing has changed at all or has been reborn in circumstances reminiscent of the Brezhnev period in terms of ideology and political strategy. The regime’s legitimacy was then directly linked to memory of the war, moreover, the official memory of the war, with many of the unpleasant particulars concealed. Today, too, the regime feeds on the juices of the past, powerful evidence of the effects of path dependence in the vast nation’s collective consciousness. Back then, however, there were still a couple of things that brought people together like conquering outer space and romanticizing the 1920s. (Fidel Castro and Cuba reproduced the spirit of that era.) Our day and age parodies the things that consolidated the Soviet Union. But then again, Nikita Khrushchev would never have deigned to be personally involved in launching rockets from a cosmodrome, as did Vladimir Putin, a man who endeavors to inherit the Soviet Union’s achievements.
The current Russian regime’s final privatization of the Soviet victory in the Second World War and the amazing propagandistic transformation of each new war, including the Syrian campaign, into a direct sequel of the Great Patriotic War has divided the nation instead of consolidating it.
And the minority, who are not at all against remembering the great war, but are opposed to hysteria, official narratives, vulgarization, schematic renderings of the war, marking “friends” with Saint George’s Ribbons, and rejecting critical takes on historical events, have been virtually excluded from the ranks of citizens.
If you did not take a Saint George’s Ribbon foisted on you at a football match, and your kid was not involved in an Immortal Regiment event at school, you are a renegade, not a citizen. Everything the state gets its hands on immediately acquires an imperative and moralistic aftertaste and helps to identify an individual as friend or foe. Strangers have no place in this political system. People who think about the Gulag, for example, have no place. They are attacked, even if they are children, as happened during a Memorial school essay contest, and declared “national traitors.”
In our hybrid political framework, these prescriptions and nearly obligatory moral codes, sometimes reinforced by the Criminal Code, have been rented not even from authoritarian systems but from totalitarian ones. In this model, morality is immoral, Russia’s heroes are anti-heroes, and vice versa. The nation has repented of the repentance it felt thirty years ago. It turns out that iPhones can peacefully coexist with the most primitive variety of Stalinism, and supermarkets, with archaization of the mind.
The Great Patriotic War is used, including to sell nonexistent threats to the general public. These threats strengthen the authority of the man commanding the besieged fortress and expand the food supply of the military and security services elites.
Today’s Russian society is a society of people who have been insulted a priori and attacked before the fact. We were attacked in 1941, and we are attacked now. We are attacked, so we defend ourselves and conduct just wars. These wars are triumphal and victimless, and ennobled and sterilized by TV. They resemble computer games where the players have a big supply of extra lives.
You cannot die a hero’s death in such wars, although you can go as a tourist. (According to Christopher Coker of the LSE, modern war is often a continuation of tourism by other means.)
In the name of the Soviet victory in the Second World War, you can do anything whatsoever. You can even crack down on the opposition, conduct a wild goose chase for “national traitors,” annex Crimea, invade Syria, and do battle with “Banderites.” Ceremony, rather than real success, has become a ritual means of “consolidating” the nation. Anyone who has avoided being consolidated during collective rituals is an internal enemy.
The victorious official narrative is a set of rote answers in the absence of questions. It is the triumph of simplification, the refusal to understand that history is complicated. It is the refusal to imagine the war as a tragedy. The topic of the unnecessary sacrifices and wastefulness of the Stalin regime, which did not count soldiers and devalued their lives, has disappeared from the discourse. Simplifying complicated things has also ben a means of simultaneously justifying the current regime and Stalin’s regime at a single blow, of dividing the nation into right and wrong, moral and immoral, by tying the “right” folks together with a single Saint George’s Ribbon, by marketizing the war and making it fashionable.
Everything in Russia is hybrid: the wars in Donbass and Syria, the political system itself, and now the celebration of Victory Day. Sacred memory has been placed at the service of solving a single albeit blistering problem: preserving the power of the current leaders and current elites as long as possible. To do this, the regime takes cover behind the Immortal Regiment’s morally impeccable shield, which, however, makes it look even more immoral.
Communists Propose Equating Feelings of War Veterans with Feelings of Religious Believers Grani.ru
May 8, 2016
A group of Communist Party MPs plans to submit a law bill to the State Duma that would criminalize insulting the feelings of war veterans and stipulate a punishment of up to three years of forced labor. As Gazeta.ruwrites, if the draft law is adopted, Article 148 of the Criminal Code (violating the right to freedom of conscience and religion) would be amended.
The newly amended article, 148.1, is entitled “Insulting the feelings of Great Patriotic War [Second World War] veterans.” The Communists will send the bill to the government and the Supreme Court for review on May 10, immediately after the holidays.
There are three paragraphs in the new law. The first paragraph stipulates punishment for “public actions expressing clear disrespect for society and committed with the intent of insulting the feelings of Great Patriotic War veterans by deliberately distorting information about the Great Patriot War, or humiliating or belittling the heroism of the Armed Forces of the USSR.”
Violation of the law would be punishable by a fine of up to 300,000 rubles, or up to 240 hours of community service, or up to one year of forced labor.
The second paragraph stipulates criminal liability for “dismantling, moving, destroying or damaging Great Patriotic War monuments,” even if they are not listed as Great Patriotic War cultural heritage sites. In this case, a violation would be punishable by a fine of up to one million rubles, or up to 360 hours of community service, or up to one year of forced labor.
The maximum penalties are prescribed in paragraph three and cover the same actions, as listed above, if they are performed on May 9, or involve the abuse of office, or are committed by someone who has already been convicted of the same violation. In this case, the offender faces a fine of up to four million rubles, or up to 480 hours of community service, or up to three years of forced labor, and a ban on holding certain positions during the period in question.
Communist Sergei Obukhov, who is spearheading the initiative, coauthored the law on “insulting the feelings of religious believers,” adopted by the Duma in 2013 in the wake of the Pussy Riot trial.
In the explanatory note to the new law, Obukhov defends the need to protect the feelings of war veterans, drawing parallels with the adoption of law on insulting the feelings of religious believers. According to him, that law “does not extend to the belief in goodness and justice, the ideals for which the veterans of the Great Patriotic War fought.”
According to Obukhov, he and his colleagues have tried to draft the most non-repressive law possible, so the punishments stipulated do not include imprisonment. Obukhov calls the bill a “full-fledged legal mechanism for defending their truth about that terrible war as well as criminal protection of their honor and dignity.”
In November 2013, A Just Russia MP Oleg Mikheyev proposed punishing those who insulted the memory of the Great Patriotic War with up to seven years in prison or a fine of one million rubles. Mikheyev submitted a draft of amendments to the Criminal Code and Criminal Procedural Code to the State Duma.
Mikheyev proposed adding an article entitled “Insulting the memory of the Great Patriotic War” to the Criminal Code. The offense was described as follows: “Actions expressing clear disrespect for society and insulting the memory of the events, participants, veterans, and victims of the Great Patriotic War, and committed at the sites of Great Patriotic War monuments and the burial grounds of those involved in the Great Patriotic War.”
The draft law stipulated a fine of between 500,000 and one million rubles or the amount of the convicted offender’s income for a period of three to four years, or a prison term of up to seven years. Mikheyev explained this choice by analogy with Criminal Code Article 148 (insulting the feeling of religious believers), “insofar as both articles deal with the spiritual realm of human life, the realm of values.” As an example of “insulting the memory” of the war, he cited the articles of journalist Alexander Podrabinek.
In April 2014, Irina Yarovaya, head of the Duma’s security and anti-corruption committee, proposed criminalizing “desecration of days of Russian military glory and memorable dates” connected with the Great Patriotic War. The United Russia MP said the relevant amendments would be inserted into a draft law on “rehabilitating Nazism” during its second reading.
“We will propose equating liability for this crime with the liability for desecrating burial sites dedicated to the fight against fascism [sic] or victims of Nazism,” said Yarovaya.
Individuals accused of “desecrating days of military glory” were to face up to three years in prison, forced labor of up to five years, arrest for a period of three to six months, or five years in a penal colony.
Yarovaya said she had found a post on a social network containing a negative assessment of the May 9 holiday.
“I think such statements should be assessed not just morally or ethically, but from the viewpoint of criminal law,” Yarovaya said in this connection. “Because it is a deliberate crime aimed at desecrating the memory of the Great Patriotic War.”
Yaroslav V. Leontiev, Doctor of Historical Sciences, Professor, Moscow State University Open Letter to the Headquarters of the National Liberation Movement (NOD) Facebook
June 29, 2016
A year ago, a friend of mine joked on the topic of what the participants in its school program and their schoolteacher mentors would be called after the International Memorial Society was declared a “foreign agent”? Accomplices of “foreign agents” or what? He was joking, but the idiots have taken it at face value.
So, messieurs idiots, with your escapade [see article, below] you have insulted, first of all, the cherished memory of Sigurd Ottovich Schmidt, the longtime jury chair of The Individual in History: Russia in the 20th Century, a nationwide historical research competition for high school seniors. The son of a Hero of the Soviet Union, the legendary polar explorer and scientist Otto Schmidt, Sigurd Ottovich Schmidt was a Teacher and a Historian with a capital “t” and a capital “h,” a man who educated many generations of professional source studies experts, archivists, and local history specialists. Schmidt was the founder and chair of the Russian Union of Local Historians.
At the same time, you have insulted the memory of the son of another Hero of the Soviet Union, a man decorated with the Gold Hero Star for the Berlin operation, Gennady Demyanovich Kuzov. Kuzov and I handed out the awards to the young participants of a previous competition onstage together.
For many years, I, a pupil of Sigurd Ottovich Schmidt, served as an expert for the competition The Individual in History: Russia in the 20th Century. I personally pored over hundreds of submitted works, and I detected no “national treachery” or “rewriting of history” in any of them.
The competition was a ticket into big-time scholarship for Lyosha Rakov, a wonderful boy from the Ural backwoods who was a winner of the first contest. While still a high schooler, he did a serious research project on the dispossessed kulaks and exiled special settlers who built the manufacturing plants in Chelyabinsk. Nowadays, Alexey Rakov has a Ph.D. in history and is an associate professor at the Higher School of Economics.
It was at the competition that I met a magnificent educator from the town of Kashin, history teacher Tatyana Mikhailovna Golubyova, who now heads the local history society. Along with her and her pupils, I walked hundreds of kilometers during historical hiking trips to study the military campaigns against the Polish-Lithuanian invaders during the early seventeenth century.
The same competition was the occasion for several encounters with Nikolai Makarov, a village schoolteacher from Voronezh Region who had compiled a genuine encyclopedia of the local villages and towns along with his pupils. The anthology We Are All from the Same Village, written by schoolchildren from the town of Novyi Kurlak in the Anna District, has been one of the best works on the history of everyday life published by Memorial.
And how can I forget the mother of a large family from the town of Likhoslavl, capital of the Tver Karelians, who herself served as a mentor for the competition, and her children, who were winners several years in a row? Or the girl from the Old Believers trading post of Sym? On the map of our immense country there is such a town on the Yenisei River, reachable only by helicopter. She wrote what is perhaps the only documentary history of the most remote and northerly point of the Yeniseysk District of Krasnoyarsk Territory.
Today, you gave these already-grown children a slap in the face, just as you gave a slap in the face to the hundreds of other children who visited Moscow for the first time thanks to this contest, and then went on to enroll in universities and become friends for years. You have insulted the dozens of teachers from the Russian hinterland, including those who went on to become winners of the nationwide Russian Teacher of the Year contest. (Such as Tatyana Mikhailovna Golubyova, whom I have already mentioned, but she is not alone.)
It is not for you idiots to teach them and me love for the Motherland and the graves of our ancestors. I happen to have spearheaded the raising of a monument to the heroic military commander of the Time of Troubles Prince Mikhail Vasilyevich Skopin-Shuisky in the town of Kalyazin, the second and most famous such monument in the country. In many respects, I spearheaded the raising of the first monument to the heroes of the First World War in Tver Region, the unveiling of a memorial plaque on the anniversary of Sergei Yesenin’s visit to Tver, and a number of other memorials honoring the heroes of the past in Tver, Vladimir, and Yaroslavl Regions. My ancestor was awarded the highest military honor for regimental priests, a gold pectoral cross on a Saint George’s Ribbon. The heroes of the First World War were later “awarded” arrests and exile. Our common ancestor had been decorated for the capture of Paris in 1814. My grandfather was awarded the main decoration for soldiers, the Medal for Valor, and two holes in his body, made by fascist bullets and shrapnel, that never did heal over.
Lazar Lazarev, the longtime editor-in-chief of the journal Problems of Literature, and father of Irina Shcherbakov, head of educational programs at Memorial and coordinator of the School Competitions project, was the highly decorated commander of a reconnaissance company. It is not for you idiot mummers to teach us patriotism. Authentic Saint George’s Ribbons are soaked in blood, while the sham ones you wear smack of bad slapstick or, to put it in Russian, of baboonery and buffonery.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy ofMemorial
Human Rights Event Attacked in Moscow
Anastasia Bazenkova Moscow Times
April 28, 2016
Guests at an event organized by Russia’s leading human rights group Memorial have been attacked by nationalist activists, the organization’s executive director told the Moscow Times Thursday.
Participants at an award ceremony for high school history students were sprayed with disinfectant and ammonia, said executive director Yelena Zhemkova.
“Memorial was holding a very important event at Dom Kino in central Moscow, but the guests and the participants were attacked by a group of aggressive protesters who threw green disinfectant and ammonia at them as they tried to enter the building,” Zhemkova said.
The protests in front of the Dom Kino building were organized by the National Liberation Movement (NOD), local media sources reported.
Roughly twenty NOD activists congregated outside Dom Kino, holding banners reading, “We don’t need alternative history,” and shouting, “Fascists!”
Among those attacked was acclaimed Russian novelist Ludmila Ulitskaya. The writer, who headed the jury at the competition, was sprayed in the face with a green disinfectant.
A number of international guests were also present, including the German ambassador to Russia Rüdiger von Fritsch, Novaya Gazeta newspaper reported. The activists also attacked a delegate from a similar school history contest in Norway.
NOD’s youth wing coordinator, Maria Katasonova, denied the attack on Ulitskaya in an interview with Govorit Moskva radio station.
“We don’t know who sprayed Ulitskaya,” she said. “I only saw her turn around and she was already covered in green disinfectant.”
The high school competition, The Individual in History: Russia in the 20th Century, is an annual event held by Memorial. Students from around the country are encouraged to research local history by studying historical archives, interviewing witnesses, and examining newspapers and other sources.
Winning students are then invited to Moscow, where they visit a number of places and attend events organized by Memorial. The culmination of their Moscow program is the awards ceremony.
Police arriving on the scene said the protest was a one-man picket and took no action.
“Usually, even if it is a real one-man protest, the police will come and put everybody in the back of a van. This time the police did nothing, even though our college suffered an eye injury,” Zhemkova said.
Zhemkova said that although there had been protests during previous Memorial events, it was the first time counter-activists had been so aggressive.
There had been a picket in front of the Sakharov Center, where Memorial held an exhibition dealing with the First Chechen War last month, but no one had been attacked, she said.
NB.I edited this article, because no one at the Moscow Times bothered to do it before publication, thus making it practically unreadable. TRR