Posts Tagged ‘historical revisionism’

Georgia on My MInd

06/25/2010

In the summer of 2008 I watched footage of the Russian-Georgian war with horror and the morbid fascination that come with having visited a place that has unexpectedly turned into a war zone. I had visited Gori (famous as the birthplace of Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, aka Joseph Stalin) in the summer of 2007. I toured the Stalin museum, the fort, ate khachapuri, drank wine, sifted through Stalin memorabilia at the local market and stood in the central square staring up at the larger than life statue of Stalin wondering – how can he possibly still be standing here?

Well, it looks like the time has come for the museumization of this important relic of the cult of Stalin. A friend who is in Georgia for the summer on internship posted on his facebook page that he’d missed the demounting of Stalin by mere hours. A historic occasion in a city that has for years defended Stalin’s place of honour in front of the municipal parliament building at the base of Stalin Avenue. Al Jazeera picked up the story, stating that the Stalin statue is being moved to the nearby Stalin Museum.

This museum has been on my radar for a little while: rumour has it that the Stalin Museum may soon to be re-designated the Museum of Russian Aggression. If this is true, it marks a cultural shift in a country that has held tight to pride in their “great leader” while much of the rest of the former Soviet Union has worked hard to out Stalin’s crimes against humanity. One exception is Russia, where Stalin is lauded as a great military leader and “effective administrator”, especially during the celebration of the Allied victory in WWII (celebrated with great solemnity in Russia). By removing the Stalin memorial in Gori, Georgia is making yet another assertion of which direction they are looking for assistance – towards Europe and the West. Not that this wasn’t clear already.

On a lighter note, looks like the Stalin impersonators are going to have to find a new line of work.

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Busting out Stalin in Bedford, Virginia

06/14/2010

Commemorating WWII can be tricky, as the administrators of the National D-Day Monument in Bedford, Virginia recently found out. They recently revealed a bust of Stalin as part of the large narrative monument, and this has some people up in arms for what they believe is the glorification of a tyrant.

It is undeniable that Stalin’s involvement in WWII turned the tides for the Allies and it’s doubtful if the Nazi Axis would have been defeated without the Red Army. But including a bust, and quite a Soviet-styled one at that, of a mass murderer who purged the Red Army during WWII and sent soldiers who had been captured as POWs by the Nazis to the Gulag at a national monument to D-Day? Questionable.

This May marked 65 years since Stalin led the Soviet Union to victory in the Great Patriotic War (WWII for all you Westerners out there), fanning the flames of the controversy surrounding the Man of Steel. From the Stalinobus cruising the streets of St. Petersburg, to debate over Stalin billboards going up in Moscow, to a movement in Ukraine to erect a statue honouring Stalin as the unifier of the country, there are many different opinions on how to deal with Stalin in a post-Soviet world. Re-writing history is something of a Soviet past time, one that has carried on to the post-Soviet era. As they say: Russia is a country with an unpredictable past.

In an age where attempts to erect monuments to Stalin in the former Soviet Union are met with rabid protest, it seems unreasonable and illogical to erect such a monument in North America. But I’m all for accurate representation of history, and perhaps the bust is contextualized in such a way that Stalin’s role can be properly understood. Until I see it for myself, I’m going to reserve judgement. In the meantime, here is a short piece on the sculptor who created the controversial monument, published on the D-Day Memorial’s website.

In the “You’ve Seen One You’ve Seen Them All” Dept…

05/03/2010

Getting Soviet history right isn’t always easy, especially when parsing the Great Patriotic War (WWII as it is known in the former Soviet region). The anniversary of the Soviet victory is still paid lip service in many former Soviet countries, often with grand parades or commemorative exhibitions, but as veterans and civilian survivors age and pass on, first-hand accounts are disappearing and details are being forgotten. A publishing house in Perm came face to face with this reality when it commissioned a calendar to honour Soviet veterans and somehow ended up with images of Nazi troops surrounding Soviet tanks instead.

The designer’s excuse? “We were young and we didn’t see the war.”

Who says that history is written by the victors?

The Holy Land Experience

03/09/2010

Over the past few years I’ve visited a lot of weird tourist sites in the former Soviet Union in the name of research. Lately, I’ve been researching wacky tourism in North America and came across this: The Holy Land Amusement Park in Orlando, Florida.

I quote: “Experience love. Experience peace. Experience joy. Experience Jesus.”

According to their official website, the visitors to the park can go back in time and experience life as it was in Biblical times. A re-creationist’s wet-dream, the park features the most important parts of the bible acted by professionals: A rather caucasian looking Jesus re-enacts the life of the son of God, including daily crucifixion and resurrection; visitors can experience what life was like for Moses and his children to wander the desert at the Wilderness Tabernacle; and if the kids get antsy, drop them off at the “Smile of a Child” kids play-land. Fun for the whole family, indeed.

I suppose with the actual Holy Land a war zone and the deep distrust in the US of “middle eastern” terrorists, this safe and entertaining option is the way to go. Founded by a Baptist minister Marvin Rosenthal (yup, he converted from Judaism) the park has been protested by the Jewish Defence League as promoting the conversion of Jews to Christianity. Kind of the point of the the life of Jesus, but I digress. What I want to know is when religion became defined as “a thrilling swirl of characters, costumes and colour” and how I missed that memo…

Neo-Stainism in Contemporary Russia: Exhibit 1, Kurskaya Metro Station

02/18/2010

Tourist in the Kurskaya metro
Originally uploaded by adventures in leninland

This post is inspired by this news story about information booths to be set up in Moscow extolling Stalin’s role in Allies’ WWII victory.

I was in Moscow in November and made a special trip one morning to see the newly restored Kurskaya Metro station. It had garnered some controversial press in the previous months because of the restoration of Stalin’s name on the inscription. The Moscow metro is ornate to say the least; it’s worthwhile spending a few hours just riding the clanking trains and checking out the stations, some of which look like ballrooms, or feature huge murals of soviet workers bringing in the ole sheaves.

The Kurskaya stop is interesting because it has created quite a bit of controversy when the inscription running along the main atrium of the upstairs station entrance was restored to include a reference to Stalin. The inscription is a line from the Soviet anthem (of the Stalin era) and reads: “Stalin brought us up to serve the nation well; he inspired us for labor and feats.”

I talked to a historian and guide at the Gulag Museum in Moscow and according to her, the restoration project was done without consulting the proper offices and bureaucracies responsible for the restoration of public monuments. Her take was that yes, there is some kind of neo-Stalinist movement happening but that most people were against restoring Stalin’s name to the walls of the Station. She also pointed out that the line of the Soviet anthem in question has been re-written several times. The original version sang the praises of Lenin and Stalin had it re-written to praise himself. He also built the Metro so it is only logical that that version was used.

Regardless, the station is exquisite; built around theme of red star stained glass and has two large plaques commemorating soldiers who died in various WWII battles. When I was there I took a photo of a fellow tourist; it’s interesting how quickly a controversial place becomes a tourist attraction. For more information on the controversy read this article by RFE/RL, or this one by the New York Times.

Some photos I took can be found on my flickr site.