Joshua Rubenstein is an associate of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University. He was also an organizer and regional director for Amnesty International USA for thirty-seven years. He’s the author of many books including Leon Trotsky: A Revolutionary’s Life, Tangled Loyalties: The Life and Times of Ilya Ehrenburg, and Stalin’s Secret Pogrom: The Postwar Inquisition of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee. His new book is The Last Days of Stalin published by Yale University Press.
Killing Joke, “Follow the Leaders (Original Lyrics),” Chaos for Breakfast, 2004.
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By Sean — 5 years ago
This week’s Russia Magazine! column, “Victory’s Essential, but Unwanted Guest,”
Victory Day is Russia’s most sacred holiday. The day marks Russia’s most traumatic moment in its turbulent twentieth century. The war supplants all previous traumas: WWI, the Revolution, the Civil War, and the Great Terror. In many respects it even absorbs the Soviet Union’s collapse, if only because victory over the Nazis makes the whole Soviet experiment worth it. Indeed, Victory Day has such resonance that it provides Russians one of the few means to reconcile their Soviet past with their post-Soviet present. And in an increasingly divided Russia, it is one of the few days of genuine national unity.
As Lev Gudkov put it in his 2005 essay, “The Fetters of Victory,”
All [Soviet] components of the positive collective unity of the idea of “us” are eroding. After their devaluation has brought to the fore a range of complexes of hurt self-esteem and inferiority, Victory now stands out as a stone pillar in the desert, the vestige of a weathered rock. All the most important interpretations of the present are concentrated around Victory; it provides them with their standards of evaluation and their rhetorical means of expression.
A stone pillar for sure, except for one essential capstone in that victory: Stalin.
Stalin has yet to find his place in contemporary Russian memory of Victory. He is a figure that is evoked at the same time he’s repudiated. In both instances—total embrace and total rejection—Stalin is fetishized as savior or destroyer, angel or demon, neither of which is any less violent. The difference is in who he smites with his sword, not how he wields it. The tension between these two figures makes Stalin eternally split. Thus, he was the leader of the nation during the war. Yet displaying his image is taboo. The system he created facilitated victory with all its attending scars and burns. But to give Stalin credit verges on blasphemy. Stalin embodied the unity of the Soviet people. Yet their victory is not his. On the day to commemorate Russia’s greatest tragedy and triumph, Stalin remains the guest you have to invite, but one you pray doesn’t show.Post Views: 357
By Sean — 5 months ago
Guest: Steve Sabol on “The Touch of Civilization” Comparing American and Russian Internal Colonization.
By Sean — 11 years ago
We’ve seen rioting over WWII burials and protests against resurrecting a statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky. But a protest against a statue to Catherine the Great!? Yes. It seems in some quarters Russia’s history as a whole, and not just its communist past, is cause for nationalist outrage. Reuters reports that a plan to build a statue of the Tsarina in the Ukrainian port city of Odessa has sparked the ire of local Cossacks.
The modern-day heirs of the Cossacks, aligned with Ukrainian nationalists, vilify Catherine as a foreign despot who crushed Ukraine’s limited autonomy at the time, and disbanded units of their celebrated predecessors.
“We used to have communism. Now we are told how wonderful things were before the Bolsheviks. And people believe it,” said Serhiy Gutsalyuk, an “otaman”, or leader, of an Odessa Cossack group as preparations went ahead to restore the monument.
“City authorities will hear nothing of reconciliation. And we will never accept any monument to Catherine the Great.”
Instead the Cossacks have offered a compromise. Ditch the Catherine statue and relaunch the rebuilding of a church dedicated to Saint Catherine. It seems, however, that few are willing to play ball. The monument appears to have wide support among Odessa’s multi-ethnic populace. The Cossacks, however, are viewed as simply hypocrites since they swore an oath to Catherine and had no problem metering “out punishment to Jews or rebellious peasants” in the name of Tsarism. Claims that they were victims of Tsarist despotism have fallen on deaf ears, not to mention a sign of nationalist gullibility. As Oleg Gubar, a historian who served as an adviser for the Catherine monument, “Cossacks swore allegiance to Catherine the Great, Polish kings and Turkish sultans. This was simply the nature of their work. Today, these people are being manipulated. It is, quite frankly, no more than a tragic, uncivilized joke.”Post Views: 217