As if the memorial to the Victims of Communism wasn’t bad enough. Communists in Ukraine and Russia have decided to enter the battle over memory. In response to the Victims of Communism groundbreaking last week, Leonid Grach from the Ukrainian Communist Party has proposed “establishing a museum commemorating victims of U.S. imperialism.” “American imperialism, from the extermination of native Americans to war crimes in Vietnam, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq,” Grach added, “has caused substantially more deaths than the ‘orange forces,’ along with their masters over the ocean, blame Communism for.” Grach also asserted that the the Victims of Communism Memorial would certainly please the U.S.’s “vassal” Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko, whose government has sought to have the 1932-33 Ukrainian Famine declared a genocide.
Grach’s hasn’t been the only response to the Victims of Communism Memorial. Russian Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov called President Bush “a symbol of state terror” and the memorial “attempt to distract the attention of world opinion from the bloody evils of American imperialism as a whole.” That wasn’t all. Zyuganov also claimed former President George H. W. Bush was responsible for the shock therapy economic policies of the 1990s, which according to Zyuganov, “10 million people, 9 million of them ethnic Russians.”
Nothing like burnt out Communists to push the limits of absurdity. I’m sure all the massacred Native Americans will rest well knowing that they have Grach and Zyuganov fighting to preserve their memory.
Thanks to Wally Shedd for alerting me of the article.
You Might also like
By Sean — 7 years ago
Victory Day. The most sacred holiday in Russia. The day when razzle and remembrance blend. The day when Russia becomes a smooth space. All the antagonisms and hierarchies in Russian society should collapse, if only for a brief moment, into the semblance of unity. World War II, or The Great Patriotic War as it’s referred to in Russia, is the most important event for post-Soviet Russian national identity. Its memory is supposed to bind even if the actual experience of the war divided, dislocated, and dismembered Soviet society.
Yet, while Victory Day allows for unity, the event that symbolically commemorates and represents that unity, the parade, is a mediated experience for most Russians. Granted, the Russian landscape is dotted with local Victory Days which localize the war’s memory, yet, in a way, all of these flow, like Russian state power itself, from Red Square. And that parade, as I experienced last year, turns that smooth space into a striated one not just with its security barriers, metro station closings, and street closures, but also the narratological barriers the politics of the present erects around its memory. One can point to many silences that disrupt the war’s smooth narrative: the deportations of the Chechens, Ingush, Germans, Finns, Crimean Tatars, Karachais, Kalmyks, Balkars, Kabardins, Poles, Kurds, Turks, and others, Gulag labor, the dismemberment of Poland and the Katyn Massacre, the Soviet occupation of the Baltics, the draconian “Not a step back” Order No. 227, blocking units, and punishment brigades, the Red Army’s revenge pillaging, raping, and killing as it moved west, the forced imposition of imperial rule over Eastern Europe, and finally, the role of Stalin himself. Also where the Holocaust fits into Russians’ historical memory of the war remains unresolved. As does the question of the seemingly interchangeable categories of perpetrators and victims. All of these, and more, pound on the walls of the Russia’s national memory of the war at the same time they erect new barriers and fortifications in the creation of an overarching history, memory and commemoration of the war not just in Russia, but in Europe as a whole.
Nor does it look like this problem of the war’s history and memory and experience and narrative will be resolved anytime soon. In fact, consensus on these issues is becoming increasingly remote, and others would argue, the debate is moving into potentially historically and politically dangerous territory as some seek to create narratives of the 20th century in general and the war in particular where the victims of Nazism and Communism are rendered equivalent. This move toward equivalence is viewed by some as violating perhaps the taboo of taboos, the historical uniqueness of the Shoah.
The place of the Holocaust in the general memory of WWII has been undergoing gradual marginalization particularly in post-communist Europe, where some see “Holocaust envy,” as best articulated in the Prague Declaration in 2008, and resolutions by the Council of Europe and the European Parliament, has taken hold. In 2005, the late Tony Judt noted this trend of equivalence as Eastern Europe reckons with a half century of communism:
The difficulty of incorporating the destruction of the Jews into contemporary memory in post-Communist Europe is tellingly illustrated by the experience of Hungary. In 2001 the government of Viktor Orbán established a Holocaust Memorial Day, to be commemorated annually on April 16 (the anniversary of the establishment in 1944 of a ghetto in wartime Budapest). Three years later Orbán’s successor as prime minister, Peter Medgyessy, opened a Holocaust Memorial Center in a Budapest house once used to intern Jews. But much of the time this Holocaust Center stands nearly empty, its exhibits and fact sheets seen by a thin trickle of visitors—many of them foreign. Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Hungarians have flocked to the Terrorháza.
The Terrorháza (“House of Terror”), as its name suggests, is a museum of horrors. It tells the story of state violence, torture, repression, and dictatorship in Hungary from 1944 to 1989. The dates are significant. As presented to the thousands of schoolchildren and others who pass through its gloomy, Tussaud-like reproduction of the police cells, torture equipment, and interrogation chambers that were once housed there (the House of Terror is in the headquarters of the former security police), the Terrorháza’s version of Hungarian history draws no distinction between the thugs of Ferenc Szálasi’s Arrow Cross party, who held power there from October 1944 to April 1945, and the Communist regime that was installed after the war. However the Arrow Cross men—and the extermination of 600,000 Hungarian Jews to which they actively contributed—are represented by just three rooms. The rest of the very large building is devoted to a copiously illustrated and decidedly partisan catalog of the crimes of communism.
The not particularly subliminal message here is that communism and fascism are equivalent. Except that they are not: the presentation and content of the Budapest Terrorháza make it quite clear that in the eyes of the museum’s curators communism not only lasted longer but did far more harm than its neo-Nazi predecessor. For many Hungarians of an older generation this is all the more plausible for conforming to their own experience. And the message has been confirmed by post-Communist Hungarian legislation banning public display of all representations of the country’s undemocratic past: not just the swastika or the Arrow Cross symbol but also the hitherto ubiquitous red star and its accompanying hammer and sickle. Rather than evaluate the distinctions between the regimes represented by these symbols, Hungary—in the words of Prime Minister Orbán at the opening of the Budapest House of Terror on February 24, 2002—has simply “slammed the door on the sick twentieth century.”
But that door is not so easy to close. Hungary, like the rest of Central and Eastern Europe, is still caught in the backdraft.6 The same Baltic states which have urged upon Moscow the duty to acknowledge its mistreatment of them have been decidedly slow to interrogate their own responsibilities: since winning their independence neither Estonia nor Latvia nor Lithuania has prosecuted a single case against the surviving war criminals in their midst. In Romania—despite former President Iliescu’s acknowledgment of his country’s participation in the Holocaust—the “Memorial of the Victims of Communism and Anti-Communist Resistance” inaugurated at Sighet in 1997 (financed in part by the Council of Europe) commemorates assorted interwar and wartime Iron Guard activists and other Romanian fascists and anti-Semites now recycled as martyrs to Communist persecution.
In support of their insistence upon “equivalence” between the suffering under fascist and communist regimes, commentators in Eastern Europe can point to the cult of the “victim” in contemporary Western political culture. We are moving from winners’ history to victims’ history, they observe. Very well, then let us be consistent. Even if Nazism and communism were utterly different in intent—even if, in Raymond Aron’s formulation, “there is a difference between a philosophy whose logic is monstrous, and one which can be given a monstrous interpretation”—that was scant consolation to their victims. Human suffering should not be calibrated according to the goals of those responsible for it. In this way of reasoning, for those being punished or killed there a Communist camp is no better or worse than a Nazi camp.
Indeed, you can see some of this presently being played out on Victory Day in Ukraine, as this report from Russia Today shows:
Russia, with much justification, views this transformation of the memory of liberation into the memory of conquer as deeply insulting. Yet the whether one thinks about the legitimacy of these moves, they nevertheless raise some quite uncomfortable questions about the basis for history, memory and identity. How to reconcile all these memories of victimhood into a general narrative, where the field of victims in the war can be objectively be dispersed between the war’s winners and losers? Can it be done? Should it? Or is the European memory of the war, as Tony Judt suggests, ever to remain “deeply asymmetrical”?
Or to put it another way, can national identity for the 21st century, particularly in post-communist space, kick the historical hangover of the 20th? Only time will tell, but with each Victory Day it appears increasingly doubtful.
Image: Totally Cool PixPost Views: 983
By Sean — 9 years ago
Russian politics is a joke. I’m not being sarcastic. It really is funny. Perhaps in an effort to one up the inanity of American politics (as we all know Russians just want to be like us!), or because it has a fatuous dynamic of its own, what passes for the political over there often epitomizes the absurd. Take the most recent scandal involving the Anti-Soviet Kebab House, the Moscow Veterans Committee, the dissident Alexander Podrabinek, and Nashi. It was a publicity stunt within a publicity stunt. A narcissistic plea of “Look at me!” if I’ve ever seen one. A better political parody couldn’t have been concocted by the Kremlin’s best spin doctors. The sad thing is that the ensuing scandal would have been really, really funny if the joke wasn’t so bad.
Long story short: After a summer of renovations, the owner of kebab restaurant on Leningradskii prospekt decided to call his place “Anti-Soviet” to poke fun at the Soviet Hotel across the street. The name went well the the restaurant’s dissident theme of photos of “anti-Soviet” figures of the past. Plus the moniker was a “jokey name” used by patrons in the Soviet period. Vets, however, didn’t see the humor and complained to the local district administration, demanding the restaurant be renamed. The “anti-” in Anti-Soviet Kebab House, they said, hurt their feelings and denigrated their sacrifice in saving Russia from Nazism. Within days, the district’s “crusading environmental inspector,” Oleg Mitvol, paid the Anti-Soviet Kebab House a visit ordering the “anti-” be removed. The owners begrudgingly complied. “We took down the sign under pressure from the district authorities,” Alexander Vanin, the restaurant’s manager told the Moscow Times. “It was to avoid a war and attacks from the prefect, Oleg Mitvol.” Another bad joke bombs to the politics of the absurd.
But the inanity didn’t stop there. In fact, it was only beginning.
Enter Alexander Podrabinek, the famous Soviet dissident and now Putin foe. Having had enough of the “restoration of the Soviet past,” Podrabinek pounded out a diatribe “Letter to Soviet Veterans,” where he called the name change as “great pity” and lambasted the complaining veterans as “idiotic, base, and stupid.” He then went on to charge the vets as “the ones who served as whipmasters in labour camps and prisons, political commissars of anti-retreat units, and executioners at firing grounds.” According to Podrabinek, he and others who defied the Soviet regime are the country’s real heroes. The letter was published on Podrabinek’s blog and on the website of the liberal rag Ezhdnevnyi zhurnal.
The real pity however, isn’t so much that the Anti-Soviet Kebab House was muscled into changing its name. Nor is it the substance of Podrabinek’s rant, ridiculous as it is. It’s the fact that screaming about the “restoration of the Soviet past” is really all Russian liberals have as a political issue. It’s no wonder your average Russian, many of who probably sympathize with the veterans, can’t stand the liberals (assuming they know the liberals exist). Instead of engaging in a politics that, I don’t know, actually matters like the economic crisis, layoffs, prices and other issues, Russia’s liberal intelligentsia choose to dig up the old bones of the past, wave them furiously in the air, and use them to beat the citizenry over the head. The politics of the dead just doesn’t make sense when you could be engaging in a politics of the living. But oh no. Many Russian liberals believe that constantly screaming about Stalin is going to further their political agenda. Newsflash: It’s not.
Thus, what began as a joke that flew over the heads of some thin-skinned old-timers, only revealed the joke that is Russia’s liberal intellgentisa.
Sadly, the comedy sketch didn’t end there.
Enter Nashi. Nashi has been aimless since the election of Dmitry Medvedev. With “colored revolution” vanquished, a number of its chapters liquidated, and little need for mass street protests, the kids in Nashi don’t know what to do with themselves. They purport to have all sorts of programs to train the next generation of Putinistas, but none of that makes the headlines in the Russian or international press. This doesn’t mean that Nashi hasn’t found a niche in the Medvedevian Thaw. Every generation needs a war, and if you can’t provide a real one, then a virtual one will just have to suffice. Taking the “anti-fascist” part of their name waaay to seriously, Nashi has decided that anything that criticizes the integrity of Soviet past and the Russian present is “fascism.” So Nashi’s activities over the last several months have focused on publicity stunts to unmask Russia’s internal enemies supported by the “fascist” West.
As soon as Nashi joined the fray, what was already a political farce quickly turned into tragedy. Soon after Prodabinek’s diatribe hit runet, Nashi began mobilizing its apparatus of outrage. Members began pickets outside of Prodrabinek’s apartment, released his phone number and address on the internet, and vowed to run him out of the country. According to Nashi’s GenSek, Nikita Borovikov, all these actions are “of the most democratic in nature.”
Fearing for his life, Probrabinek went into hiding. Not because of Nashi, whose actions he considers a “propaganda stunt” and an “imitation of public outrage” (which it is), but because of “information from reliable sources” that “serious people” want him taken care of. That is “taking care of” in the bullet-in-head sense of the phrase.
More outrage ensued. Ezhdnevnyi zhurnal began an online petition in support of Prodrabinek, which now sports over 3000 signatures, a virtual who’s who of the Russian liberal intelligentsia. Not to be outdone, Nashi claims to have over 5000 signatures against Prodrabinek.
I just have to ask a number of questions. Are you kidding me? Hiding? Is this a joke? You do know that this is all because of a shashlik joint? Do you? Someone please tell me that this is part of some Russian version of Punk’d. Because if this is real then someone call Dr. Phil to mediate between the vets, Prodrabinek, and Nashi. There is a little to much of the “talk to the hand ’cause the face don’t understand” going on.
But apparently it is real or at least appears real enough. And always ready to jump on the latest scandal in Russia, the Western media and rights groups have hitched a ride on the outrage express. The Committee for the Protection of Journalists released a statement calling for an end to the harassment of and for the protection of Prodrabinek. Even the French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner “contacted the relevant authorities to make sure [Prodrabinek] is safe.”
All for the name of a kebab restaurant.
But this is what passes for small-p politics in Russia. A bad joke produces outrage, which in the end exposes what utter jokes Russia’s liberals and Nashi really are. And the joke isn’t funny any more as the great Morrissey once sang. Because for Russians like the 27,600 AvtoVAZ workers in Togliatti waiting for their pink slips, the message is clear: Russia’s liberals and Nashi don’t care about you. Not when there are kebab restaurants and Soviet pride to defend.Post Views: 632