Why did Putin build a monument to the victims of Soviet repression?


Russian President Vladimir Putin meets Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, and former human rights defender Vladimir Lukin at a ceremony in Moscow last month to unveil the country's first national monument. Russia to the victims of the Soviet era political repression. (Alexander Nemenov / Reuters)

Something surprising happened on October 30. Since the 1970s, Russian dissidents have marked the date as an annual commemoration of the victims of Soviet-era repressions. Although it was adopted as a state holiday in 1991, state officials generally leave the organization of commemorations to NGOs such as Memorial, which is dedicated to discovering and publicizing the stories of the victims of Soviet terror.

But this During the year, during the centennial week of the October Revolution, President Vladimir Putin personally revealed "the Wall of Pain": a half moon of faceless human figures, molded in bronze, to remind the victims of the Soviet gulags. Russian society is still divided on how it interprets the Soviet legacy, making this a politically charged project.

Why would Putin tread such a heavy territory?

As so many times in the discussions of Russian politics, context is paramount. The Russian presidential elections are scheduled for March 2018. By carefully examining the state coverage of the event, we can see how Putin is working to reward allies, frame the country's political memory and position itself as the moderate leader that can maintain stability and beat the forces of chaos.

Putin's government has increasingly recognized Soviet ills

Between 2004 and 2010, Russian official discourse on the nation's past often amounted to bleaching Stalinism, focusing more on the administrative and Stalin's affairs. martial achievements than their domestic crimes. That changed in 2010, when the Putin government organized a commemoration of the 1940 mbadacre of Polish officers in Katyn. The commemoration was especially grim, given that a group of senior Polish politicians perished when their plane crashed in a thick fog on the way to the event.

Since then, Putin has become increasingly close to the anti-communist and anti-Stalinist leader. of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill. They coordinated the responses to Pussy Riot's "Punk Prayer" of 2011. The Russian government sentenced the activist musicians to two years in prison; State-sponsored media repeatedly covered the patriarch's pronouncements, including his refusal to promote indulgence in response to his "sacrilege." And at the inauguration of the monument, the patriarch stood next to Putin, a place of honor, suggesting that the patriarch could have encouraged the ceremony.

But with this latest development, the tendency toward recognition of past repression has reached a new point, with Putin's high-profile personal position. This monument is the first of its kind built by presidential decree.

So what does the government's message tell us about the reasons behind this event?

Our research involves determining how Russian media coverage represents government objectives The Russian international broadcaster, RT, highlighted how Putin's speech unequivocally condemned Stalin's repression. Similarly, the main news bulletin on the night of Channel 1 backed by the State was opened when reporting on the event, covering broadly Putin's speech, in which he lamented "the persecution of millions." . . crimes [which] can not be justified in any way. "The speech condemned the entire Soviet system that made terror possible and affirmed that the causes of repression could not be attributed to dishonest individuals, such as Nikita Khrushchev's destalinization campaign. from the mid 50s to the mid 60s.

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Here is the trick: blaming the system avoids placing responsibility on any individual. Respected civil society organizations, including Memorial and the Gulag Museum, characterized the revelation as a step towards state recognition of Soviet terrorism as a crime, but the opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta criticized the decision not to name Stalin or others as perpetrators.

Why could Putin decide to blame a system instead of people for two reasons: First, the Communist Party still it enjoys a significant minority of support within the Russian electorate. Second, during the final years of the Soviet era, Putin himself was an intelligence officer in the KGB, the organization responsible for much of the terror.

Still, what would be the reward for the Putin government when examining political repression? absolutely?

There are two. First, although most Russians still see the Soviet victory in World War II as the best time of their country, a wide swath of Russian society sees Stalin's period of terror very negatively. Putin is using his stance against the repression of the past to co-opt some of the regime's malcontents and critics, particularly in Moscow, the capital, and St. Petersburg, the former capital.

Second, in reminding Russia of the systemic causes and widespread costs of an earlier era of political repression, Putin continues to emphasize the chaos, violence and human suffering that comes from the revolution, and contrasts with the relative stability of your government. His speech argued that in order to advance, Russian society must focus on building "trust and stability". He cited the widow of dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, present at the ceremony, saying it was important "to know, to understand, to condemn, and only after to forgive." Putin is positioning himself as the "after" representative.

That is why prominent human rights activists and former dissidents criticize the monument as a cynical attempt to bypbad any genuine investigation of communist era repressions and to distract from the ongoing political repression in Russia. Putin's phrase "trust and stability" could easily read "better the devil you know".

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We can see that message implicit in the rest of the coverage news. The second news from Channel 1 covered Putin's participation in a meeting of the Council for Civil Society and Human Rights in detail. In a session announced as leaving no issue out of bounds, Putin answered truly difficult questions from the councilors about the current arbitrary persecutions the restrictions on political protest and the unpleasant atmosphere in Russia, leading to the people to emigrate.

Putin's calm and reasoned performance emphasized the importance of keeping the letter of the law, arguing that opposition politicians deliberately violate regulations for reasons of publicity. Putin contrasted Russia's relative stability with what he described as the chaotic contemporary US policy of President Trump, Brexit Britain, Catalonia after the referendum and a Western Europe plagued by terrorism and the refugee crisis.

On the eve of the presidential election, Putin's goal is to address political grievances on their own terms and position themselves as genuinely reasonable and moderate.

Vera Tolz is Sir William Mather Professor of Russian Studies at the University of Manchester and co-author with Professor Stephen Hutchings of "Nation, ethnicity and race on Russian television: mediating the post-Soviet difference" (Routledge, 2015 ).

Precious N. Chatterje-Doody is a research badociate at the University of Manchester, working on the project funded by the British Arts and Humanities Research Council Reframing Russia for the global environment: Cold War to the "information war"?

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