Staunton, September 23 – This week, busts of Stalin and Lenin were dedicated in the so-called Alley of Rulers in Moscow. The two join the other Soviet rulers – Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernenko, Gorbachev, and Yeltsin – and as was pointed out at the opening, this is the first Lenin statue to go up in the Russian capital since Soviet times.
These eight join the busts of 33 earlier rulers of Russia, including not only the Rurikides and the Romanovs but also Prince Lvov and Aleksandr Kerensky, the two leaders of the Provisional Government who overthrew the last tsar, Nicholas II, thus putting side by side and without comment some who displaced others.
Mikhail Myagkov of the Russian Military-History Society which oversaw this project acknowledges that this placement may elicit a problematic reaction among some visitors, but he insisted that the alley has “an educational function” to remind everyone that “we had such a history” (ekhokavkaza.com/a/28751059.html).
Three Russian commentators were more critical. Historian Boris Sokolov says that the whole idea reflects “the nostalgia of the Military-History Society for Soviet times. They want to legitimize the Soviet past in its imperial dimension. And the past supports this.” After all, the authorities created the society.
More seriously, he says, all this “testifies that the Soviet imperial component of consciousness remains in the ruling circles and they are trying to support it in the population,” although how this will work in the current case is problematic given that some of these leaders were very much enemies of others.
Sergey Shokaryov of the Russian State Humanities University says that “if the goal of the museum is to show all the leaders of the state, this wouldn’t be a bad thing. But when you see how this is done, [with bad copies of earlier statues,] this project loses any possible respect.” And that is made worse by the fact that there are gaps. Why are some tsars here and not others?
And Gasan Guseynov, a cultural historian at the Higher School of Economics, adds that the most important aspect of the appearance of this Alley of Rulers is that it hasn’t generated any response in Russian society, “despite the obvious absurdity of this project.” What is really on display is not an Alley of Rulers, he says, but “an Alley of the Glory of Rulers.”
This reflects “the desire of the present-day rulers of Rusisa to combine all past regimes into some kind of single thing: we have had a beautiful, great history in the 20th century, let us bow down before all rulers which were elevated to the throne on this land.” But that idea is “absolutely absurd and insane.”
Why? Because one ruler in order to gain the thrown had to destroy another.” Now they must stand together forever as if that were irrelevant. If Russian society were healthy, Guseynov says; it would react. But it hasn’t because today Russian society is “completely demoralized and apathetic.”