Mannerheim or bust

On Monday, a St Petersburg court refused to order the city government to take down a plaque put up earlier this year to commemorate General Gustaf Mannerheim. Mannerheim served in the Imperial Russian Army before the revolution, reaching the rank of lieutenant general, and the plaque celebrates him as a distinguished Russian officer. During the Second World War, however, Mannerheim was Commander-in-Chief of the Finnish Army, which supported the Germans in blockading Leningrad. Believing that it was inappropriate to install a memorial to somebody who brought the city so much harm, a St Petersbug resident petitioned the local court to order its removal. The court ruled that the city was not responsible for putting up the plaque, and therefore couldn’t be told to take it down.

mannerheim

Mannerheim’s isn’t the only memorial to cause controversy. At the start of this month, activists from the Russkii Dukh (Russian Spirit) movement erected a bust of Stalin in the Siberian city of Surgut, after raising 260,000 rubles in a crowdfunding campaign to pay for it. Like the plaque to Mannerheim, the Stalin bust is being challenged in the courts, and may have to be removed.

stalin-surgut

Meanwhile, in an article this week in The Christian Science Monitor, Fred Weir reported on the memorials set up near Yekaterinburg to mark the spot where Tsar Nicholas II and his family were killed. Weir points out that, ‘Nicholas II and his family have been lavishly memorialized by the Russian Orthodox Church with the full backing of the Kremlin.’ The Russian state, he argues, is trying ‘symbolically reconcile’ with every aspect of Russia’s past, both Soviet and Imperial.

romanovs_standard

Multiple historical narratives are competing for Russians’ loyalty. Some people look back to Imperial Russia for inspiration; others see Stalin as the model of the great leader; others still are trying to somehow fuse the Imperial and Soviet, however contradictory this might seem. The Church erects monuments to the Tsar; the people of Surgut to Stalin; and somebody (the St Petersburg court claims not to know who) to Mannerheim. It remains to be seen which, if any, of these narratives will win.

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15 thoughts on “Mannerheim or bust”

  1. ” and somebody (the St Petersburg court claims not to know who) to Mannerheim.”

    Hmmm… What a mistery! Who it could be?!

    Could it be this 2 “private citizens”? Do you recongnize any of them, professor?

    And this troop pf honour guard arrived at place just at random. No official invited it.

    All initiative of private citizens here. Yeah.100% legit.

    “mark the spot where Tsar Nicholas II and his family were killed.”

    Nicholas II Romanov abdicated from the throne in February 1917. Ergo – the person who was killed was not a czar, just a private citizen. Stop this menarchic necrophilia.

    “Multiple historical narratives are competing for Russians’ loyalty. Some people look back to Imperial Russia for inspiration; others see Stalin as the model of the great leader; others still are trying to somehow fuse the Imperial and Soviet, however contradictory this might seem.”

    On the one hand we have official (often as Mannerhem’s case shows us very thoughtless) revival of “Russia That We Have Lost” ™ by the government of Russia. On the other hand we have initiatives to commemorate Stalin, coming from ordinary people, unaffected by decades of libelous de-stalinization. How can the 2 be compared? Oh, I forgot – the enlightened Western public do not consider it as something done by the much cherished “civil society” when:

    1) People sue the authorities to put down Mannerheim’s plaque.
    2) Use their own money to build a bust for Stalin.

    No-no! This is too… unhandshakable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That would be culture minister Vladimir Medinsky and recently dismissed presidential chief of staff Sergei Ivanov. So clearly Mannerheim had some official backing.

      But one should be cautious about then contrasting that with Stalin, and making it out that the Stalin bust is a reflection of the wishes of the ‘people’. It’s a reflection of the wishes of some people; others have expressed their opposition, defaced it with red paint, and petitioned the court to have the bust removed.

      Still, the contrast does demonstrate the Stalinist revival is driven from the bottom up rather than the top down, and so undermines the narrative much favoured by many commentators that the ‘Putin regime’ is promoting the rehabilitation of Stalin. It’s preferences, I think, are more Imperial, or perhaps as Weir argues, in favour of a mixture of everything, merging all the ‘good’ bits it thinks it can find in the Imperial and Soviet, in an effort to please everybody.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. One point of interest is that Putin laid flowers at Mannerheim’s grave in Finland back in 2001. So there’s some precedent.

        I once met the owner of a tourist hostel in Moscow named after Napoleon. I wondered why he would name it after the guy who burned the city down. Apparently his business wasn’t suffering, but I suspect most of his visitors were foreigners.

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      2. “But one should be cautious about then contrasting that with Stalin, and making it out that the Stalin bust is a reflection of the wishes of the ‘people’. It’s a reflection of the wishes of some people”

        That “some” encompasses quite a lot. Just google for “recent monuments to Stalin in Russia”. Every one of them erected by private citizens often facing the resistanc of local liberasts and authorities. I.e. all those new monuments to Stalin are products of Russian civil society.

        Who built lavishly opulent and shamelessly flattering Yeltsin Center in my native Yekateringburg? Authorities! Current powers that be still remain generally anti-Sovietist. The chief difference from Yeltsin’s period is that they are no longer rabidly, nihilisticly anti-Soviet to the level of Russophobia (which makes kreakls, artistci intelligentzia and kvetching oppos sad andgry) – they are trying to draw heavily on “Russia that we Have Lost” ™ while keeping trashing the USSR. Just look on what kind of movies and cultural programs Ministry of Culture allocates funds.

        All this is done ultimately for one thing only – to build a new narrative, that’d make questioning the results of the economic rapine and plunder of Russia known as the “Privatization” unthikable by the people. Because, what – you want the return of the spooky totalitarian USSR? Despite governments best efforts (and thanks to their numerous goofs like with Mannerheim’s plaque) most of Russians don’t sway in this direction.

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      3. “I once met the owner of a tourist hostel in Moscow named after Napoleon. I wondered why he would name it after the guy who burned the city down.”

        1) You are comparing events that happened more than 200 years ago with what happened in humans living memory.

        2) There is no comparison between an atrocity (starving big city to death) and act of petty spite, which resulted in miniscule amount of deaths (nearly everyone evacuated Moscow before Napoleon marched into).

        How can you see no difference between Napoleon and Nazis (and thie allies and collaborators) is beyond me.

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      4. “How can you see no difference between Napoleon and Nazis (and thie allies and collaborators) is beyond me”

        Well, Good Lord, aren’t we touchy today.

        Of course I see a difference between Napoleon and Nazis, how you got that conclusion out of my post is beyond *me*. I think we can conclude however, that both were bad for Russia, but in different ways.

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  2. Mannerheim did have a long and distinguished career in the Imperial Russian Army, when the October Revolution came he was commanding the 6th Cavalry Corps near Odessa.
    He was certainly no friend of the Bolsheviks – he made his way from Odessa back to Finland, and then directed the Whites in the Civil War – but he nearly quit when he learned the Finnish Government had invited German intervention in the War, and did try to rein in some of the worst revenge atrocities after the War.
    Mannerheim brought harm to Leningrad in the Continuation War? The Karelian Army did advance on Leningrad in the summer of 1941, but only to recover the land that had been lost during the Winter War. Finland was neither equipped nor inclined to push hard and besiege Leningrad from the north as the Germans wanted them to do; once they reached good defensive ground they stopped in that area of the front and didn’t move until June 1944 when the Soviet offensive started. Before that time Finland had been looking for a way out of the war; if the peace offers the Soviets made in 1943 had been less harsh, they might have made a separate peace.
    In any event, this certainly does look like an attempt to make a retroactive Russian war hero out of a recalcitrant Finn.

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    1. “He was certainly no friend of the Bolsheviks”

      He was certainly no friend of the Russians.
      He was certainly enemy of any Russian –
      Bolsheviks and anti-Bolsheviks alike . In Vyborg in 1918 of Finnish nationalists led by Mannerheim massacred Russian population. Mannerheim fighters kill all Russian indiscriminately. They killed women, they killed children

      t’s a shame that such a plaque appeared in St. Petersburg

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    2. First of all “white finns” headed by Mannerheim conducted mass killings of ethnic Russians during Finnish civil war.

      Second it’s a bullshit about recovering territory and stopping at that. The main Finnish ambition between independence and WWII was always “Great Finland” with large chunks of USSR appropriated. So they did advance in every direction they can and as far as they can, building and populating concentration camps in the process and starving to death tens of thousands of soviet POWs and civilians.

      Mannerheim may have not been the biggest enthusiast among Finnish government for all that, but he doesn’t even have a defense of “just following orders” like Hitler could (complicated reference).

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    1. “Can’t different narratives co-exist? Ronald Reagan the idiot and Ronald Reagan the saint. The war of northern aggession and the war for ending slavery. Protests against the Columbus Day…”

      If your aim is to tear down the society, then – yes!

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      1. Than the country I live in would have collapsed long time ago.

        Yet despite many social conflicts it still lives on and generally prospers.

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      2. “Than the country I live in would have collapsed long time ago.

        Yet despite many social conflicts it still lives on and generally prospers.”

        It’s actually an illusion that different views co-exist equally in the States. One rather telling demonstration that one view dominates over the opposite one was when the former Dixieland states were told to remove Confederate flags. And there are many other examples showing that there is indeed one dominant narrative, and all other alternatives are relegated to the fringe of no importance at all.

        Unfortunately, this sistem is less than perfect in dealing with new controversies and conflicting narratives which are no less toxic – i.e. “Black Lives Matter” vs “Blue Lives Matter”.

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  3. Narely a week goes by without attempts to vandalize and destroy Mannerheim’s plaque in St. Peterspurg:

    Meanwhile the authorities of Surgut proved themveselves handshakabke and dismantled Stalin’s bust. Which, naturally, raises LOTS of question among the Russians – with whom are the authorities?

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