Wall of Grief

Yesterday (30 October), Vladimir Putin attended the unveiling of the ‘Wall of Grief’, a monument erected in Moscow to the victims of communist repression. This is the third major such monument constructed in Moscow this year, the other two being the Sretenskii Monastery (about which I wrote earlier) and a memorial at the former Butovo firing range.

You might imagine that these strong signals of disapproval of communism would have some effect on how the media represents Putin and the state he leads. For instance, you might imagine headlines like ‘Putin condemns Stalinism’, or ‘Russian state turns it back on communist past’, combined with some analysis of how this connects to other similar official condemnations of the Soviet Union. Well, if so you’d be wrong. For the most part, Western media haven’t bothered covering the story at all, but let’s look at those which have.

Reuters sets the tone with the headline, ‘Putin opens monument to Stalin’s victims; dissidents cry foul,’ and with an opening paragraph declaiming that, ‘President Vladimir Putin inaugurated a monument to the victims of Stalinist purges on Monday, but Soviet-era dissidents accused him of cynicism at a time when they say authorities are riding roughshod over civil freedoms.’ At the very end of its article, Reuters takes pains to tell us:

Monuments and memorial plaques honoring Stalin have sprung up in different Russian regions. State-approved textbooks have softened his image, and an opinion poll in June crowned him the country’s most outstanding historical figure. By contrast, those who have helped document Stalin’s crimes, from the Memorial human rights group to individual historians and journalists, have sometimes felt themselves under pressure from the authorities. A group of Soviet-era dissidents published a letter on Monday, accusing Putin of cynicism. ‘We … consider the opening in Moscow of a monument to victims of political repression untimely and cynical,’ they said in the letter, published on the Kasparov.ru news portal. ‘It’s impossible to take part in memorial events organized by the authorities who say they are sorry about victims of the Soviet regime, but in practice continue political repression and crush civil freedoms.’

The BBC takes its cue from Reuters. It gives a factual headline, ‘Wall of Grief. Putin opens first Soviet victims memorial.’  But, after presenting the basic story, the BBC then cites the same group as Reuters, telling us that ‘critics accused him [Putin] of continuing political repression and “crushing civil freedoms.” A group of dissidents from the Soviet era wrote to a news website that they considered the event to be “untimely and cynical”.’ The BBC notes that Putin said that, ‘An unequivocal and clear assessment of the repression will help to prevent it being repeated,’ and that, ‘This terrible past must not be erased from our national memory and cannot be justified by anything.’ But it then qualifies this by finishing with the words, ‘In June, President Vladimir Putin warned that Russia’s enemies were “demonising” Stalin excessively. Under his rule, the Soviet victory over the Nazis has become central to a new ideology of Russian greatness.’ As with Reuters, a story about Putin condemning the crimes of Stalinism thus gets turned around and becomes a story about Putin ‘crushing civil freedoms’ and indirectly promoting the Stalin cult.

Next we have Deutsche Welle, which gives us the headline ‘With new Wall of Grief, Russia grapples with Soviet crimes.’ This starts off with a paragraph saying, ‘As some worry that Josef Stalin is being rehabilitated in Russia’s collective memory, a new monument to his victims has opened in Moscow. Survivors of his reign of terror are not convinced that it’s enough.’ It then recounts the opinion of Tatiana Nikolskaya, whose mother was imprisoned under Stalin, who says that she doesn’t like the Wall of Grief very much and complains that state compensation for Stalin’s victims has been ‘virtually nonexistent.’ Deutsche Welle, like the others, then turns the story around and tells us:

The unveiling of the Wall of Grief comes amid a period of rehabilitation of Stalin’s legacy. A bust of Stalin was erected this year on Moscow’s Alley of Rulers, glorifying the dictator alongside President Putin’s other predecessors. In an interview earlier this year, Putin said foreign enemies had used the ‘excessive demonization of Stalin’ to attack Russia. And that message from the top seems to be having an effect on Russia’s collective memory.

Deutsche Welle also takes care to note that in his speech at the unveiling of the Wall of Grief, Putin ‘stopped short of mentioning Stalin by name.’ The implication is clear – Putin isn’t really anti-Stalin at all. By contrast, the newspaper approvingly cites Ksenia Sobchak as saying that Stalin was ‘unequivocally a bloody hangman and criminal’. In this way, we are left with no doubt as to newspaper’s preferred Russian presidential candidate.

It’s interesting to see how this works. Putin unveils a monument to Stalin’s victims, but Western reporting doesn’t focus on that, nor link it to other memorials which repudiate communism (Butovo, Sretenskii, etc), but instead uses the event as what journalists call a ‘hook’ to write a story about political repression under Putin and the Russian state’s alleged rehabilitation of Stalin. And the sources it cites are the likes of Sobchak and Kasparov.ru, who represent a tiny and extreme fringe of Russian public opinion. Unfortunately, this is all too typical of how Russia is reported. Caveat Emptor, as the saying goes; or to put it another way, let the reader beware.

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17 thoughts on “Wall of Grief”

    1. Well, give us an example. In what language. I receive almost all of my news in the French language, and read the European publications. I am unaware of any difference.

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  1. Interestingly enough some other english language sources twist condemnation of political repressions to represent condemnation of communism.

    It’s always easy to predict what spin those “english language sources” put on things.

    N’est-ce pas? =)

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  2. Well, DW has a point – Putin pointedly avoided naming Stalin, or the NKVD, or… so you get phrases like “the repressions spared noone”, and “millions of people were declared enemies of the people.”

    One naturally wonders, who was it that spared noone? What entity declared enemies of people? Did it just happen naturally? Through God? Maybe enemies of the people declared themselves. Hell if I know, listening to Putin’s speech.

    This is like a Jew saying that “millions of Jews were exterminated” and that the “Holocaust spared noone.” Without bothering to mention Nazis or Hitler or Einsatzgruppen.

    Ah, but Putin did explain his omission after all: “Но это не значит – призывать к сведению счетов. Нельзя снова подталкивать общество к опасной черте противостояния.” (But that does not mean calling attention to accounts. You can not again push society to a dangerous point of confrontation.) That same old “don’t rock the boat” spiel.

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    1. He is actually right, because NKVD was not spared either. No one was spared except Stalin himself. Molotov even lost his wife, if I recall correctly. No one was safe.

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      1. “No one was safe.”

        Except lierally 95+% of country’s population. And – no, Molotov “lost” no one. She did not “disappear”.

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    2. In response to this :

      “What I did say is that the imperial elites who grew up under “Faith, Tsar, Fatherland” values were far less rapacious and far more patriotic than the late sovok elites who grew up under “Soviet values””

      What a stinking pile of bullshit.

      Honestly, Tolya, I have to wonder – what’s more in your modus operandi? Laziness, stupidity or just bitter dogmatism, which forces you to lie constantly and with gusto? What, you think regurgitating all the myths popular among the French bread crunching neo-aristos will bring you feeling of belonging, of relevance? So far it only paints you even more incompetent than you (usually) are.

      It were no blood y Bolsheviks who noted – very perceptively – that «Русь слиняла за два дня». It was the “elitarii” who took control of the country after the February Revolution – “people with good faces”, excellent pedigrees, well fed and educated members of the (quite often – hereditary) elite. Baron P.N. Wrangel, who’s immediate commander sent him to Petrograd with a tearful letter asking new powers that be to stop their madness and “Order №1”, describes post-February Petrograd elite thusly:

      “The first thing that struck me in Petersburg was the huge number of red bow-knots that adorned almost everyone. They were seen not only on the unbuttoned overcoats of the soldiers without weapons, on the clothes of male and female students, taxi drivers and carriage cabbies staggering through the streets, but also on dapper civilians and a considerable number of officers. There were elegant carriages with coachmen, decorated with red ribbons, their owners having red bow-knots pinned on the fur coats. I personally saw several old, well-deserved generals who did not disdain to decorate a uniform coat with a fashionable revolutionary color. Among others I met was one of the members of the Emperor’s suite, also adorned with a red bow; [Nicholas II] monograms had been torn from his epaulettes; I could not help but express to him my perplexity to see him in this form. He was obviously embarrassed and tried to laugh: “What to do, I’m only dressed according to the form – this is a new uniform…” Many had overdone with cowardice, recreancy and servility to the new rulers. All these days I constantly walked around the city on foot in general’s uniform with the monograms of the Heir the Tsesarevich on shoulder straps (and, of course, without a red bow-knot) and for all this time had not a single collision.

      This cowardice and lackey servility of the Russian society was clearly manifested in the early days of the Troubles, and not only soldiers, junior officers and petty officials, but the people nearest to the Emperor and the members of the Imperial Family were an example. From the first hours of danger, the Emperor was abandoned by all. In the terrible hours experienced by the Empress and the Tsar’s Children in Tsarskoe, none of those close to the Royal Family hurried to help them. Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich himself brought the Guards sailors to the Duma and hastened to “appear” before M.V. Rodzianko. In a number of newspapers there appeared “interviews” of the Grand Dukes Kirill Vladimirovich and Nikolai Mikhailovich, where they most dishonorably defamed the renunciant Tsar., No one could read these interviews without indignation.”

      Oh, and speaking about Wrangel. Excellent pedigree – a noble clan that dates back at least to early 13 c., which have served in the militaries of several countries – including Russia. A crème de la crème of the “elite breeding”, indeed! His grandfather – Egor (Georgiy) Ermolayevich Wrangel served in leib-guard, fought in several wars, was awarded (several times) and wounded. Upon resigning he resorted to the typical “capital building” of ½ XIX c. Russian noble – he married well and amassed several big estates all across Russia.

      His son (and the “black baron’s” father) Nicolay Georgievich was rather typical member of the noble class of the early post “Great Reforms” Russia – he was a sybarite, gambler, man of art and letters, who travelled extensively abroad for education, sights and games of chances (during which he could afford himself to bet and loose up to 150 000 rubles at once). He never properly (let alone illustriously) served, instead preferring to squander the remaining wealth which he inherited upon this or that “start-up enterprise” – which nearly always resulted in disaster. What became a straw to break a proverbial camel’s back were his murky dealings when he took upon himself an obligation to supply foodstuffs to the Russian Army during the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78. He failed to do that and blew away 5 million rubles. What happened next he described in his own memoirs (which, arguably, are of better style than his son’s):

      “I was absolutely ruined and found myself without money, and, meanwhile, my wife was with a child. I hoped that I could partly compensate for the losses due to the money that I had to get from the treasury for the losses incurred… Thanks to my contacts, I managed to get a quick investigation into this case: it was decided in my favor and closed. The commission, engaged in this case, admitted that my losses should be compensated. It was decided to give me an amount of five thousand rubles with kopecks. But it was good that the case did not take years and ended indescribably fast. “Connections” in Russia are everything.

      Indeed, they were – a corporate solidarity among the nobles was everything. Not personal talents or achievements – connections. If you failed somewhere – don’t try harder. Find the right connection and use it. That’s, btw, what Wrangel’s father did next – again:

      “[A]fter all the excitement and adventure, I wanted to rest and calm down. I did not talk about my failure with anyone. Moreover, I was surprised to receive a letter soon after all these events from [admiral] Chikhachev, who was never in correspondence with me. He wrote to me that the Azov office of the Russian Society of Shipping and Trade urgently needs an energetic and skilful person to represent the company, and asked me if I would agreed to become a representative of the company in Rostov-on-Don. The conditions suited me, I accepted the offer and had to start work in a few months.”

      Thus, the great descendant of the mighty and heroic Wrangels ended up in a provincial city having a cushy job, the most “thrilling” experience in his career – running for the post of Rostov’s mayor (and losing).

      “Protektsia” worked for Piotr Wrangel in his career climbing as well. He became enlisted into famous cavalry leib-guard (“kavalargard”) regiment because all his ancestors had a place reserved there. Again, through connections and the simple fact that his last name was “Wrangel”, he accomplished several feats of proper “connection massaging”: in one year he turned officer, then resigned, then re-apped in order to participate in the Russo-Japanese War (he fought alongside another great and loyal member of Russian imperial nobility – one with the last name Skoropadsky), amassing ranks and medals. He participated in punitive actions in Siberia in 1906. In August 1907 he married an rich heiress, an imperial lady-in-waiting Olga Mikhailovna Ivanenko, which brought a necessary infusion of funds for a dashing capitol dwelling leib-guard officer, plus several estates, owned by his fiancé’s family – one of which was in Austro-Hungary.

      In emigration neither Wrangel, nor anyone one of his children managed to recoup their losses and with their own hard work achieve the same status and wealth as they had before. And they were the lucky ones – other members of the White emigration, both people with “big names” and ordinary ones, fell into complete penurity. Why? Because the aristocracy lost it’s network of connection – the chief thing that allowed it to retain its higher level of wealth.

      What you did? You talked out of your ass, Tolya. I know – one can confuse, especially when it’s you who’s talking, but there is a difference. You can’t make ballsy claims and expect the people to take you word for it. Maybe your own net-hamsters, who take your “wisdom” as unquestionably zealous as Navalny ones. You claim that Ksyushad’s is right and there was, indeed, the “genocide” of the best and brightest – go and prove it. It requires time and effort, it requires research and ability to work, and not just your tried and tested method of “пальцем в небо”. Once again – where are comprehensive statistical data? Where is analysis? Where is number crunching? Do this or STFO, you, tit.

      Try again. You proved nothing, Tolya.

      “Many more of them ended up emigrating to the United States eventually.”

      Ah, yes – poor darlings and innocent lambs, brought to the US, fed and furnished – and in some cases provided a cushy job on the Radio Free Europe. Operation “Paperclip” and it derivatives.

      “The family of one girl I knew first went to Manchuria, then to Brazil, then to the USA. This was not atypical. How many of them must have moved on from Germany during the 1930s alone, or after the war.”

      Whether it was atypical or not determines not you but statistic.

      “By the same token, I hope you understand why some people consider commies to be a dangerous den of vipers, and recommend free helicopter rides as a prophylactic against their democidal zealotry.”

      Oh, cut the crap! Should I make innuendo about hanging the whole lot of rightward bastards on city squares like we, the Soviet people, did to Vlasov as well?

      Because this is the hottest “meme” for the semi-closeted neo-Nazis like you, who are finding justification in their pathetic violent urges targeted at acceptable (for liberal and handshakable public) demographic. You, Nazis of all stripes, were judged and punished. You are the scum of the Earth. You are not normal. You, Tolya, if you support Nazism, even “ironic” one, as, according to you is the norm among the Western rightwards, is the scum. Not me. And, hopefully, not your parents, who grew up and received their (free, excellent, top level) education in the country of USSR.

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  3. We Krauts are free to have an opinion, we are not however entitled to pretend that our opinion is better or more handshakeable or whatever.
    I am not exactly a fan of Deutsche Welle.

    As far as my own opinion of Stalin goes:

    1: I am less then impressed with his leadership in Operation Barbarossa. He made the cardinal mistake of mistaking his own Propaganda as fact, as well as massively misreading Hitlers intentions. This was despite having fairly accurate information about German troop numbers.

    2: His efficiency as a war leader improved during the war. With Hitler it was the opposite.

    3: There is a considerable variance between the strategies various Soviet Generals (Zhukov, interestingly not Rokosovsky) claimed to have employed in WW2 (the claim is that they learned to focus on one front, and abandoned the broad front strategy, archival research by Glantz et al. shows that they were actually running broad front approaches throughout the entire war) and what they actually did. To me, it seems that, having been through World War 2 they post facto realized a better option, and then convinced themselfs that they did just that.

    4: Stalin was a dictator, and clearly in charge. In the context of World War 2, this was a good thing. Having a plan and following it beats not having a plan, or having several plans, or the massive mess German actual command was, even if the plan is not optimized.

    5: His achievments in moving industry to the Urals were incredible.

    6: As far as purges go: I think, and Konstantin Rokososvky is pretty much my crown witness here, that he purged too many. One should note that there were no Quislings in the USSR, the Vlassov army was given a choice between fighting for the Germans and a KZ, which is different from being a Quisling. There were Quislings in the parts of the WW2 Soviet Union which were no affected by purges, meaning the Baltic states and Galicia. As such we can quite plausibly argue that the purges did reduce the population of possible Quislings to a very low level.
    I would however state that the price in military potential wasted was too high. This is monday morning quarterbacking though. Given Stalins nature and personality, I would strongly expect someone like him to “overpurge”.

    7: I cannot claim to know how much slower the USSR would have industrialized without Stalin forcing this industrialization as strongly as he did (with the quite sizeable costs incurred in terms of famines). I simply lack the relevant expertize. My gut feeling, which may be quite wrong, is that the whole process could have been run more efficiently. In particular, it should have been possible to make economic use of the Kulaks rather then kill them.

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  4. Ezekiel 18:19-20 ESV / 291 helpful votes

    “Yet you say, ‘Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father?’ When the son has done what is just and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.

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