Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Russian Ramblings

Pictured above is the Solovetsky monastery in Russia. The monastery is a UNESCO world heritage site and is located on its own island in northern Russia (think very isolate and extremely cool). Perfect place for a gulag right? Yes, yes it was. Once of the most famous and terrible as well.
Above is Lubyanka Square on October 30th, the memorial day for victims of the gulag. The building in the background is the KGB headquarters and the monument for the victims is a stone brought from the Solovetsky monastery.
Same day. Outside of Moscow in Butovo. Thousands were taken there and short during the purges. Putin taking part of the memorial service. He looks bored doesn't he?

I was sort of amazed Putin even attended considering how he glorifies the Soviet Union. It is one of the great oddities Russian politics that the Russian president can be mourning the brutally murdered victims of the Soviet machine, and presiding over soldiers dresses in Soviet uniforms the next.

Perhaps it is naive to think either one genuine. Still it amazes me that even with so many reminders even the most brutal figures of the Soviet period. About half of Russians think Stalin did more good than harm (in the words of my Russian teaches this past summer "he kept order and life was good") and the figure has been growing over the past decade. The really peculiar element is that almost all Russian families were touched by the purges (another teacher bragged about her father having died in a famous prison and then later about her own party membership).

Still it seems to me that the treatment of the past seems an important indication of a country's future. The Kremlin recently released an approved history text glorifying the Soviet Union and playing down its short comings. I am hesitant to get on the bad wagon that Russia is turning back into what it was as I think it is a dangerous over simplification. Still, I think there is dangerous trend of playing down the importance of the individual whether it was the sacrifice of the individual in the gulag for the supposed common good, or further stigmatization of political opposition and any distinguishing elements of the individual (ethniciy, religion sexuality).

Anyway, if you are still interested this video is quite enlightening especially if you are American.

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