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Issue #1586      March 20, 2013

Culture & Life

Forgetting the fallen

The Soviet Union bore the brunt of the fighting in the Second World War, liquidated the greatest percentage of fascist troops, and lost the largest number of casualties in defeating the Nazis. Twenty-six million Soviet citizens lost their lives at the hands of Hitler’s racist butchers.

Every male born in the USSR in 1921 was subsequently killed or seriously wounded in the Second World War. Every factory, every collective farm, every village lost people in the War.

After the defeat of Fascism, memorials to those who died were understandably erected everywhere, ranging from vast edifices like the statue of the Motherland at Stalingrad to small stele bearing the names of three or four soldiers or workers who distinguished themselves at a particular factory under air attack or in a fire-fight.

In Soviet times, these memorials to those who defended not just Russia but the world from fascist slavery were meticulously maintained, always kept supplied with flowers, and often given an honour guard of Interior Ministry troops or Komsomol members, depending on location and size of the memorial.

In post-Gorbachev Russia, however, the situation has changed dramatically. The maintenance of the memorials was always the responsibility of local or regional governments, or even of individual plants or factories. But with the Russian economy now firmly in the grip of private enterprise, whether a monument is cared for or not is purely a question of the wishes and consciousness of the local authorities.

In some regions, the wartime heroism and sacrifice of workers or military units there are still honoured and commemorated as of old. In others, where local authorities are more concerned with projects that will line their own pockets, memorials have fallen into decay or even been destroyed.

Among those destroyed is the former Mitrofanievskoye Cemetery in Leningrad, where the fallen defenders of the city during the siege were buried. It no longer exists. It has been replaced with a small concrete stele, but even that is reportedly in a neglected state.

A recent letter from a correspondent in the Ukraine to the British Communist weekly The New Worker listed numerous memorials in St Petersburg (formerly Leningrad) that have been damaged or neglected.

The Petrovsky Plant in Leningrad featured a monument to the workers who toiled there during the bombing. Many of them were killed but they continued at their lathes, they did not give in to the fascist invaders. The plant has been replaced by the “Ohta Centre”, and the memorial has been demolished.

“The old monuments erected in the Soviet Union to glorify the work of those hungry civil defenders who constructed the Road of Life to bring food to – and to carry children out of – besieged Leningrad … still stand. But they have been abandoned.

“The monument to the Red Army troops who broke the Nazi Blockade Ring needs repairing.” At the Kirov plant there is a memorial devoted to the plant’s workers who were killed in the War. It is in the form of a stele with dozens of names on it under the figure of a soldier and the famous words: “1941-1945. No one is forgotten and nothing is forgotten. Eternal glory to the heroes. Together with all of you, the Motherland won. You are kept in or hearts.”

But the plant has been closed and this monument too is under threat of destruction. “The list of forgotten war memorials around the city is very long. The bitterly known Sinyavin heights and swamps where the battles were really the hardest and the cadets’ tombs of 1941-42 are not cared for at all. The common grave in Pulkovo Heights is also in a neglected condition, some metal parts have been pulled down and it is covered in graffiti.”

Imagine the fuss the RSL would raise if that were allowed to happen to one of our war cemeteries.

Even some famous war relics have been allowed to decay almost beyond repair by the indifference of these post-Soviet “get yours while you can” local officials. The correspondent Irene Nechayeva writes: “The once preserved Tipanov pill-box is now a ruin. During the Great Patriotic War, Alexander Tipanov like thousands of YCL members repeated the feat of Alexander Matrosov; he covered the embrasure of an enemy pill-box with his body, [preventing the Nazi machine gunners from firing at the cost of his own life]. His courageous act allowed his detachment to advance and break the Nazi line. He was posthumously awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.”

As I said, the fate of many of the monuments and memorials to those who fell fighting Fascism depends now on the political will and consciousness of individual local government bodies across Russia. But if the new breed of “post Soviet” officials can ignore with impunity the decay and even destruction of war memorials, what hope is there for protecting the art works and relics of the Revolution?

The Russian government will not even support the upkeep of the Lenin Mausoleum – that has to be done by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation. Many relics of the Revolution have been sold off, others – like the Cruiser Aurora – have been shoved out of sight, there (like the war memorials) to lie neglected and hopefully forgotten.

But as the Soviet slogan says: “No one is forgotten. Nothing is forgotten.”  

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