Thursday, July 22, 2010

New Georgian Parliament Site Meant to Erase Russia from the Landscape

The Georgian way to extend Georgianess while erasing the Soviet/Russian legacy from the landscape/mindscape. Photo from Ria Novosti via Radio Free Europe.

A few years ago Estonia caused great controversy by removing a memorial to the World War II actions of the Soviet Union's Red Army. The moment gave a message of liberation while most Estonians feel the Red Army replaced one occupier with another. A cyberwar broke out as Russia claimed Estonia was altering history merely because of current geopolitical tension. This and other moves by former Soviets states to reevaluate the Soviet Union's role in World War II has greatly angered Russia. In fact, Russia is so angry that it has proposed that denying the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic's role as a "liberator" should be an international crime.

The latest battlefield over the Soviet World War II landscape is in Georgia. The pro-West, anti-Russian President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, and the parliament of Georgia decided the country needed two capitals, one presidential and one parliamentary, to demonstrate the separation of powers in Georgia. The city chosen was the second largest city, Kutaisi. The exact spot though was occupied by a massive Soviet World War II memorial dedicated to veterans and victims of the war. The memorial depicted a St. George-like figure slaying a German solider.

The fact that the memorial was built by the Soviets (who are mentally associated as Russians in the peoples' minds) trumped it's dedication to victims (of Hitler, not Stalin) of World War II. When the orders for demolition where given Russia and the anti-Saakashvili opposition protested the decision as pro-fascist and anti-Russian. Though Georgia fought a war against Russia in 2008 the opposition believes anti-Russian actions will only make matters worse. The pro-fascist claim was joined to a conspiracy theory that held Saakashvili did not morn the Soviet Georgian war dead (half of the 700,000 Soviet Georgians soldiers died during World War II) but instead supported the smaller pro-Nazi Georgian Legion. To add an even greater anti-Soviet/anti-Russian/pro-Georgian feeling the date picked for the demolition is Stalin and Saakashvili's birthday. There was no cyberwar but a mother and daughter died because the demolition was mishandled.

Russia is not taking the loss of their footprint on the cultural landscape in Georgia lying down. President Putin approved construction of a memorial for the memorial, named We Fought Together Against Fascism, on the highest point in Moscow, Poklonnaya Hill. To my knowledge this is the only case of a monument being built to remember another monument. However, I suspect that the true message of the monument is not one of unity in a common fight but instead will serve as a reminder of those who turned their back of Russia's sphere of influence and perspective of history. The new monument location will send the clear message on Russia's feelings towards history and those states that now wish to leave its orbit.

Side note: In part the destruction seems personal. The monument's sculptor Merab Berdzenishvili is a critic of Saakashvili who had another monument moved from downtown Tbilisi to the outskirts of the capital. An alternative, non-exclusive theory is that Saakashvili demolished the monument to erase the artist's artistic immortality.


Dan tdaxp said...

A fascinating post!

Rybu said...

What is to happen to Abkhazia and South Ossetia? Independence? Will that calm the relationship agnst between Russia and Georgia?

Catholicgauze said...

Well, Abkhazia and South Ossetia would say they are already independent (too which Georgia would reply "No you're not!"). But if more countries were to recognize I think it would reduce tension but increase resesment in Georgia towards Russia.

Besides the probable upcoming independence of South Sudan, the next violent indpendence hot spot (whether war or just angry mobs) I think will be the Serbian republic in Bosnia.

emoetria said...

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