Cultural Revolutions

Sources of Contention

Cultural symbols are sources of contention everywhere. In Russia, a squabble over a monument rings a bell with this proud Southerner. The powerful Communist (CPRF) faction in the Duma recently raised the question of returning "Iron Feliks" Dzerzhinsky, the Soviet Unions first secret policeman, to his pedestal facing the Lubyanka, the one-time home of the KGB. The uproar that followed shows that old wounds have not entirely healed. To some Russians, "Iron Feliks" symbolizes the murderers of their ancestors. For others, he is a symbol of order, something sorely lacking in the new Russia. For still others, even many CPRF voters, a continued respect for Soviet-era symbols does not extend to "Iron Feliks." The Lenin mummy, yes. The traditional Victory Day parade, complete with the Red Banner of Victory, yes. But "Iron Feliks"—well, he was a Pole anyway. CPRF diehards have moved on.

The Russian squabble tells us much about the power of symbols within a divided nation that, like our own, is in the midst of an identity crisis. Most Russians readily accept many Soviet symbols, particularly those related to the Great Patriotic War. Efforts to preserve Victory Day and World War Il-era Soviet symbols on buildings and monuments are not necessarily an endorsement of communism, but an attempt to ensure that the banners Russians fought under will not be desecrated. If an old war veteran proudly waves...

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