Monuments to czars and communists 100 years after revolution

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The ongoing debates about what to do with numerous Confederate monuments - To destroy? To remove? To keep? – make me think of what has happened to monuments of Russian Czars and Communist leaders, 100 years after the Russian Revolution of 1917.

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Saint Petersburg, Russia
Palace Embankment, Marble Palace
Photo by A.Savin

My trip last year to Russia was full of surprises. The first day, in St. Petersburg, I went to say hello to my old friend who works at the glamorous 18th century Marble Palace, which Catherine the Great built for one of her lovers. In the Soviet era, the Palace was used as the headquarters for the Lenin Museum. Then, proudly displayed in the courtyard of the museum’s main entrance, stood an old armored car, with a particular history attached to it. When Vladimir Lenin returned to Russia from his emigration in 1917, he stood on the top of this car and made his famous speech calling for revolution.

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Still from "Lenin Armored Car," relocated to Artillery Museum in Russia

This armored vehicle was still in the museum courtyard when I went to St. Petersburg in 1995. Though, the irony was that I went to the Marble Palace not to see the Lenin Museum, but to visit the Press and Culture offices of the American Consulate, occupying one of the floors of this Palace. Today, the armored vehicle is gone, but not destroyed. It can be seen as a historical artifact in the Artillery Museum in St. Petersburg.

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Monument to Russian Czar Alexander III by Paolo Troubetzkoy (1909)
in front of the Marble Palace in Saint Petersburg, Russia
Photo by Edward Goldman

And, you might wonder what was chosen to replace it in the courtyard of Marble Palace? Last year, to my surprise, I found there an equestrian sculpture of Russian Czar Alexander III. Once, this sculpture proudly stood in one of the city’s major squares. But, after the Revolution, it was removed, and stored out of sight in the State Russian Museum. It was the appropriate decision to remove but not destroy the sculpture, considering that it was made by an important Russian artist, Paolo Trubetskoy.

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The Bronze Horseman, Étienne Maurice Falconet, 1768 – 1782
St. Petersburg, Russia
Photo by Edward Goldman

Other monuments to Russian Czars in St. Petersburg, including the famous "Bronze Horseman" – the massive equestrian portrait of Peter the Great – have never been moved, and continue to serve as important historical and cultural records.

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Russia (Moscow) Fallen Monument Park
Photo by Güldem Üstün

In Moscow in the 1990s, after the Soviet Union collapsed, most of the public monuments to Lenin and other Communist leaders were removed from their original spots. Today, these Soviet Era monuments are displayed in a slightly surreal fashion in Fallen Monument Park. It is a good way to remember the painful and controversial era they represent – a valid way to study history.



Benjamin Gottlieb