Unraveling the threads of history: Soviet-era monuments and post-Soviet national identity in Moscow

  • Forest B
  • Johnson J
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Abstract

This article explores the formation of postSoviet Russian national identity through a study of political struggles over key Sovietera monuments and memorials in Moscow during the critical juncture in Russian history from 1991 through 1999. We draw on the work of Pierre Bourdieu and Pierre Nora to explain how competition among political elites for control over the sites guided their transformation from symbols of the Soviet Union into symbols of Russia. By coopting, contesting, ignoring, or removing certain types of monuments through both physical transformations and commemorative maintenance, Russian political elites engaged in a symbolic dialogue with each other and with the public in an attempt to gain prestige, legitimacy, and influence. We make this argument through case studies of four monument sites in Moscow: Victory Park (Park Pobedy), the Lenin Mausoleum, the former Exhibition of the Achievements of the National Economy (VDNKh), and the Park of Arts (Park Isskustv). In the article, we first discuss the role of symbolic capital in the transformation of national identity. Following an examination of the political struggles over places of memory in Moscow, we analyze the interplay between elite and popular uses of the monuments, exploring the extent to which popular reading of the sites limits the ability of elites to manipulate their meaning. We conclude by looking at the Russian case in comparative perspective and exploring the reasons behind the dearth of civic monuments in postSoviet Russia. ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR

Author-supplied keywords

  • Monuments and memorials
  • National identity
  • Places of memory
  • Russia
  • Symbolic capital

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Authors

  • Benjamin Forest

  • Juliet Johnson

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