January 01, 2017

History Through the Eyes of Three Monuments

When new busts of Joseph Stalin started popping up in Russia in 2015, one might have thought people had seen it all. But 2016 marked a new era in modern monument history. First, a monument to a different tyrant, Tsar Ivan the Terrible, appeared in Oryol (see page 46), and, unlike Stalin, the medieval murderer was being honored in this way for the first time. Second, a giant monument to Prince Vladimir – the official symbol of Christian Rus’ and President Putin’s namesake – was unveiled just across from the Kremlin (see page 47).

While no one knows yet where this is all going and what role the new monuments will play in Russian urban life, we decided to look back at a few famous monuments that have become symbols of past eras.

In the evening of October 25, 1917, as Bolsheviks stormed the imperial palace in Petrograd, a spectacular benefit concert took place in Moscow starring Alexander Vertinsky, a renowned Russian modernist singer who performed as the tragic character Pierrot. Just past midnight, having washed off his makeup, he was making his way home with friends in a convoy of three horse-drawn cabs, holding the flowers that had been thrown onto the stage. As they passed Strastnoy Monastery, the shooting started. The cab drivers stopped and said they would not go any further. The singer headed home on foot, but before he did, he asked someone to deliver his flowers to the Pushkin monument.

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