MOSCOW — Tuesday marks the centenary of the Russian Revolution, one of the most important political events of the 20th century. Yet President Vladimir Putin’s government barely acknowledges this – apparently because anything to do with “revolution” hits too close to home.
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin had no intention of commemorating the centenary, which ushered in seven decades of communist rule. “What’s there to celebrate?” Pravda.ru quoted him as saying.
Some scholars say that a government that has increasingly suppressed political freedoms does not want to implant the idea of revolt in its citizens.
“There was no way to pretend the centenary didn’t exist, but the last thing an authoritarian regime feeling its foundations faltering wants to do is celebrate revolution,” said political pundit Mark Galeotti. and Russian Security at the Institute of International Relations. in Prague.
While Putin has recently embraced nationalist fervor and yearns for the days when Russia was a superpower before the collapse of the Soviet state in 1991, he has recently become critical of repression under communist rule.
He called the breakup of the Soviet Union the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century”, but last year accused the leader of the revolution Vladimir Lenin of setting a “ticking time bomb” under the state Russian.
“This terrible past must not be erased from our national memory and cannot be justified by anything,” Putin said Oct. 30 at the unveiling of the Wall of Sorrow monument, which commemorates millions of victims of Soviet brutality.
University history graduate Andrei Galkin, who placed flowers on the monument, said Putin did not want people to feel empowered. “The revolution is the voice of the people and the people should have no voice,” he said.
Galkin, 22, whose great-great-grandfather was shot dead by Soviet authorities, said it was time the government paid attention to its own crackdown on activists and media critical of Putin’s regime. “They kept all the worst aspects, there are political prisoners,” he said.
There have recently been mass protests in support of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who plans to run against Putin in next year’s presidential elections despite government measures to bar him from voting. Navalny has been arrested several times and his supporters are regularly detained, beaten and harassed.
A still-active communist party holds its own commemorative events across the country and has criticized the Kremlin for ignoring the centenary.
“It is clear that celebrating or even seriously discussing this topic is undesirable for the Kremlin,” said Oleg Smolin, a senior party official. “For me, this is wrong: we should learn from past revolutions.”
Oleg Lebedev, another communist lawmaker, accused the Kremlin of acting like “an ostrich hiding its head in the sand”.
The Russian Revolution began in February 1917 with a mass revolt against the oppressive regime of the Tsarist dynasty and forced Nicholas II to abdicate in March.
A second revolution on November 7 (according to the modern Gregorian calendar) led by Vladimir Lenin overthrew the provisional government and transferred power to the soviets, or workers’ councils.
The revolution sparked a civil war that claimed millions of lives and ended in 1922 with the establishment of the Soviet government.
Soviet authorities celebrated the revolution every year with mass parades on November 7, but under Putin the holiday was changed to a politically neutral “Day of National Unity”.
“It’s our history, you can’t just erase it,” said Nadezhda Burova, 60, who attended the unveiling of the wall of mourning monument. “I don’t know if we should celebrate it, but we should commemorate it as something that transformed the lives of many generations.”
Public opinion is mixed on the legacy of the revolution: 34% of those polled said Russia did not need to dwell on it, while 44% said the country needed to know more to avoid to repeat mistakes, according to a March 2017 poll by the independent Levada Center.
“Today the Kremlin tends to view the Soviet period as complex but largely positive,” said Alexei Chesnakov, a former Kremlin official and director of the Moscow-based Center for Current Politics. “But the revolution is considered negative because it is a sudden political cataclysm that contradicts the conservative ideological trend that has taken hold in recent years.”