Publication: Fortnight in Review Volume: 6 Issue: 10

The fortnight was highlighted by the inauguration of Vladimir Putin as Russian president and the 55th anniversary of Victory Day, commemorating the 1945 Nazi capitulation to Soviet forces. The thread which ran through both events was the Kremlin’s clear attempt to use them to forward its goal of consolidating power and society. Indeed, an almost schizophrenic quality pervaded both Putin’s inaugural address and his Victory Day speech to veterans and active duty soldiers. In the former, the head of state claimed that the transfer of power from his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, showed that Russia had become a “a truly modern democratic state.” Yet he also declared that Russians should “always remember those who created the Russian state, worked for its dignity, made it a powerful and mighty one.” He did not say exactly who these people were, but one had the uneasy feeling that he meant all of Russia’s past leaders, without the obvious exceptions.

This sense was heightened by Putin’s Victory Day speech, which he delivered against the backdrop of Lenin’s Tomb in Red Square. While the celebration was taking place, one of Putin’s supporters, Nikita Mikhalkov, who in 1994 directed and starred in the award-winning anti-Stalinist film “Burnt By the Sun,” even called for changing the name of the city of Volgograd back to Stalingrad. Mikhalkov, it is true, said such a step should be seen only as a way to honor the Soviet troops who had fought the Battle of Stalingrad, not to honor the Soviet dictator. Nonetheless, his comments contributed to the sense that the new ruling elite, in an effort create a fresh set of consolidating myths, was increasingly willing to break certain taboos commonly accepted since the collapse of communism, and even well before. Perhaps not accidentally, Russia’s Central Bank came out on May 5 with a commemorative coin which portrays Stalin sitting at the Potsdam conference with Britain’s Winston Churchill and U.S. President Harry Truman.