THE CITY AS A HISTORY BOOK
Stalin died on 5th. March 1953. The USSR and its allied nations entered a period of mourning characterised by mass grief and a sense of loss of direction.
A defining factor of the previous years was the keeping of the population in a state of perpetual unawareness, that is ‘not knowing’ a great many ‘everyday’ truths on which people rely in ‘everyday’ life.
Your husband was arrested two years ago and not a word since – where is he? Why did the police pick up your neighbour on Friday? Will you be arrested on Monday? Will someone come and take away your land and livestock tomorrow? Can you trust your best friend? Is that talkative man at the tram stop an informer, deliberately trying to provoke his fellow passengers into saying something potentially fatal?
The Bolshevik revolution had attempted to re-distribute wealth and power. It destroyed the former and gorged itself on the latter. Stalin’s revolution went one better: it demanded state control of everything, including fact itself.
The regime kicked away the individual’s psychological certainties that provide ‘normal’ countries with a confident, cohesive, creative population. Instead, the average citizen lived in an atmosphere of insecurity, confiding only in ever-decreasing circles of family and friends, afraid to do, say, make or even think anything arising from personal initiative. This was the outcome of removing the supporting pillar of knowledge from the edifice known as society.
The Stalinist Terror of the late 1930s claimed thousands of lives. It was a horrific, dark, sadistic period in our human history. It should be neither forgotten nor over-played. It must be recognised, studied, its victims remembered and its lessons learned by successive generations. Naturally it is not an episode of which the Russian State is at all proud, and the countries’ initiatives, designed to concentrate attention on more positive aspects of its history are sometimes incorrectly interpreted as a turn towards the ‘bad old days’ and an attempt to re-arrest the truth and hold it as a silent hostage.
The current installation at the Museum of Moscow was previewed on this year’s anniversary of Stalin’s death. It represents the culmination of a great deal of organisational, fund-raising and historical work by Alexandra Polivanova and Natalia Petrova at the ‘Memorial’ organisation in Moscow and the graphic design talents of Igor Gurovich and his bureau, Ostengruppe.
This work is evidence that the desire to remember and commemorate the victims of political repression is alive and being acted on in the city. It was created by the architect Sergei Sitar. The installation is an echo of political propaganda displays from times gone by. It contains photographs, written explanations and maps all pertaining to the period of the Terror in Moscow. We are told which of the Moscow buildings we pass by on a daily basis were the sites of those sad events. It is modest in its proportions and pretentions. There is a sense of deliberate understatement about the piece. At the opening preview, Sitar provided some telling commentary:
‘The events of the Terror were on a scale that is very difficult to reflect today.’
In its human dimensions and accessibility, this installation attracts attention without shouting, communicates without forcing, and raises the questions of the past without pointing accusatory fingers at the present.
Place: Courtyard, Museum of Moscow. Metro: Park Kultury