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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Soviet War Memorials and the Men Who Made Them


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I attended this talk yesterday and thought some may be interested in some of the comments made in relation to GW:


Soviet War Memorials and the Men Who Made Them

Mischa Grabowski
A public lecture organised by the Beyond the Cold War: Toward a Community of Asia project. CRASSH, University of Cambridge. 29 May 2018.


Alone among European countries, the Soviet Union did not commemorate World War I, a conflict it considered bourgeois and imperialist. Yet by the end of World War II, monuments to the heroism of Red Army soldiers were being erected from Berlin to Pyongyang that looked a lot like the earlier European models. Why did Soviet war memorials follow classical examples, eshewing any avant-garde influence? And why are so many more being built today in a style that often strikes foreign observers as being bombastic and antiquated – most recently at Russia's new national cemetery outside Moscow? To answer these questions, this lecture will look at the evolution of Russian military art from pre-revolutionary times to today. It will focus particularly on the crucial role of Marshal Kliment Voroshilov, the celebrated military and political leader who was also the Soviet Union's most powerful patron of the arts, and his network of artistic clients: a male-only coterie of sculptors, architects and painters who despised modernist, non-figurative art, were often conservative and nationalistic, and established the army as a reliable source of commissions that allowed them to circumvent regular artistic institutions.

The lecture would be of particular interest to specialists in Russian/Soviet history, military history, memory studies as well as the history of art and architecture. It would also be of interest to a general audience interested in soviet history and art.

The speaker, Mischa Gabowitsch, is a contemporary historian and sociologist specialising in Soviet war memorials, and the study of protest and social movements in Russia. He is a research fellow at the Einstein Forum in Potsdam, Germany and the author/editor of several books in English, German and Russian.



A few notes and some references I found since the talk which may be of interest.

  • Focus primarily on the role of patron-client network (Old boys network) with Marshal Kliment Voroshilov, and the influence of key artist and his first client Mitrofan Grekov (a figurative painter and military artist) - they both dominated military art in a short time and bypassed the traditional power of art institutions. 
  • No evidence Stalin involved in decision making concerning military war memorials.
  • Russia not influenced so much by the cult of WWI (culture of mourning' (Winter)/ culture of remembrance) though some people in the Soviet art world were connected with it such as Armando Brasini (1879-1965).
  • Creation of Federal Military Memorial Cemetery, 2013 (by Major General Alexander Kirilin) - art commissioned from Grekov Studio of Military Art/ists (founded by Voroshilov (1934))  Initially, an attempt to copy  Arlington model - but egalitarian approach seemingly dropped for Soviet imperial style and reserved mainly for top brass (marshals and their spouses)  - rank and file veterans of Afghanistan war etc have been denied burial places.
  • Whilst Western military cemeteries are generally egalitarian those of socialist regimes are hierachical! Those with past and present US military presence (e.g., South Korea, Philippines etc.) follow Anglo-American style of remembrance - landscaped with upright memorial stones - all the same on the whole and where rank does not play a role.  In contrast, the Revolutionary model of socialist regimes (e.g., North Korea,  Zimbabwe etc.) which are ostensively all for equality but in fact project strong hierarchy on national cemeteries. In North Korea now a struggle between two styles. 
  • Many of military monuments in these socialist countries  (e.g., Namibia, Senegal, Egypt, etc.) have been constructed by Mansudae Overseas Projects, a construction company based in Pyongyang, North Korea. 
  • Repatriation of WWI fallen - Soviet Union no policy of repatriation unlike Japanese and Americans.
  • March of Immortal Regiments - now includes online sharing of personal stories and has spread far and wide...


A few references of interest:

Russia’s Arlington? The Federal Military Memorial Cemetery near Moscow by Mischa Gabowitsch

Restoration by volunteers of Russian WWI fallen in Germany - e.g., The Russian Cemetery in Frankfurt.

Popa, G. War Dead and the Restoration of Military Cemeteries in Eastern Europe..
History and Anthropology,  2013, 24 (1) : 78-97, DOI: 10.1080/02757206.2012.759325

Pałosz, J.  The Military Cemetery as a Form of the Cult of the Fallen Soldier: The History of the Idea and Its Destruction on the Example of Austro-Hungarian Cemeteries in “Russian Poland”.


See also http://www.enrs.eu/studies/studies6 (special issues on GW centenary)




Edited by TGM
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