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Saturday 2 February 2008

And now for something completely different!

Every community in Russia has a memorial but they are are almost exclusively a creation of the Great Patriotic War, 1941 - 45, during which the Soviet empire suffered a loss beyond parallel. The war museum in Moscow displays books of remembrance listing in excess of 26 million names of those known to have died and that is considered by many to be an underestimate, the figure might be 32 million.
Although more millions died during the Great War they have not, until recently, been commemorated. The only memorials from that era are those such as the one shown here which lists the names of four men from the village that preceded the industrial sprawl of Elektrostal who died fighting in the Red Army during the civil war.

The small park surrounding this obelisk commemorates the dead of 1941/45 and is pretty much representative of small town memorials. It is dominated by a female figure representative perhaps of a universal mother, or Mother Russia. Close by is a plinth upon which, I believe, are inscribed the names of men and women from the town who became Heroes of the Soviet Union. In front of these are six stainless steel artillery shells that contain soil from the six major battlefields of the second world war; Moscow, Leningrad, Stalingrad, Kursk, the Dnieper and Berlin. It is a convention to list the names of these and other sites of memory, such as Sebastopol, Vitebsk, Smolensk as part of a standard iconography.
The large letters above the steps read Pomnitye o nas - Remember Us -the universal sentiment of remembrance. The Red Star is also evident and since the collapse of the Soviet Union memorials such as this have had a small orthodox chapel added to one side. All memorials of any size have an eternal flame.

The vast numbers of dead preclude listing outside of the smallest villages. At Naginsk a community some miles from Elektrostal, numbers on the memorial describe a casualty rate of near to 50% from its total pre war populace. A staggering loss.

This vast conflict is still a major part of Russian consciousness. Kids go to summer school with the intent of disintering war dead from anonymous battlefield graves for re-burial. While there I visited a saturday market. Walking around I noticed a frail old man with a stick and a row of medals on his jacket. He was a veteran and it was rather moving to see the reverence with which people treated him, holding the crowds aside to facilitate his passage, softly greeting him and offering him tea.
Thanks for the translation Em x

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