Understanding Putin: Why Russia didn't celebrate the Bolshevik Revolution's 100th anniversary


Unlike China, where November 7th is officially celebrated, or Belarus, where it is a civic holiday, Russia ignored the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. A military parade took place on Red Square yesterday but, officially, it was held to honor soldiers sent to the front during World War II, not to mark the revolution.

Vladimir Putin doesn’t care if some call him Secretary General or Czar. He wants to be seen as a strong leader regardless of his audience’s political preferences and as a populist, he exploits his country’s continuity with its Soviet past while simultaneously playing to a homo sovieticus that still runs deep within the Russian population. At the same time, he flirts with foreign-based monarchist unions organized by the offsprings of white emigres

The missing piece of the puzzle is how homo sovieticus and white emigres originally emerged. Both were products of the revolution — and to be more precise, of two revolutions.

The first dethroned Czar Nicholas II, prohibited political monopoly and brought to Russia civil liberties such as freedom of speech, religion and assembly. The second, the Bolshevik Revolution, banned these civil liberties and established the new era of the Soviet state.

The official history tends to mix up these two revolutions. Both are treated as a danger to the state and, because the contemporary Russian opposition is aiming to re-establish the rights brought by the first revolution, it’s hard to say which of them is a worse danger to the so-called stability of Putin’s regime.

Putin takes the topic of revolution personally. He still remembers crowds protesting outside the KGB headquarters in Dresden, East Germany, as he was burning  archives after hearing about the demolition of the Berlin Wall. The Arab Spring, Georgia and Ukraine — the most powerful example —  make him relive his past fear over and over again. This fear has heightened during the past 18 years and now the peaceful transfer of authority as a result of an election the Kremlin cannot control is frowned upon as being revolutionary as well.

Russian officials under Putin sincerely believe that if a political movement, or even an impulse, is not controlled by the Kremlin, it must be controlled by someone else, and most likely by Western enemies of Russia. To the Kremlin, the idea that citizens are mature enough to elect a president who is not going to ruin the country amounts to a call to insurrection.

All of this led to official silence at the state level about yesterday’s 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. However, ordinary Russians want to discuss the topic and countless posts about the topic were published on social networks and blogs during recent days.

The well-known dissenter Alexey Navalny shared  his conversation with a 19-year-old member of his team who does not remember that November 7th used to be a day of celebration:

When I heard this, a little Octobrist and Lenin’s grandson, died inside of me. This little Octobrist was there, even though my family has always been very ironic about the reason for celebration, but we still watched the TV. This propagandistic trash delays the development of the country. But again, I believe avoidance of the 100th anniversary on the state level is a crime. This is a colossal and terrible date. We must discuss it, we must reflect on it. We need to open the archives and give the scholars the money to study the history.

Maryana Naumova, an 18-year-old powerlifter and member of the Communist Party known for her controversial support of Bashar Assad and the so-called People’s Republic of Donbass, feels quite differently than Navalny. She wrote a panegyric to Lenin for the 100th anniversary of the revolution. “Ilich is still the embodiment of justice,” she wrote, among many surprising things. “His steps will always be seen on the dusty paths of the far-away planets. Thank you, Ilich!”

It is said that before one can accept a tragic experience, he or she must go through five stages of grief. The first is denial. If we omit current political affairs, we see clearly that not only Putin but the whole country — with a few exceptions in major cities — still embrace myths, propaganda and sweet dreams about a past that never happened.

The next four stages of grief are anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, but most Russians still need to get through denial.

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