Norsica

Summer 2007, traveling with fellow enthusiasts led by our friends at the Centre for Independent Social Research in St. Petersburg.  From St. Petersburg we went north through Karelia to the Kola Peninsula, including stops at Petrozavodsk, Kondapoga, Medvezhegorsk, Belomorsk, the Solovetskii Archipelago, Lovozero and the Apatity-Kirovsk region.
We came across many examples of how history and memory remain a complex problem in post-soviet Russia. The caption on this tombstone

tombstone

reads: “Fighters from special detachments who died during fights with Interventionists and the White Army in 1919.” But according to our guide, the people buried here were commandos who died putting down a peasant revolt following government efforts to forcibly enlist them in the Red Army.

We also came across a monument to Andropov, one of the USSR’s last rulers before M. Gorbachev came to power.  He became head of the Petrazavodsk communist party after the war. He acted as a beneficiary for Karelia, visiting in the 1970s and later provided housing for about 30,000 people when he came to power.  The monument, which is jokingly referred to as “Andropov in the image of Alexander Blok,” was dedicated in 2003.

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It was put up at about the same time that a monument to Brezhnev appeared in Novorosiisk, as part of an effort to “make peace with the past.”

We visited the timber town of Kondopoga, arguably the second most important city in Karelia, which is run by the owners of the local pulp and paper factory.

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According to our guide, the patriotic local owner recently invested millions (2000) to restore the 1950 “palace of culture” (community center).  It’s a very extravagant building.

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Those people who work for the company live well.

The city is more famous for the riots that erupted on August 31st, 2006 between ethnic Russians and Caucasus immigrants.  When we passed through, the restaurant where the fighting was in the process of being replaced by a sports center.

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We were fortunate to see a rare example of an orthodox church (~1774) with a bell tower roof from the pre-Nikon reform era.  After Nikon’s reforms, all churches would be in the form of the famous “onion dome”.

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The church was used for drying grain during the Soviet period.

We also visited the fabulous Kizhi monastery as well, one of the most stunning examples of Russian wooden church architecture.  I love the grassy fields of the north in the summertime.

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We passed through Medvezhegorsk and visited the local history museum where there is an exhibit on the building of the White Sea Canal.  It is located in this building, meant to look like a ship, which was the hotel where Maxim Gorky stayed when he came to “report on” the building of the canal.  It’s no longer safe enough to go up the top, which, if I remember correctly, was a restaurant?picture3

We also attended a memorial held by Memorial at the Gulag execution site of Sandormakh.

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Seven thousand innocent people were executed on the site between from 1937 to 1941.

Speaking of monuments to repression, on our tour of the White-Sea Canal near Belomorsk, we learned that the recent renewal of Soviet-era security measures around strategic “objects” such as the canal’s (historic) locks have made it impossible to take visitors to the only monument dedicated to the thousands who died during construction.

(not my photograph)

At the same time, according to our guide, a local Orthodox priest from Belomorsk encourages churchgoers to remember those who died, and is part of an ongoing project to install visible crosses along the route of the canal.

History in Russia remains subject to deep controversy.

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April 11, 2009. Interest & Entertain, Travels.

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