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Russia

It’s the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution – but Russia is getting tired of Soviet nostalgia

During the Soviet period, November 7 was a public holiday and one of the biggest state celebrations of the year. In modern Russia, however, the day is an ordinary working day

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 November, 2017, 3:16pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 November, 2017, 8:08pm

Russia is holding low-key events on Tuesday to mark a century since the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, with authorities reluctant to celebrate an armed uprising that launched more than 70 years of Communist rule.

The Kremlin is not holding any special events on Tuesday, an ordinary working day, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed.

“What reason is there for us to celebrate this?” Peskov asked journalists last month.

The centenary is the last landmark event before presidential polls in March that Putin is expected to contest and win.

Moscow will see a march and rally organised by the Communist Party – still the largest opposition party in parliament – to glorify the anniversary.

The party said its slogans will include “Lenin-Stalin-Victory!” and “Let Lenin’s ideas live!”

But the rally beside a Karl Marx statue close to the Kremlin has permission for just 5,000 participants, TASS state news agency reported.

The party members will then raise glasses at a reception at a Moscow hotel.

The armed uprising began on October 25, 1917 - which according to the modern-day Gregorian calendar is November 7 - after a shot was fired at the Winter Palace by the Aurora cruiser ship.

During the Soviet period, November 7 was a public holiday and one of the biggest state celebrations of the year, with round numbers marked with particular pomp.

In modern Russia, however, the day is an ordinary working day, and the public holiday has been moved to November 4, which is designated the National Unity Day.

A military parade on Red Square on Tuesday commemorates not the revolution itself, but the October Revolution parade held on the square in 1941, from which Soviet soldiers went straight to the front line.

It is a recreation of a second world war military parade held in defiance of the German forces that had arrived at the outskirts of Moscow.

The choice of celebration encapsulates the Kremlin’s selective approach to Russia’s turbulent 20th-century history.

President Vladimir Putin prefers to emphasise the bits of Soviet nostalgia that underscore the accomplishments of a united, strong state like the one he wants Russians to believe he is leading.

The Soviet Army’s defiant stand in the Battle of Moscow is one of them.

One of the few events linked to the centenary Putin has attended was the opening of a new church in Moscow, which he called “deeply symbolic” after the revolution led to the destruction of religious buildings and persecution of believers.

Putin said this month that the revolution is “an integral, complex part of our history”, stressing the need for “treating the past objectively and respectfully”.

The Kremlin has tasked a committee of politicians, historians and clerics with organising this year’s festivities.

Organiser Konstantin Mogilevsky stressed at a presentation last month that the events are “not celebrations” of 1917 but are intended to be a “calm conversation about revolution, aimed at understanding it”.

Russia’s leadership is desperate to avoid repeats of the “colour revolutions” in other ex-Soviet countries, he said.

New period dramas on television are one of the main forums for re-examining history.

One depicts revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky as a “rock ‘n’ roll hero”, according to its makers, while another examines Germany’s role in fomenting the Bolshevik Revolution.

Many Russians are barely aware of the anniversary, commentators said, however.

“The country that once counted its existence from October (1917) is now seeing in its centenary in deafening silence,” wrote historian Ivan Kurilla in Vedomosti business daily.

“For an ordinary Russian, the centenary is passing by unnoticed,” he added.

A report commissioned by the Communist Party found that 58 per cent of Russians were not aware of the anniversary.

November 7 is still a day off in neighbouring former Soviet Belarus under the long-term Soviet-style rule of strongman President Alexander Lukashenko.

The last other such country, ex-Soviet Kyrgyzstan, this year cancelled its November 7 public holiday.

Additional reporting by The Washington Post and The Guardian