Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Where the Russian Civil War is Not Yet Over

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 27 – Despite recent claims by President Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Aleksii II that the reunion of the Russian Orthodox Church marks the final end of the Russian Civil War, there is clear evidence that in many parts of the Russian Federation, that long-ago conflict continues to cast a shadow.
An article in this week’s “Nashe vremya” tells the story of the difficult return and reburial of General Oskar Kappel, one of the most widely respected leaders of the anti-Bolshevik White Movement in Siberia, after his remains were identified and exhumed in Harbin, China, at the end of last year (
Kappel, who won the admiration and love of his often working-class soldiers, died in January 1920 at the age of 36 during the Siberian Ice Campaign as the result of complications from an amputation. His followers carried his body to Chita where it was buried until the Red Army approached that city. They then removed it to Harbin.
There, Kappel was buried in the yard of the Iversk Orthodox Church. But even in that Chinese city, Kappel’s body was not fated to find eternal rest, “Nashe vremya” reports. Instead, in 1955 and on orders from Moscow, the Chinese communists dug up the grave and reportedly destroyed his remains.
But because of the affection Kappel had generated as a White leader who died with and for his men, he was not forgotten. And following the collapse of Soviet power, those who remembered him set up a special monument in his honor in the Cossack stanitsa of Utai in Irkutsk oblast where he died.
Then, at the end of last year, a group of his followers traveled to Harbin in the hopes that they would be able to find some of his remains. What they found was almost a miracle, “Nashe vremya” reports. After scraping away the evidence of destruction above his grave, “Vladimir Kappel lay as if alive.”
The Chinese authorities allowed this group to take Kappel’s body back to the Russian Federation for final reburial. But that effort ran into more obstacles than any of them expected. In Chita, where the new Kappelites first tried to bury him, the local governor prohibited it.
“Eighty seven years have passed,” “Nashe vremya” writes in sorrow, “and the Civil War continues to be a cancerous tumor in our souls, hearts and brains.” Moreover, officials now, however post-Soviet they may claim to be, all too often remain “commissars” with all the values of the Bolshevik past.
Having failed to bury Kappel in Chita, his supporters put his body back on a freight train which carried it to Perm, a city in which his grandson lives. But the authorities there also refused to give permission for the family and friends to rebury the White general.
“In all of Russia, it appeared, there were not two square meters of land for its modest hero-son,” “Nashe vremya” lamented.
But then Patriarch Aleksii II intervened and gave permission for Kappel’s reburial in the cemetery of the Don Monastery in Moscow. There his body now lies next to the grave of General Anton Denikin and émigré philosopher Andrei Ilin as well as many other figures from the past.
Unfortunately, even that January 14th reburial did not mark the end of Kappel’s travails.
His supporters hoped to erect an exact copy of the monument that had stood over his grave in Harbin. And they had set today as the date for its erection. But they were not able to collect enough money in the small donations that have supported this effort to do more than pay an advance to the sculptor.
They now have rescheduled this event for July 28, and they hope in the interim to collect enough money to pay for the new monument and its installation over what all those who remember General Kappel hope will truly be his final resting place of honor in the Russian capital of Moscow.
Meanwhile, there is some evidence that at least a few Moscow officials are prepared to support efforts to memorialize additional leaders of the anti-Bolshevik movement – at least when these monuments can be erected safely beyond the borders of the current Russian Federation.
Earlier this week, the Center for the National Glory of Russia, which numbers among its backers the ministers of foreign affairs and culture and mass communications, said it plans to erect a monument to those in the White Movement who passed through Gallipoli in Turkey in the early 1920s (

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