Sunday, July 4, 2010

Window on Eurasia: How Khrushchev Tried and Failed to Restore the Soviet Statue of Liberty Stalin Had Blown Up

Paul Goble

Staunton, July 4 – Apparently inspired by his visit to the United States, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev decided to restore the Soviet Statue of Liberty that Stalin had destroyed in 1941, but he ran out of time – the restoration was scheduled to happen just after Khrushchev was overthrown – and later the USSR ran out of money.
In “Svobodnaya pressa” yesterday, Anton Razmakhnin tells the story of how, as he puts it, “Twentieth century Russia passed into history as the only country in the world which blew up the symbol of its own freedom” and compounded that by refusing to restore it anytime afterwards (
Khrushchev, as Razmakhnin points out, sought “a return to Leninist norms not only in the political field but also in the aesthetic one,” and “artists, sculptors and architects after the Stalinist conservatism with joy began to rethink the great Russian avant-garde of the 1920s and beginning of the 1930s.”
The Soviet leader’s interest in both played out in his aborted plans to restore the Statue of Liberty which had been thought up by Nikolay Andreyev and “even set up in Soviet (now Tver) square in the spring of 1919 as part of the monument to the Soviet Constitution.” As realized, the statue was intended as a decoration for the obelisk.
But Lyudmila Marts, the head of the 20th century sculpture department of the Tretyakov Gallery, says that it had always been Andreyev’s “fantasy” that his Statue of Liberty would be much larger and more important, “something a little like the Victory of Samothrace” and thus the focus of the installation.
That did not happen in the 1920s or 1930s, and in the spring of 1941, “in the course of the reconstruction of Gorky Street,” the monument on Soviet Square “was blown up.” Six years later, in its place was set up a bronze statue of Prince Yuri Dolgoruky, the founder of the city of Moscow.
Despite that, part of Andreyev’s vision did survive, Razmakhnin says. Curators from the Tretyakov were able to save the head of the statue, preserving it in what was an “underground” status because it could not be listed in the gallery’s catalogue until the 1950s because it came from something Stalin had ordered destroyed.
And consequently, “in an illegal state, the head of the [Soviet] Statue of Liberty lay about 20 years, becoming officially part of the collection of the Tretyakov only during Khrushchev’s time.” And even then, it was not shown to the public. That happened, curators report, only in 1967.
But in 1962, under Khrushchev’s leadership, the Central Committee of the CPSU and the Council of Ministers of the USSR issued a decree “on the rebuilding of the Monument of Freedom on Soviet Square by November 7, 1964.” That date was a little too late: A month earlier, Khrushchev was removed from office.
That action did not end the project, however, although it certainly eliminated its most prominent backer. Marts says that discussions about carrying out the 1962 decree continued “until the beginning of the 1980s,” when it was officially shelved, supposedly because “there was no money” to move the Dolgoruky statue or re-erect the Statue of Liberty.
Razmakhnin adds the following detail: “According to the words of one of the employees of the Moscow City Executive Committee of the time, the name of the project played a role in its delay. “Your need to understand, restoring ‘the Statue of Liberty’ would have been doubtful in an ideological sense.”
“Mikhail Andreyevich Suslov [the CPSU’s chief ideologist] was all the same more a student of Stalin than of Lenin, and [after 1964] the CPSU already had moved away from the idea of ‘the convergence of systems’ and the slogans of ‘catching up and surpassing the United States.”
As a result, “the Soviet Statue of Liberty did not achieve its second birth,” Razmakhnin notes with obvious sadness, although “the head of Andreyev’s work even now can be seen in one of the halls of the Tretyakov.” But because Khrushchev’s plan was not realized, “20th Century Russian passed into history as the only country which blew up the symbol of its own freedom.”

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