We’ve seen rioting over WWII burials and protests against resurrecting a statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky. But a protest against a statue to Catherine the Great!? Yes. It seems in some quarters Russia’s history as a whole, and not just its communist past, is cause for nationalist outrage. Reuters reports that a plan to build a statue of the Tsarina in the Ukrainian port city of Odessa has sparked the ire of local Cossacks.
The modern-day heirs of the Cossacks, aligned with Ukrainian nationalists, vilify Catherine as a foreign despot who crushed Ukraine’s limited autonomy at the time, and disbanded units of their celebrated predecessors.
“We used to have communism. Now we are told how wonderful things were before the Bolsheviks. And people believe it,” said Serhiy Gutsalyuk, an “otaman”, or leader, of an Odessa Cossack group as preparations went ahead to restore the monument.
“City authorities will hear nothing of reconciliation. And we will never accept any monument to Catherine the Great.”
Instead the Cossacks have offered a compromise. Ditch the Catherine statue and relaunch the rebuilding of a church dedicated to Saint Catherine. It seems, however, that few are willing to play ball. The monument appears to have wide support among Odessa’s multi-ethnic populace. The Cossacks, however, are viewed as simply hypocrites since they swore an oath to Catherine and had no problem metering “out punishment to Jews or rebellious peasants” in the name of Tsarism. Claims that they were victims of Tsarist despotism have fallen on deaf ears, not to mention a sign of nationalist gullibility. As Oleg Gubar, a historian who served as an adviser for the Catherine monument, “Cossacks swore allegiance to Catherine the Great, Polish kings and Turkish sultans. This was simply the nature of their work. Today, these people are being manipulated. It is, quite frankly, no more than a tragic, uncivilized joke.”