Guernica Magazine

Russian Reversal: Performing Class and Power on Victory Day

The ways that Moscow commemorates victory over Nazi Germany bear a striking resemblance to the U.S. The post Russian Reversal: Performing Class and Power on Victory Day appeared first on Guernica.
Illustration: Ansellia Kulikku.

Moscow is a low, wide city expanding in a series of rings out from the Kremlin and Red Square, spreading over some nine hundred square miles of land cleared in a cold northern forest, near where Arctic taiga blends into Sarmatic mixed forests. It’s a mistake to think Moscow is part of Europe: the city looks more like Saskatoon than it looks like Berlin, all monstrous boxes built up out of nothing as if to compensate for the puniness of the human animal in the immensity of so much space, and it feels and sounds like something else yet again. To visit Europe is to tour a giant mausoleum dedicated to centuries of war, rich with the booty of global empire: a cemetery turned into a shopping mall. Going to Moscow is like visiting a Turkish moon base built in the 1950s. Cyrillic script and Slavic phonemes mesh in the air with so many oo’s, shch’s, and ve’s, uncannily similar enough to a Latin alphabet to look both familiar and wrong, unbroken by any tourist-friendly English. Like its script, Moscow is at once familiar and strange. Russia and America are siblings in many ways, both countries of the twentieth century, both conquerors of vast spaces, both abstract and callous and massive and dangerous.

How much do we see each other, and how much do we just see negative mirror images of ourselves? The classic late–Cold War American joke about Russia, endlessly variable, was based on a simple reversal of subject and object: “In America, everyone watches television. In Soviet Russia, television watches you!” “In America, everyone drives a car. In Soviet Russia, a car drives you!” . . . “In Soviet Russia, the police call you!” . . . “In Soviet Russia, the party finds you!” .

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