A grand parade will make its way across Red Square on Tuesday, and that makes sense, given the momentousness of the date — the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, one of the defining events of the 20th century.
Only the procession will not celebrate the 1917 communist uprising that led to the creation of the Soviet Union. It is a re-creation of a 1941 World War II 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 emphasize 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 Red Army’s defiant stand in the World War II Battle of Moscow is one of them. The Soviet units that marched from the Kremlin on Nov. 7, 1941, did not stop until they reached the front lines and met the Nazi invaders in battle.
But Putin, who has spoken out against the popular “color revolution” uprisings that have toppled established regimes in the nations of the former U.S.S.R., cannot openly celebrate the holiday the Soviets called Red October — essentially the mother of all color revolutions.
And he has frequently touched on the devastating upheaval wrought by the birth of the Soviet Union. In an October speech, he decried its “cost of destroying our statehood and the ruthless fracturing of millions of human lives.”
At the same time, Putin cannot publicly condemn the Bolshevik Revolution, not when the Communist Party — which will be holding a rally in Moscow on Tuesday — remains one of the two most popular opposition parties in Russia. And out of that revolution grew the strong state that, however many wrongs it committed against its people, succeeded the shamefully decrepit and deteriorating Russia of 1917.
So the Kremlin is sitting this one out.
“We are not planning any celebrations, and I don’t see any reason why we should,” Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters when he was asked about the Kremlin’s plans to mark the Nov. 7 holiday — which took place Oct. 25 on the Julian calendar used in imperial Russia, thus the name.
This does not mean that Russia is ignoring the anniversary that marks what the Soviets called the Great October Socialist Revolution, one of the two most sacred holidays of the U.S.S.R. (The other is the Soviet victory in World War II, which Putin has called the greatest achievement of the 20th century.)
On Tuesday, St. Petersburg, the Russian capital when the revolution took place, will host a festival commemorating the anniversary. In Moscow, the Russian State Duma, the lower house of parliament, will have an exhibition of “young painters dedicated to the October Revolution.” The Bolshoi Theatre had scheduled a concert Sunday called “Hammer and Sickle” commemorating the revolution, but it was interrupted by a bomb threat.)
And the World War II parade that will be reenacted Tuesday was also a celebration of the Bolshevik Revolution: With Moscow under attack, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s decision to hold the annual parade rather than cancel the event was a galvanizing moment in a much venerated battle that served Adolf Hitler his first major defeat.
All in all, though, the meaning of the day is diminished. Its post-Soviet name, Day of Accord and Reconciliation, refers to something that people thought would happen in the newly democratic Russia but never truly did. Russia never really faced the worst of its Soviet past, nor experienced a full reconciliation with it.
It never laid open the full archives that detailed the extent of the murder and repression carried out by the KGB secret police and its predecessors in the years of Stalin’s mass purges, and it never brought to justice the living officers who carried out the suppression of dissent under later Soviet rulers.
The names were moved around a bit, but Russia’s first post-Soviet president, Boris Yeltsin, kept former KGB officers in positions of power, and Putin, a former KGB officer, brought even more former colleagues on board. Today, graduates of the domestic security service, now called the FSB, don’t just populate Putin’s inner circle.
They are part of a countrywide club of “haves,” which is how Gennady Gudkov, a reserve FSB colonel who is now a prominent member of Russia’s tiny liberal opposition, describes them.
That opposition is on the losing end of the battle over Russian history, which Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said Putin uses “both as a means of legitimizing his regime and a method of governing the country.”
Some might argue that Putin tries to twist the national memory, invoking the achievements of imperial and Soviet history, claiming them as his inheritance, while ignoring the rest.
In 2007, on the 70th anniversary of the beginning of Stalin’s Great Terror, one of Russia’s oldest human rights organizations, Memorial, which for 30 years has sought to expose Soviet-era crimes, organized what has become an annual reading of the names of people executed.
On Oct. 29, the eve of Russia’s day of remembrance for the victims, people stand outside the former KGB headquarters at the Solovetsky Stone, a monument brought from the White Sea island where the Soviets organized their first prison camp in 1923.
This year, on Oct. 30, Putin inaugurated a new monument to the victims of Stalinist purges, the Wall of Grief, on a space along Moscow’s busy Garden Ring road.
“This terrible past must not be erased from our national memory and cannot be justified by anything,” he said.
A group of Soviet-era dissidents wrote a letter accusing Putin of pretending “that political repression is a thing long since past.”
Memorial has been designated a “foreign agent” according to a Russian law intended to marginalize nongovernment organizations.
“We can’t take part in memorial events organized by the authorities, who say they are sorry about victims of the Soviet regime, but continue to practice political repression and crush civil freedoms,” the dissidents said.
The past 100 years have not been kind to Russia. Maybe they wouldn’t have been even without the revolution. But it happened, and its legacy haunts Russian memory, inescapable and confounding.