Kiev's Motherland statue,Ukraine


motherland calling

the psychology of the motherland statue in the former eastern bloc


Mothers are loving? Mums look after, they soothe. They survey, they protect. A figure of purity of purpose and good intent. In the former Eastern Bloc, the figure of the mother is, unsurprisingly, not that simple... A curious feature of some Eastern bloc countries is to immortalise women in the statuesque in a bid to personify the state. Often grim and severe constructions, they dominate the city skylines of Kiev in the Ukraine, Tbilisi in Georgia, Yerevan in Armenia and Riga in Latvia. More famously is the Motherland statue on the banks of the Volga River in Volgograd, western Russia - a statue I have not yet had the privilege of seeing but certainly hope to, perhaps on a return trip to Russia: it is striking in its sheer size and concreted posture (see here).


milking the mother

The figure of the mother became immortalised in the statuesque in a propagandist bid to personify the state and to establish an emotional nexus between the average Soviet 'comrade' and a faceless Soviet politburo. In a new system where the proletariat was to own the means of production, there was a visual vacuum for a spiritual leader. After all, the men behind communism as a theory were now dead - lost in the mists of an incongruous Russian history which had lurched from one bloody crisis to the next. A replacement figurehead was required. Enter, stage far left, the statue of the Motherland. They are also a mythical creation used as a propagandists' tool to unite fractious and unrelated satellite countries. We all love our mothers, don't we? A symbol to which no one could object, surely?

The motherland myth worked on many levels as a metaphor for Soviet satellites. She helped to establish the sense that communism was under threat from external forces and required perpetual protection. Often cast holding a sword, the statues represented in visual form the notion that the Soviet way of life was fighting for survival, fermenting a paranoia and distrust of the West and crystallising in concrete the violence and bloodshed which has, and arguable still does, characterise Russian political life (think Litvinenko + poison + sushi bar).


defending tin tits

Indeed, the gendering of the Soviet nation as female, when, in reality, it was almost exclusively dominated by egotistical men, is another master-stroke of psychology - women characterising, stereotypically, a sense of innate vulnerability: it taps into the emotional protectionism we all hold about our mothers. More importantly was a sense of duty to obey her! A crucial trait of Soviet communism is perfectly encapsulated in this motherland myth: 'you never question a mother', 'mother knows best', 'she will do what's right for her children even if in the short term her actions are questionable'. Deferment of responsibility to an authority figure like a parent captures the working class inertia about having destiny over their own lives which characterised the Soviet regime. It was, ironically, a 'de-skilling' of the working classes to take charge over their own lives - the whole point of Marxist theory.

Ukrainians disparagingly refer to their statue as 'Tin Tits'. Whilst awe-inspiring, these statues have, like the communist ideals which built them, not stood the test of time. Indeed, the Volgograd Motherland statue in Russia has, in more recent years, begun to tilt as the sheer weight of the concrete masterpiece sinks slowly into a soggy Russian soil underfoot. Oh, how a concrete metaphor comes full circle. Good night, Mother, sleep tight.


Mother of the Fatherland, Kiev, Ukraine; Mother Georgia statue in Tbilisi, Georgia; Mother Armenia in Yerevan, Armenia; Motherland inRiga, Latvia.



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