It’s been 25 years since I was in Moscow, when I was a student of the Russian language. I wanted to return to see all the changes since the end of Communism. To start off with some context, nothing is better than a visit to The State Central Museum of Contemporary Russian History, which is commonly known by its former name, the Museum of the Revolution.
Actually the name should be plural because it covers Russia’s three 20th-century revolutions. There is the 1905 Democratic Revolution, which led to the Tsar abdicating and the election of the Duma, or parliament. World War I began, which greatly damaged the government’s credibility and helped lead to the second revolution in 1917, when the Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, shot their way into power. Lenin ushered in his policies of state planning and the collectivization of farming. The museum does a great job of reviewing the good, the bad, and the ugly of this period in history. Lastly, there was the third revolution (albeit a peaceful one) when Gorbachev introduced Perestroika and began the unraveling of the USSR and communism.
The museum has English cards explaining the contents of each room but it is far better to take a guided English-language tour. It’s cheaper to do this with a group of two or more people.
Alex, our guide, was terrific. At the end of the tour, he asked for my opinions of the museum. I told him it was very impressive, comprehensive, and well presented. My critique focused on the the room that featured World War II. The exhibit failed to mention the Allied Forces and the fighting that occurred along the Western front. It also ignored the Soviet Union’s invasion of Poland. Additionally, I noticed that the exhibit did not cover the post-war role of the USSR in imposing communism on Eastern Europe. Having traveled in the region, I’m acutely aware of that sensitivity shared by the people there. It is hard not to hear this from residents of that region. The Museum of the Revolution, unfortunately, makes no mention of this.
We had a great discussion about the current political situation in Russia with President Vladamir Putin. We chatted about the concerns over his authoritarian style and the question of whether a true opposition party can be formed to challenge him.
While it has its flaws, The Museum of the Revolution is a great way to learn about Russian history and the path the country has taken politically. I enjoyed it much more than a standard art museum, of which there are many in Moscow. However, I expect to revisit those on my return to Russia, as well.