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Tsarstruck: Bloggers Say New Alexander III Statue Is Riddled With Errors

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) delivers a speech during the unveiling ceremony of a monument to Tsar Aleksandr III in Yalta, Crimea, on November 18.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) delivers a speech during the unveiling ceremony of a monument to Tsar Aleksandr III in Yalta, Crimea, on November 18.

MOSCOW -- A new Russian statue, another round of allegations. Whether commemorating Mikhail Kalashnikov, Ivan the Terrible, or Vladimir the Great, statues erected by Vladimir Putin's Russia tend to be unveiled to controversy.

And the new likeness of 19th-century Tsar Alexander III that was opened ceremonially by President Putin on November 18 in occupied Crimea prompted more of the same.

Organizers were taken to task one day after the unveiling in a widely shared Telegram post listing a string of apparent historical inaccuracies in the ensemble.

The sculptor, Andrei Kovalchuk, has rejected the challenges and said he will make no corrections.

Tsar Alexander III, who ruled after the assassination of his father, Alexander II, from 1881 to 1894 and was known for his conservatism, is depicted sitting in military uniform resting his hands on a sword. Behind him is a bas-relief bearing famous figures and innovations from the tsar's reign.

The ensemble also carries a quote that it attributes to Emperor of All Russia Alexander III: "Russia has two allies -- its army and its fleet."

But in a series of allegations, the blog post on the Nechayevshchina Telegram channel says the phrase is wrongly attributed to the tsar and was actually pronounced by War Minister Pyotr Vannovsky. It also contends that eight images used in the relief are actually associated with other tsars and relate only indirectly to Alexander III.

"At first glance, the monument looks impressive, particularly against the background of short Putin," the blog says in a swipe at the stature of the 1.7-meter-tall Russian president. "But if you get closer, it turns out to be the latest illiterate, hasty job."

Philosopher and writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky is depicted in the relief but died 30 days before Alexander III's rule began, the bloggers note. And novelist Leo Tolstoy appears, although he wrote his two greatest works -- War and Peace and Anna Karenina -- under Alexander II and lived until 1910, well into Nicholas II's rule.

The bloggers also take issue with a reference to the Trans-Siberian Railway. Although its construction began three years before Alexander III's death, that storied railway was completed in 1916 -- 22 years after the end of his rule.

Along similar lines, the bloggers challenge references to Moscow's Tretyakov Gallery, the State Historical Museum, the Mozhaisk Plane, chemist and inventor Dmitry Mendeleyev, and geographer and traveler Nikolai Przhevalsky.

Sculptor Kovalchuk defended his work in extensive comments to state news agency RIA Novosti. "I'm sure there are no mistakes, and I don't intend to change anything," he said. "I have no doubts that everything that was made corresponds to Alexander's epoch. Although Dostoyevsky died a month before the murder of Alexander II, he absolutely correctly is present in this [relief]."

He called the other allegations groundless.

'Falsifiers Of History'

The disputes have been latched onto by Putin's opponents.

Anticorruption campaigner Aleksei Navalny, who is hoping against hope to run for president in March, posted the blog listing the apparent inaccuracies on Twitter and wrote: "I've always said: There are falsifiers of history in the Kremlin. People who do not love Russia and don't understand it."

Unveiling the statue, Putin called Alexander III an "outstanding statesman and patriot" who "felt a tremendous responsibility for the country's destiny."

Alexander III was notable for his conservatism, which included a rollback of liberal reforms carried out by his father.

In an editorial, the Vedomosti business paper wrote on November 19 that Putin had appeared to have "found his historical ideal -- or even prototype" in Alexander III. It suggested that if Putin hadn't explicitly named Alexander III "you could have thought that he was talking about himself."

The statue was erected at the late tsar's residence at Livadia, in Yalta, on the Crimean Peninsula that was seized and annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

It is the latest organized by Russian authorities celebrating past leaders of various stripes -- including prerevolutionary and Bolshevik -- in keeping with a revolution-averse official narrative that emphasizes continuity between Russia's political leaders and regimes.

Some of the monuments have been tainted since historians or other observers spotted apparent inaccuracies.

A likeness of Kalashnikov unveiled in central Moscow in September was modified after one of the weapons depicted near the Soviet-era creator of the fabled AK-47 combat rifle was shown to be a German assault rifle developed by the Nazis.

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