Russia doesn't exactly excel at remembering/commemorating the darker sides of its own 20th century history (let alone the dark sides of its present!). Nor does it necessarily even see it as dark at all: Stalin
, regarded worldwide as one of the worst "devils" humanity has ever seen, was voted the third greatest historical figure in Russia in a popular television vote a few years ago in which 50 million participated! He was ahead of Lenin
and Peter the Great!
There is only one memorial site proper of the extensive gulag
system where millions of suspected "enemies of the people" (i.e. political prisoners) were sent for hard labour under the most inhumane conditions. However, smaller museums in Moscow
partly make up for this lack of commodfication of the darkest chapter of Soviet history. And tours of far-eastern Magadan
can also include ruins of former gulag sites.
On the other hand, memorials related to the Great Patriotic War, known to the rest of the world as WWII
, are so numerous that it's impossible to list them all here – and just the greatest of them all has to stand for the lot: the giant Rodina Mat in Volgograd
A particularly tragic place in Russia during WWII was Leningrad, the country's second largest city (which today has reverted to its old name St Petersburg
again) – laid under siege for nearly 900 days by the Nazis. The blockade cost hundreds of thousands of lives. Today a small Blockade Museum
commemorates this tragic period.
Modern military museums are also plentiful, but not covered in detail here. You can even go on flights in a MIG-29 or MIG-31 (for a hefty price and only if you're physically fit enough) – but that's rather war tourism or extreme adventure tourism (see overlaps
and beyond dark tourism
The legacy of the Cold War
left more sites that are too unsafe to be visited (see infamous dark sites not to be visited
) than places where it is commodified for tourism – the Russian Nuclear Weapon Museum
is an exception, even if it is quite obscure, while the nuclear submarine graveyards
north of Murmansk
are as good as impossible for tourists to visit (or too dangerous).
The legacy of communism, which was in place in the Soviet Union
longer than anywhere else (although North Korea
is likely to break that record soon), is comparatively well represented, including one of the "Big 4
" mausoleums of communist leaders, that of the Soviet Union's principal founding father: Lenin
Unfortunately, it's not all that easy for Westerners to travel to Russia – visa complications are still quite a stumbling block. And if you don't know any Russian, the language barrier adds more problems. That said, travelling to the capital Moscow
is comparatively easy and the city's tourism infrastructure is amongst the best anywhere in the country (together with St Petersburg
). Further out of the tourism hubs, expect things to get difficult.
Note that many dark sites of the former Soviet Union
are now in independent countries such as Kazakhstan
as well as the Baltic States of Estonia
. Countries that were part of the Eastern Bloc
also have sites pertaining to the old Soviet Union; e.g. the ex-GDR
or (in particular) Bulgaria
, to name just a few.