The Economist [T6, 22 Thg9 2017] by The Economist

The Economist [T6, 22 Thg9 2017] by The Economist

Author:The Economist
Language: eng
Format: mobi
Tags: The Economist
Publisher: The Economist
Published: 2017-09-21T17:46:02.697000+00:00

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Arms and the man

A monument to Kalashnikov

The father of the AK-47 had qualms about his invention; Vladimir Putin’s Russia celebrates it

Sep 21st 2017 | MOSCOW

THE streets of Moscow feature many monuments to great figures from Russia’s past: Tolstoy, Pushkin and Tchaikovsky, to name but a few. This week, a new national hero joined their ranks: Mikhail Kalashnikov, eponymous inventor of the rifle. His nine-metre-tall likeness, clad in a bomber jacket and cradling an AK-47, towers over the Garden Ring Road, one of the capital’s main throughways. “He’s so kind, he’s holding it carefully, like a baby,” remarked Natalia Khrustaleva-Popova, a retired factory worker who came to see the sculpture. At the opening ceremony, a lone protester was promptly detained, while a priest sprinkled the bronze behemoth with holy water.

The AK-47—“AK” for Avtomat Kalashnikova, or Kalashnikov’s automatic, and “47” for the year the prototypes were completed—has become one of the world’s most popular and lethal weapons, believed to account for one-fifth of all firearms. Kalashnikov, the son of Siberian peasants, began sketching designs while recovering from a shrapnel wound in 1941 and hearing soldiers complain about superior German rifles. He called his invention a defensive weapon, but its lightness and reliability made it the gun of choice for rebels, terrorists and, especially, child soldiers. In his later years Kalashnikov was racked with guilt; he wrote to the Orthodox Patriarch of his “unbearable spiritual pain”. At the unveiling, Russia’s culture minister, Vladimir Medinsky, presented him as the “manifestation of the best qualities of the Russian man”, and his rifle as a “true cultural brand of Russia”.

The new monument embodies Russia’s martial mood. As Vladimir Putin has flexed his muscles on the world stage since returning to the presidency in 2012, he has promoted the adulation of men in uniform. Confidence in the army is at its highest level since Mr Putin came to power 17 years ago. While just 39% of Russians fully trusted the army in 2012, some 60% say they do today (trust in Mr Putin has risen over the same period, from 51% to 74%). During Mr Putin’s first two terms in power, Russians saw economic growth as his main achievement. With oil prices low and belts tighter, they now point to the increased capabilities of the armed forces. “Either you’re strong,” said Sergei Mikhailov, a lawyer, gazing up at Kalashnikov, “or you’re nobody.”


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