February 05, 2007 (the date of publication in Russian)

Roman Bagdasarov


Will the newly introduced Day of Heroes return respect for heroism to the Russian society?

The Russian State Duma's decision to introduce a new national holiday, the Day of Heroes, has aroused neither debate nor discussions. Even the politically biased community which winds up each time when November 4, the recently invented Day of the Nation’s Unity, is discussed, has displayed no interest to the new holiday which is to be celebrated on December 9.

If you ask a passer-by to tell you who is Filipp Kirkorov or Ksenia Sobchak, you will definitely get a lot of emotional (negative or positive) response on those pop stars. However, if you inquire about Alexander Sergeyev, Timur Sarazetdinov, or Alexei Shiryaev, your collocutor would most certainly get puzzled. The last three are Heroes of Russia. From 400 persons who deserved the highest official honor from the nation, one third was rewarded post mortem.

Alexander Sergeyev, Major of the Interior Forces, perished during a riot in the Penitentiary №5 in June 1994. As the commander of a platoon, he was the first to intervene in the room where the criminals were keeping hostages. He killed one of them, while another seized a grenade, hiding behind the back of a female hostage. Sergeyev was forced to wrestle, and the woman was released. Still, the grenade burst in the hands of the criminal, lethally injuring both him and Major Sergeyev.

Captain Sirazetdinov, who had earlier deserved many awards for courage, was killed during the battle against the Chechen paramilitary near Komsomolskoye village, the hardest battle of the second Chechen war. He saved the commander of his detachment, shielding him with his body.

Lieutenant Alexei Shiryaev was killed in the same battle. Without hesitation, he threw himself at the enemy grenade to save his comrades.

Any schoolchild, regardless from views, is always ready to tell you an array of names of oligarchs, members of the self-styled Cinema Academy, or participants of Home 2 TV show. If you ask him to tell a single name from the crew of the sunken Kursk submarine, or persons who bravely protected civilians from terrorists, he would mention – in the best case – only the last name of Dr. Leonid Roshal, who mediated with the terrorist gang during the capture of the Moscow theatre in October 2002, during the Nord Ost musical performance. The names of heroes are available if one really intends to find them, but they are not on the surface of mass media. TV air, as well as papers, neglects them. So, in order to learn more or at least something about a particular hero, one needs a special effort.

Heroic deeds seem to be staying beyond the sphere of vital interests of the society – and therefore, the health of this society raises doubts. A cult of a hero is one of those elements of contemporary sentience, which has not undergone essential changes throughout millenniums, its efficiency never being questioned – certainly, in nations really concerned of the memory of the fathers, as well as of the posterity. The best examples are the United States, countries of Latin America, or France.

Veneration of war heroes dates back to the times of ancient Hellas. Unlike the cult of the dead, the honor to the heroes not just guaranteed benevolence from ancestors but associated the living society with the Divine. A heroic deed, as an expression of free will, equalized the hero to a celestial, and therefore, his veneration served as a sensing element of morality. The cult of a hero associated the Divine with public morality and social order, serving as the most perfect fulcrum of social activity. Each free citizen, in his potential, was regarded as a hero. Neither the democratic city state of Sparta nor the oligarchic rule of the Athens nor the Macedonian monarchy could exist without the cult of a hero.

Even the space, surrounding the busts and statues of Greek heroes, was structuralized in a peculiar way, determining visitors to a deep thought. Meditation in such places convinced the Greeks of the high scale of a human destination. That is why the belief of early Christians did not get into a controversy with the ancient cult of heroes. At the same, hagiography contains a lot of descriptions of the martyrs' struggle against worship to Pagan gods, including Zeus, Artemis, and Apollo.

The heroic imperative was precisely identified in the New Testament, which says that "the highest love is expressed in the sacrifice of one's soul for his friends". This appeal was similarly available not only to the peoples of the Mediterranean area but also for the inhabitants of the mountains of the Caucasus, the forests of Germany, the banks of Slavonic rivers. Despite atheistic obstacles, the same priority was inherited by the Soviet culture from the Russian Empire. It constituted the crucial foundations of any society: sine qua non, the vital condition. If it is lost, the society faces extinction.

Addressing the international experience, we witness the imperative veneration of national heroes – those who had become an element of the nation's history, – as well as high regard for surviving heroes. In the last case, the most important virtue is not social privileges but their role of a "public icon". With heroes, one should not fear that esteem might transform into idolatry. The cult of a hero, as opposite to the cult of variety or movie stars, is not focused on the personality but addressed to “common people”. Those can't feel inferior, as the hero had victimized himself for their sake. He symbolizes the donating, self-victimizing essence inherent in any of them, towering only above the precepts of consumer thinking.

That is from where the neglect of heroes in our society has emerged. During the whole period of Boris Yeltsin's rule, mass media had been imposing a cult of personal success on a citizen, by hook or by crook. That effort implied, in particular, also a means of breeding up today’s brand of careerists – the type who jerks between a coacher and a psychiatrist, and shudders from a single hint at his "losership". Modern Russian liberals hurried to equalize heroism to an obsolete element of the totalitarian era.

In fact, totalitarian rule suppresses free will, thus making any heroic deed impossible. No one would fall with his breast upon a grenade just on an instruction.

No kind of charity or alms, which serve as an attribute of a big business success, can substitute heroism. A billionaire yields a piece of his excessive fortune, while a hero immolates the last and the only. These two acts are essentially different; any nation can do without charity, but not without persons who are ready to sacrifice themselves for its sake.

The heroes of the last fifteen years have found themselves in a situation untypical for any period of Russia's history.

Risking his life for the sake of his Fatherland, a hero has a right to count upon posthumous veneration, as otherwise his deed is devaluated. Actually, the essence of heroism is not only in a functional act but in also in its everlasting survival in the memory of his compatriots and their posterity. In the heroic deed, the whole of their lives and the whole social order acquires its utmost justification. The memory of the hero far exceeds his physical existence; this memory is a unique really existing evidence of human immortality.

As a paradox, those very liberal ideologues, who permanently insist that recognition, and not devotion, is the major motivation of live, are sponging out the names of heroes who have redeemed the terrific sins of the liberal reign with their own lives. The initiative to introduce the Day of Heroes is a long-expected sign that their sacrifice was not vain.

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