The Monument to the Conquerors of Space


If you ask people what symbol comes to their mind when they think of Moscow most of them (including both foreigners and Russians) would name Saint Basil’s Cathedral or the Kremlin, some would recall the Worker and Kolkhoz Woman sculpture or the Peoples Friendship Fountain. It is impossible to disagree that all of these magnificent constructions, especially the first two, are symbols of the city (or even of Russia itself) which are accompanied by such stereotypical cultural brands like ‘matryoshka‘, ‘balalaika‘, ‘samovar‘, ‘banya‘, ‘ushanka‘, ‘vodka‘ (sic!), etc. Many of these ‘brands’ are sold near the heart of the city, Red Square, thus, strengthening the association. Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing bad about these products but the combination and the positioning of them gives me the right to call it ‘klyukva‘ (cranberry). This word is often used in Russia in a non-literal meaning to describe foreign (negative) stereotypes concerning Russia and Russians or some specific Russian cultural products (films, books, music videos, etc.) which are ‘klyukved‘ on purpose by their creators in order to be appreciated by the Western media and public.

I’ve chosen the Monument to the Conquerors of Space as an iconic symbol of Moscow (and not only Moscow), an embodiment of the cultural and historical heritage of the Soviet space program. Until the middle of 2006 very close to the monument there used to be Zvezdny Ryad which started from the VDNKh metro station first entrance and ended near the main entrance to the All-Russia Exhibition Centre. As poetic was its name (‘Zvezdny Ryad’ literally means ‘Star Row’) as miserable was it in reality: a bunch of casinos, one-armed bandits, sex-shops and bars with loud ‘popsa‘ (how we call tasteless low-quality pop-music in Russia), filled with zhuliki (crooks) of all kinds: gamblers, sellers of the stolen mobile phones and watches, thieves, etc. This whole scene could be perfectly described by one specific Russian word – poshlost’ which Vladimir Nabokov introduced to the Western public in the form of ‘poshlust‘, i.e. “the falsely important, the falsely beautiful, the falsely clever, the falsely attractive”.

As for me this monument is a representation of people’s will and human capabilities, the-sky-is-not-the-limit approach and per-aspera-ad-astra attitude. One can also view the monument as a Soviet pyramid: the kingdom and the dynasty are gone, the people who built it and who it was devoted to are dead but the monument remains as a reminder of the past victories of a mortal man over time and space. It stands against the klyukva & poshlost’ of nowadays.

Yuri Gagarin and the Monument to the Conquerors of Space behind him
Yuri Gagarin and the Monument to the Conquerors of Space behind him
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14 thoughts on “The Monument to the Conquerors of Space

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  7. Just found your blog when looking for information on a 1928 Soviet science fiction film ‘Puteshestviye na Mars’.. It’s a wonderful monument.

    You shouldn’t be too worried about ‘klyukva‘: it can be found in any country! The English word most used to describe that sort of thing is “tat”, which originally referred to cheap cloth, sometimes reclaimed or recycled, but which has come to mean any cheap product, often associated with the tourist trade. In Scotland, such stuff, which can be found in souvenir shops, is known as “Tartan tat”…

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    1. Robert, I like old Soviet films, so I definitely will watch it! Also thanks for the info about English ‘klyukva’ – tat. I guess it shows that people tend to react to common things in a similar manner despite the so-called ‘cultural differences’. Best wishes, Sergey.

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  8. Funny I should come across this post today: I just read a news clipping about our NASA not having an interest in leading further lunar missions. I know there’s been a push to privatize space exploration so I’m sure another entity or country will carry on. At least I hope so!
    I agree with you re: the importance of interplanetary science. I love your monument and all it celebrates.

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    1. I heard of the Russian plans to visit the Moon but I’m not sure whether it’s a good idea in terms of both science and PR. Hope it’s not just ‘pokazukha’ (show-off) but a serious intention which can help Russian science to regain its position after the collapse of the USSR.
      Thanks again! It’s one of my favourite monuments in Moscow.

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