Friday, January 18, 2008
The Motherland Calls
"The Motherland Calls" is the name of the giant statue on the hill called Mamayev Kurgan, in the city of Volgograd, formerly Stalingrad, Russia (note the scale by the person standing on her base)
Today I decided it would be nice to have a statuette of this famous sculpture to put on my desk as an inspiration. In case you haven't heard (and most in the west haven't), "The Motherland Calls" (also called "Mother Motherland," or just "The Motherland," Rodina Mat) was the tallest statue in the world when it was built in 1967 (279 feet). It sits on Mamayev Kurgan, the hill overlooking Stalingrad and, in 1942, offering control of the city to whichever army could take it. Ultimately the Soviets took it, and this statue was erected 24 years later in commemoration of their victory over the Nazis.
I never found a souvenir statue for my desk; perhaps the Russians take their monuments more seriously than we do and won't demean them by turning them into souvenirs. Or maybe I just didn't look in the right place. However, I did find the following story; an interview with the woman who originally modeled for "The Motherland Calls."
15 November 2003 01:45
Statuesque beauty. It took six months for artists to persuade Valentina Izotova to take her top off for the Motherland. Now she`s glad she did:
When the sculptors asked me to model for a statue to commemorate the tremendous sacrifice of our Red Army boys at Stalingrad, how could I refuse? But I was horrified when they insisted I pose nude. This was the early 1960s and respectable girls simply didn't take their clothes off for anyone other than their husbands. Artists - even revered and famous sculptors such as Lev Maistrenko, who was working on the memorial - didn't mean anything to a woman of 26.
It was Lev who approached me. I was working as a waitress at the city's top restaurant, the Volgograd - it's still there today - and usually worked in an area reserved for top Communist Party functions or visiting delegations. Lev told me I was beautiful and embodied all the physical and moral qualities of the perfect Soviet woman. Of course I was flattered - who wouldn't be? Curiosity got the better of me and I agreed to model.
Of course none of us had a clue how famous Rodina Mat would become. Today Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad) is as famous for this statue as for the terrible battle that took place here. My husband didn't like the idea of my posing for a group of artists sent from Moscow. He was terribly jealous and drove me to the studios they had set up in an old gas appliance factory for each and every session. After a while it became like any other job - I barely thought about standing there in my bikini and certainly welcomed the three roubles a day I was paid, which was a decent sum of money then. But it was six months before I finally relented and gave in to the sculptors' pleas to take my top off and bare my breasts. But that was all. I never budged in my determination to retain some modesty and never posed entirely in the nude. That was unthinkable. No one outside my family and immediate circle of friends ever knew about it.
Soon after I had completed my modelling duties I left to study for the first of my two degrees - I'm trained as an economist and an engineer. Later I left Volgograd altogether to live and worked in the polar mining city of Norilsk. After the statue was unveiled in 1967 I didn't give it much thought and just got on with my life. I came home in the early 1990s. I clearly remember that long train journey because hyper-inflation was taking off and the considerable sum of money that I set out with was practically worthless by the time I arrived. It was not an easy time. I, like many others, put my trust - and money and share vouchers - into money-making schemes. Of course it all turned out to be a scam and a lot of ordinary people lost everything. That's how I turned to social and political activism.
Today I am director of a charitable foundation to protect the rights of cheated investors and am running in December's State Duma (parliament) elections as a candidate for the United Russia Party. It's for this reason, mostly, that I decided to break nearly 40 years of silence. In the past few years the statue has become increasingly famous - you see its image everywhere. Now people recognise me in the street - not straight away - I'm not the slender young thing I was, but my features are still recognisable as those of Rodina Mat. She has stood there for nearly 40 years, her sword symbolising the defence of our homeland, one arm beckoning our men forward, mouth open in a cry of defiance. It's not me precisely, but I suppose there are elements of me in her. I no longer feel any shame in having taken off my clothes - I'm proud of what I did, proud of the sacrifice Russia made to defend itself during those dark days of the war.
I was very young during the war, but I shall never forget being evacuated from Stalingrad, along with my mother. We spent two years in Ukraine, sleeping in barns, a miserable time. The shock of coming home in 1943 to a city obliterated by war is still with me. That first winter, studying in school buildings with no roofs, I shall never forget. The Russian people still need defenders. I don't suppose that I shall be elected in December - but at least I can use what little fame Rodina Mat gives me to fight for the rights of ordinary people.
-- As told to Nick Holdsworth Valentina Izotova, a 68-year-old grandmother, was the model for Russia's most famous Soviet war memorial, Rodina Mat (Motherland Mother). For nearly 40 years she kept silent about her part in its creation