Memory in a glass cube: an unusual monument in Samara city

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Anastasia Kandaurova

Centenary since the beginning of the First World war is already celebrated in many countries. Russia as one of the main participants of the war among them, the government spending big sums on establishing monuments. Meanwhile in Samara there has already appeared a monument to one of the heroes. He never was on the front, though, but fought against hunger. A Norwegian Fidtjof Nansen saved millions of soviet people’s lives. A modest glass cube is now one of the most quaint sites of the city – and a truly democratic project, all money collected by the citizens of Samara.

The idea belongs to the editor of “A Different City” magazine Andrew Kotchetkov who first came across Nansen’s name three years ago. “I was amased that a man who saved so many people of Samara was almost forgotten,” – Andrew says.

Fridtjof Nansen first came to Samara in 1921 and saw the city almost dying from hunger. He collected 40 billion of Swiss francs and established up to 900 places where people could get victuals. Thousands of lives were saved thanks to Nansen. “It is so strange to realise that me or any of my friends could have not existed now if Nansen hadn’t helped our grandfathers to survive,” Andrew says.

In his magazine and in social nets Andrew gave a start to a campaign which quickly found many followers. All the money – around $3000 – was collected by the citizens in about two weeks. The monument was installed in spring.

That was not the first attempt, by the way. Nansen could have appeared in Samara in bronze – the project was already created. But it left to Moscow then. The monument in Samara was not the first one in the country, therefore. But the event was still significant enough for the Norwegian embassador Lejdulv Namtvedt to visit the city.

“In Norway Nansen is very famous, – he said during the opening ceremony. – And I am glad there are young people here who remember him, too”.

The monument has a form of a cube 80sm X 80sm and is made of glass. It symbolises a piece of ice – the substance all Nansen’s life – a life of a polar explorer and bilolgist – was related to. The cube is established at the entrance of the local railway station – a massive building, by the way also made of glass. The choice of a place has both historical and practical reasons. Nansen arrived in Samara by train and then by the same way delivered purveyance to different areas. The place is also very well guarded with web-cameras in almost every corner. For a fragile structure such protection is necessary.

Now the monument is considered is one of the most modern and stylish installations in the city. And – a good start of the year of WW1 centenary. One more interesting fact. Nansen was awarded Nobel Peace Prize for his help to expats. Ironically, it is Samara that is now one of the centres to help Ukranian refudgees.

“I don’t think we would have changed anything in the monument according to current political situation if we did it right now, – Andrew says. – Another thing the glass symbolises is that Nansen had a clear and pure heart – so it commemorates all good things he did.”

Photos by Vadim Kuznetsov and Vadim Trifinov

​Fridtjof Nansen was a Norwegian explorer, scientist, diplomat, humanitarian and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. He made a contribution to the development of zoology and oceaenography, and his techniques of polar travel and his innovations in equipment and clothing influenced a generation of subsequent Arctic and Antarctic expeditions. In 1922 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on behalf of the displaced victims of the First World War and related conflicts.

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