Tuesday, August 30, 2016


The Kremlin Remembers Its Favorite War

Russian servicemen take part in the Victory Parade on Moscow's Red Square on May 9.
Russian servicemen take part in the Victory Parade on Moscow's Red Square on May 9.
Not every bachelor's thesis gets tweets of approval from such luminaries as Evgeny Morozov and Ed Lucas. So, kudos to Jacob Evan Lassin. The soon-to-be (we assume) graduate of the College of William and Mary has written a compelling thesis on Russia and the "myths and memories" of the country's involvement in World War II.

Lassin details how Soviet leader Josef Stalin took pains to keep essentially every aspect of the Red Army's involvement in the war either completely secret or spun in a way to show maximum greatness. After the war ended (or after the Soviet victory, depending on where one stood), Moscow commissioned statues in Berlin, Tallinn, Warsaw, and Sofia commemorating the Soviet victory and, as Lassin notes, to reinforce the notion of Soviet control.

After Stalin's death in 1953, successor Nikita Khrushchev sought to do away with the "personality cult" that had sprung up around Stalin, and amended the war-history narrative to give greater credit to the party and the people.

Over the next decade, the utopian socialist experiment began falling apart and the party needed a good story of unity -- World War II was perfect. May 9, Victory Day, once again became a state holiday and the Red Square parade to mark the day was reborn. As Lassin explains, the Soviet account of the war was "canonized" over the subsequent 20-plus years.

WATCH: Red Square Victory Day Parade, 1965

WATCH: Red Square Victory Day Parade, 2012

Fast-forward to 2007. The newly elected government in Tallinn, Estonia, decides to move the Stalin-era Bronze Soldier of Tallinn statue from the city center, much to the chagrin of Estonia's ethnic Russian population and to Russian officialdom.

To counter such acts, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a decree in 2009 creating the Presidential Commission of the Russian Federation to Counter Attempts to Falsify History to the Detriment of Russia's Interests. The commission was populated with pro-Kremlin historians and other political actors and given the force of law, with attempts to falsify the history of World War II (or "rehabilitate Nazism") in the former Soviet Union made punishable with three to five years in jail.

Apparently not much came of the commission, however, and it was dissolved on February 14, 2012 (we couldn't find a single prosecution). One member, Natalya Narochnitskaya, was pretty disappointed, but is under the impression that the commission's work will continue in some way. Although the official commission is no more, the rhetorical and electronic campaign continues. Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking in Israel on June 25, called the memory of World War II "sacred" and said, "We must keep and defend the truth about the war."

The Kremlin has taken the campaign online as well, funding the website Iremember.ru (which Lassin analyzes in his thesis) through the Federal Agency on Press and Mass Communications. The site houses anecdotes in English, and troves of information on the war and the people who fought it. Interestingly, and perhaps predictably, the more conspiratorial (or anticonspiratorial) aspects of the site -- like the section bemoaning the film "Enemy at the Gates" -- are available only in Russian.

As Lassin explains in his thesis, the web offers a sort of middle ground for national discourse. While people and content can be manipulated, making something "open" like Iremember.ru gives a semblance of a lack of control and provides a certain degree of randomness, which, in Internet-speak, means "legitimate." RT, the Kremlin-run international news outlet, also has a dedicated portal to World War II, which is actually relatively well done and includes interviews, key dates, and feature-length films.

Over the past decade, the Russian government has emerged as one the world's most information-savvy regimes. It employs an army of bloggers (official and otherwise) and keeps the Russian web largely free of formal restrictions, choosing to engage and spam rather than censor and block.

There are calls by some in the Kremlin, however, to be more restrictive online after months of street protests. Russian officials have claimed a "Western hand" in Russia's unrest, and in April, Federal Security Service Deputy Director Sergei Smirnov said: "Society must defend itself. If the enemy uses 'dirty' technology, we need to purge the space of such activity in some way."

Internet rights may change in Russia, but, for the time being, as RT puts it, World War II "was truly patriotic, as the Soviet people were fighting on their own land trying to save their homeland and the whole world from the terrible menace that was the Nazis. And, as we know, they did it, having won that war and forced Nazi Germany to capitulate."

And that's a fact.

-- Zach Peterson
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Rick from: milan
June 27, 2012 02:11
67 year of american films about ww II
and any other war in which USA was involved

and you speak about ""myths and memories"" !??!?

Do a examination of conscience , please !

In Response

by: Peter from: Williamsburg
June 28, 2012 13:02
Well done, Jacob. Go Tribe.
I would suggest that your next work take on the viscious attack on South Vietnam that we think of as the "Vietnam War," and the propaganda machine that the CIA staged to enable that 20 year bloodbath.

by: A.N. from: Finland
June 27, 2012 02:43
"The Kremlin Remembers Its Favorite War"

Wich war is the White House favorite war ?
In Response

by: Anonymous from: USA
June 28, 2012 02:13
Which White House, Russian or American?

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
June 27, 2012 04:42
And my favourit wars are those that the US carried out in Vietnam in the 1960s-1970s, in Iraq between 2003 and 2011 and their current one in Afghanistan: I like those three because they allow the US to demonstrate their capacity to fulfill all their policy goals and to show others who actually the boss in this world is :-). Do you, guys, have any papers approved by such luminaries as Evgeny Morozov to recommend on these three wars maybe :-)?
In Response

by: rick
June 27, 2012 19:03
you lose corea .....
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
June 27, 2012 19:35
))) Hi Konstantin. Thanks very much for using my name to publish your insightful comments. But why did you leave out Black Hawk Down? This is an embarrassing loss for the US military, and it puzzles me why you would not mention it while pretending to be me.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
June 27, 2012 20:30
You are right, RICK, Korea is a similar case: the US wanted to destroy the DPRK and instead the DPRK survied and built a nuclear bomb.
Black Hawk Dawn, Black Hawk 'Down... Konstantin, this word combination kind of rings a bell, but I don't recall exactly what it was exactly. Please enlighten me on this one :-)!
In Response

by: park
June 27, 2012 21:47
Nonsense. DPRK invaded the South and was repulsed. Communist aggression was denied.

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
June 27, 2012 18:00
Nice report and impressive thesis. Strange how memory works, particularly after traumatic experiences. I’m of the Vietnam generation, and had once hoped that the futility and horror of that conflict would have seared itself into the American understanding of the ‘utility’ of war. Some of the books and movies produced after the war helped to prolong this memory, but when the next opportunity came along to use military force for perceived political objectives, many smart Americans mistakenly believed that this time it would be different. Human nature is broken, and at a fundamental level, some men enjoy conflict.

One would like to believe that after losing 27 million in WW II, Russians would be forever immunized as to again letting loose the dogs of war. Alas, in forever glorifying this conflict, they run the risk of forgetting war’s true nature, and stumbling again into this tragedy.
In Response

by: William from: Aragon
June 28, 2012 00:05
Hi Ray, I concur about the nature of conflict, however the Soviets didn't get a chance to let "loose the dogs of war" in the first instance - they were invaded by Nazi Germany. I believe the current fascination with WW2 is being played upon by Putin in his attempts to mimic his strong-man hero, Stalin. Once Putin has gone - and that day will come - I forecast a decline of Russian interest in WW2 (and Stalin), and a focus on a better and brighter future. (Let us hope so, anyway!)
In Response

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
June 28, 2012 15:40
Good point. I actually knew that, and suppose that it makes a world of difference whether a nation starts a war or simply fights to oppose the aggressor. Much of the Russian understanding of WW II is predicated upon being the ‘victim’ of the Nazi onslaught. The peace-loving USSR was merely building the worker’s paradise when Hitler and his armies treacherously broke the non-aggression pact. I’ve read some of the history which suggests that Hitler beat Stalin to the jump, and had the Nazis not attacked, Stalin would have initiated offensive operations against Germany. Who knows, and what’s the point of developing alternate histories when we can’t even sort out what actually happened? In the realm of memory, I guess it is better to portray your country as the prey than the aggressor.

I hope you are right about Russia's future. They are a great people who deserve a more just form of government.

by: Vakhtang from: Moscow
June 28, 2012 14:03
How can we now call the wars of the Kremlin,they are proud of?

Let's take the 2008....
It is known that most of this war,were dedicated to a burning and looting Georgian villages, destruction of Georgian cemeteries and mass marauding.
Thus we get:
Be proud Russia!!!Hooray comrades!!Long Live Mr. Putin!!

We also know that Russian soldiers during this war loved to pick up toilet bowls
Thus we get:
Hooray! We won! All toilet bowls are captured!
Long live Mr.Putin!

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