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Great Patriotic War - non-stop debates?

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Dmitry Shusharin) - Victory Day reminds us that we do not have a common interpretation of the Great Patriotic War.

The tradition of celebrating the victory as a big national holiday was established only in 1965, 20 years after the war ended. Leonid Brezhnev was the country's leader at that time but there was no political connotation - big events are always seen better from a distance. However, the history of the holiday and the attitude to the war and its legacy gives one an idea about the state of Soviet society.

Victory Day was all but unknown in the Stalin-ruled U.S.S.R. Probably the authorities did not want war veterans to feel too important. War veterans are inevitably a domestic threat for both totalitarian regimes and democracies. This is the law of their adaptation to civilian life.

But an analysis of such events requires time, regardless of what the authorities want to achieve. In fiction and cinema, the first attempts to interpret the war were made under Stalin. Scholarly analysis was almost non-existent.

In 1966, Alexander Nekrich published a book called "June 22, 1941," which was critical of the failure of Stalin and the Communist Party to prepare the Soviet Union for the coming assault from the Nazis. A ban on the book meant prohibition of any research into the early stages of the war. Gradually, the war became part of official ideology. Moreover, it was the war subject that really helped consolidate Soviet society.

However, in the latter half of the 1970s, the subject started turning into a joke. Brezhnev's role in the war was blown out of all proportion. He was portrayed as a great military leader, or political commissar, to be precise. It appeared that all the most important battles took part on Malaya Zemlya in the south of Russia, where he fought during the war.

The authorities adopted an officially neutral attitude to Stalin - he was not seen as a great military figure but was given credit for his good leadership skills. Marshal Georgy Zhukov's posthumous cult left no room for negative comments. Only Marshal Chuikov was allowed, by way of exception, to express negative attitude to some of Zhukov's actions, for instance, the seizure of Berlin.

The official figure of Soviet losses in the war was estimated at "more than 20 million." The exact number is still unknown but with the onset of perestroika Soviet scholars were allowed to talk about the casualties associated with the Stalin-Zhukov-not-a-step-back approach to Soviet soldiers. They were also able to discuss many other subjects, such as the defeat in the initial period of the war and crimes committed by Cheka (KGB's predecessor).

Now 20 years after the start of free debates on the war's history, there is still no unanimity in its interpretation. The war in general and each of its aspects evoke heated discussions.

Some Internet users, mostly young people, claim there is no point in celebrating Victory Day at all because genuine national heroes were in the Vlasov and Krasnov units, which fought on the Nazi side.

But those who do celebrate are also engaged in fierce debates. Is Stalin a victor or a marauder who stole the victory? How should we qualify the aftermath of the war - as Eastern Europe's enslavement and the world's split into two political systems, or the birth of a great empire?

It goes without saying that if we are to analyze anything, we should limit ourselves to these discussions - the advocates of betrayal do not deserve attention. What matters is not even the gist of debates but a point of departure - a system of values in which the war is analyzed. There are two major approaches.

If we proceed from the premise that a homeland is never identical to a state, the war was a national exploit and all are victors - from rank-and-file soldiers to the generalissimos, provided his actions are also judged by his attitude to his own soldiers. This is one interpretation of war history. But we decide that the state can dispose of its subjects as it sees fit, that the value of human life is zero, and the tragedy of tens of millions is nothing compared with the grandeur of one's homeland, we will get a manifestation of a completely different mentality.

The former system of values can be called democratic, and the latter is based on a great-power approach. These two positions have determined the arguments over the war issues which have been raging for the past 62 years. Generations have changed but not the debates.

We should probably not expect them to stop. We should simply understand that national identity is work in process rather than a result. We have been discussing what will bring our nation together. Maybe non-stop debates are a form of national unity?

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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