Today 8 April 2020, Wensday - Last updated at 4 July 2020

News 23 January 2020, at 15:57

Putin's latest obsession: Rewriting World War II

Marime Font

The 75th anniversary of the end of World War II was the only forthcoming event Russian President Vladimir Putin mentioned in his New Year’s address to the nation. Creating an alternative to the dominant Western narrative about that war is key to Putin’s way of securing Russia’s place in the world.

 Putin has appeared lately to be obsessed with World War II, discoursing about it at every opportunity — during an informal session with other post-Soviet leaders, at his big end-of-year news conference, in a meeting with Russian tycoons, at the Defense Ministry in the presence of top generals.

He’s talked time and again about delving into archival documents; he’s mentioned working on a scholarly article about the war. Even for a leader who has made the Soviet Union’s victory over the Nazis (seen by many as a triumph over a rotten Europe) a cornerstone of the new Russian national identity, Putin’s evident emotional involvement and the sheer time investment are unusual.


That’s because Putin, his foreign policy advisers and his propagandists see the dominant narrative of the war shifting against Russia.

Throughout the Cold War’s worst years, the victorious alliance of the Soviet Union, the United States, the United Kingom and France was a reminder that cooperation was possible. There is, however, a tendency to dump that baggage now and to treat Russia as a villain without any qualifications. Late last year, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was asked to recall when he’d changed his mind. His response:

“What I’ve really changed my mind on was whether it is possible to reset with Russia. I really thought, as I think many foreign secretaries and prime ministers have thought before, that we could start again with Russia. That it’s a great country we fought with against fascism. It was very, very disappointing that I was wrong.”

The Kremlin is extremely sensitive to such signals — not just for domestic propaganda reasons, but because Russia’s global power is still based on some important spoils of World War II. As one of the nations that vanquished Hitler, the Soviet Union didn’t just win control over Eastern Europe, it received a place atop the postwar global order and an all-important permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

If the Soviet Union is primarily seen as Hitler’s ally at the outset of the war — which of course it was — rather than a Hitler conqueror at its conclusion, if Russia has never really been on the right side of history, it has no claim to moral authority and to a role as a global arbiter. To Putin, that role is, in a way, as important as Russia’s nuclear shield. The ability to say authoritatively what’s right and what’s wrong is, after all, a major part of what makes the U.S. a global superpower.

Kremlin-linked historians and propagandists see the shifting narrative as the result of Eastern Europe’s increased role in the continent as a whole. Of all European nations, Poland and the Baltic states are the most concerned with the policy and politics of memory, their loud voices have drawn the European political elite’s attention away from the victory and toward the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939, in which Nazi Germany and Josef Stalin’s Soviet Union divided up spheres of influence in Europe.

One result of this was a European Parliament resolution last year that equates the Soviet regime with the Nazi one in terms of the damage done to Europe, a document that has been a strong irritant to the Russian leadership and to Putin personally.

This year’s first issue of Russia in Global Politics, a foreign policy journal with strong Kremlin links that often provides insights into the Putin administration’s geopolitical thinking, contains the transcript of a fascinating debate among prominent Russian historians on how Russia might try to shape the World War II narrative in a more politically advantageous direction. The debate casts Israel as Russia’s only ally in fighting the turning tide, and Poland as its main adversary.

The logic behind this is that Israel will never agree with the propaganda narratives of the nationalist governments in Poland and the Baltics, which aim to reject all blame for locals’ cooperation with the Nazis during the Holocaust. Indeed, as the Polish government has doubled down on its own nationalist memory policy — which casts Poland as an innocent victim of both Russian and German aggression — it has clashed repeatedly with Israel and the global Jewish community.

The Poles have also had their difficulties with the European Union: They’ve tried to push through a reform of their judiciary that is seen in Brussels as an attack on the rule of law, and they’ve torpedoed various common policies in areas such as immigration and climate protection.

So here’s the recipe for the Russian memory counteroffensive as formulated during the discussion by Moscow State University historian Fyodor Gaida:

“So then our main scapegoat is Poland. If we and the European bureaucrats need a common enemy, I guess Poland will be the first candidate. Poland’s role should get the most attention, which is what’s happening today. Our main ally is, yes, Israel. I agree completely, this topic must be developed: Jews in the Red Army and so on.”

Gaida also proposes that Russia should stress that all former Soviet republics contributed to the victory, rather than that Russia led the effort.

So far, Putin has played all these cards. He has repeatedly recalled Poland’s land grab in Czechoslovakia after France and Britain agreed to that country’s carve-up in Munich in 1938. During the meeting with the generals, he recalled how a Polish ambassador to the Third Reich told Hitler he’d be commemorated with a statue in Warsaw if he managed to dispatch the Jews to Africa, as he once planned. “A bastard, an anti-Semitic pig, I have no other way to say it,” Putin raged.

Never mind that the ambassador in question, Josef Lipski, actually helped Jews fleeing Germany before the war get into Poland, as Polish Jewish community leaders pointed out. On Jan. 23, Putin will give an address at a ceremony in Israel commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Red Army’s liberation of Auschwitz, but Polish President Andrzej Duda has refused to go because he hasn’t been given a chance to speak.

As for the former Soviet republics’ role in the victory, Putin made it the focus of his meetings with ex-Soviet leaders last month, telling them, “For all of us — I’d like to stress that and I know you agree — for all of us this is a special anniversary, because our ancestors, our fathers, our grandfathers have placed so much on the altar of our then-common Fatherland.”

Over the next few months, we should expect the Russian memory counterattack to develop in new directions. During the historians’ debate, Alexander Lomanov from the International Economics and Foreign Relations Institute in Moscow proposed working more closely with China, which, he said, would appreciate more attention to its role in defeating Japan and thus allowing the Soviet Union to spare its forces for the anti-Hitler front. In return, he said, China would be happy to promote the idea that the Soviets were the main force behind the victory in Europe.

The Chinese narrative has retained many of the familiar positive images of the “great Soviet Union” and “mighty Red Army,” which made the decisive contribution into crushing fascism. Given the strict control over historical memory in China, any “spontaneous” criticism of the Soviet Union role in World War II is impossible. The narrative is created from above and controlled by the political elite.

Much of Putin’s foreign policy activity this year will be directed toward trying to rebuild a more Russia-centric concept of the victory over the Nazis. This is territory where Putin isn’t prepared to give ground, and given the enormous complexity of the historical material as well as the crosscurrents of Israeli, U.S. and European memory politics, he can put up quite a diplomatic and propaganda fight.

It’s precisely these complexities, though, that make any kind of government involvement in shaping the memory of World War II so abhorrent. As politicians cherry-pick the blood-soaked record for political purposes, truth is the biggest loser.

As Alexey I. Miller of the European University in St. Petersburg put it during the historians’ discussion, “The idea that we are returning to historical memory to overcome political differences and enmity has been superseded by the understanding of memory as one more area where political goals are being sought.” Russia, given its size and the dizzying extremes of its World War II record, shouldn’t get involved in this. It should take pains to recognize and atone for its crimes even as it celebrates its heroic past. Even if narrative wars are a reality, refusing to fight them is the strongest possible position.

Russian writer Leonid Bershidsky
is Bloomberg Opinion’s Europe columnist.

 Urmărește știrile pe Telegram
blog comments powered by Disqus

Din aceeaşi secţiune

Cele mai noi ştiri de azi

News 7 April 2020, at: 10:46

 (CNN)The body of Maeve Kennedy Townsend McKean has been found by divers, police said. Members of a dive and rescue team found the body in 25 feet of water, about 2.5 miles from her mother's residence, around 5:31 p.m. Monday, the Maryland Natural Resources Police said in a statement.

( ) Read all

News 5 April 2020, at: 16:20

The novel coronavirus is most active at temperatures around four degrees above zero Celsius and gets much weaker at high temperatures, Hong Kong University scientists have found.

( ) Read all

News 5 April 2020, at: 10:48

The mother says she and her husband Vinay embraced the names after hospital staff started using them for the children.

( ) Read all

News 2 April 2020, at: 17:03

 The UK death toll for coronavirus has risen to 2,921 – up by 569 from the day before.

( ) Read all

News 2 April 2020, at: 08:06

 The governor of Connecticut delivered heart-breaking news about the COVID-19 pandemic and said an infant girl here in the state died of coronavirus.

( ) Read all

News 1 April 2020, at: 15:34

Spain has recorded another 864 deaths related to coronavirus, the highest in one day, as the total number of deaths across Europe has gone beyond 30,000. More than 9,000 people have died in Spain, which is second only to Italy in fatalities caused by the virus. Confirmed cases in the country...

( ) Read all

News 1 April 2020, at: 15:32

A 13-year-old boy who tested positive for coronavirus has died, a London hospital trust has said. Ismail Mohamed Abdulwahab, from Brixton in south London, died in King's College Hospital early on Monday. He is thought to be the youngest person to have died with the virus in the UK.

( ) Read all

News 31 March 2020, ora: 20:31

The Independent Turkmenistan bans the word ‘coronavirus’ and wearing of masks

Turkmenistan bans the word ‘coronavirus’ and wearing of masks

 Turkmenistan’s government has reportedly banned the word “coronavirus” from being used by local media or health information brochures while denying the disease’s presence in the country.

( ) Read all

News 31 March 2020, at: 07:51

 German Chancellor Angela Merkel tested negative for the coronavirus for the third time, a German government spokesman said in an emailed statement on Monday evening.

( ) Read all

News 27 March 2020, at: 14:29

Media captionIn a video on Twitter, Boris Johnson says he is self-isolating and will continue to work from home. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has tested positive for coronavirus.

( ) Read all

News 27 March 2020, at: 14:24

Specialist sniffer dogs are to be tested to see if they can detect coronavirus.

( ) Read all

News 26 March 2020, at: 17:16

London (CNN Business) Dyson has received an order from the UK government for 10,000 ventilators to support efforts by the country's National Health Service to treat coronavirus patients.

( ) Read all

News 26 March 2020, at: 15:07

Romanian writer Paul Goma, known as a leading opponent of the communist regime in the country, passed away in Paris after contracting the Covid-19 infection.

( ) Read all

News 24 March 2020, at: 20:46

India is to impose a nationwide lockdown in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced.

( ) Read all

News 24 March 2020, at: 18:16

An elderly Catholic priest reportedly died from the COVID-19 coronavirus after refusing a ventilator so that a younger patient could use it instead. Don Giuseppe Berardelli, 72, died March 15 at a hospital in Lovere, Italy after declining to use the medical equipment that his parishioners were...

( ) Read all

News 24 March 2020, at: 13:56

The African saxophone legend Manu Dibango has died in Paris after catching coronavirus. Dibango – best known for his 1972 song Soul Makossa – is one of the first global stars to die from Covid-19. The 86-year-old fused jazz and funk music with traditional sounds from his home...

( ) Read all

News 24 March 2020, at: 13:47

The lockdown in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the global coronavirus outbreak began, will be partially lifted on 8 April, officials say. Travel restrictions in the rest of Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, will be lifted from midnight on Tuesday - for residents who are healthy. A...

( ) Read all

News 23 March 2020, at: 17:19

A prankster is facing up to five years in prison for causing panic on the Moscow underground. That’s the high price he may yet pay for an ill-conceived attempt to turn Chinese coronavirus hysteria into online likes. A young man in a black tracksuit and a face mask was walking along the...

( ) Read all

News 23 March 2020, at: 17:19

A joint petition signed by several NGOs has protested over the government’s poor communications and restricted information about the scale of the coronavirus crisis in Moldova.

( ) Read all

News 23 March 2020, at: 15:37

On 20 March 2020, through a written procedure replacing the 122th Plenary Session of the Venice Commission due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Venice Commission adopted a joint opinion, together with the Council of Europe’s Directorate of Human Rights on draft constitutional amendments...

( ) Read all

News 20 March 2020, at: 09:04

Coronavirus has killed more people in Italy than in any other country, after deaths there rose by 427 in a day. The number of deaths now stands at 3,405, which is more than in China where the virus originated last year. There have been 3,245 reported deaths in China, but there have been...

( ) Read all

News 19 March 2020, at: 19:35

„PANIC ATTACK”: a collection about personality disorders and their integration into society

„PANIC ATTACK”: a collection about personality disorders and their integration into society

“My name is Lilya Moraru. I am 29 years old and I am a fashion designer from Republic of Moldova. „PANIC ATTACK” is the motto of a collection about personality disorders and their integration into society. Of the myriad of mental health problems, panic attacks are the most...

( ) Read all

News 19 March 2020, at: 13:14

The psychology of success and wealth, the power of capitalism.

( ) Read all

News 19 March 2020, at: 08:08

Russian media have deployed a “significant disinformation campaign” against the West to worsen the impact of the coronavirus, generate panic and sow distrust, according to a European Union document seen by Reuters.

( ) Read all

News 19 March 2020, at: 06:52

The number of people dying from coronavirus in Italy has risen by 475 in one day to nearly 3,000 - the biggest increase since the outbreak. There are a total of 35,713 confirmed cases in the country, with more than 4,000 having successfully recovered. Lombardy, the worst-hit region,...

( ) Read all

News 19 March 2020, at: 06:10

  With hundreds of millions of people now isolating themselves around the world, the novel coronavirus pandemic has become a truly global event. And while its geopolitical implications should be considered secondary to matters of health and safety, those implications may, in the long term,...

( ) Read all

News 18 March 2020, at: 17:16

The Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (PSRM) and the Democratic Party of Moldova (PDM) formed a majority in the Parliament of Moldova. It was unexpected, since the two parties were considered antagonists, if not totally, then at least in matters of the country's foreign policy....

( ) Read all

News 18 March 2020, at: 13:59

 Russian pro-Kremlin media have mounted a “significant disinformation campaign” to aggravate the coronavirus pandemic crisis in western countries by destroying confidence in the emergency response, according to an internal EU report. 

( ) Read all

News 18 March 2020, at: 10:51

The Irish prison service gave prisoners antiseptics for hands without alcohol, despite the fact that they are less effective against the coronavirus. And all because of antiseptics containing alcohol, prisoners use to brew “moonshine”, writes with reference to prison service of the...

( ) Read all

News 17 March 2020, at: 08:52

The first human trial of a vaccine to protect against pandemic coronavirus has started in the US. Four patients received the jab at the Kaiser Permanente research facility in Seattle, Washington, reports the Associated Press news agency. The vaccine cannot cause Covid-19 but contains a...

( ) Read all

News 17 March 2020, at: 08:47

 Kristofer Hivju, best known for playing the formidable, bearded Tormund on “Game of Thrones,” is the latest actor to test positive for the coronavirus. Hivju revealed the diagnosis in an Instagram post, saying that he is currently self-quarantining with his family in Norway.

( ) Read all

News 15 March 2020, at: 07:48

BREAKING/// France-Presse: Medicago Announces Production of a Viable Vaccine Candidate for COVID-19

France-Presse: Medicago Announces Production of a Viable Vaccine Candidate for COVID-19

 Medicago, a biopharmaceutical company headquartered in Quebec City, announced today that they have successfully produced a Virus-Like Particle (VLP) of the coronavirus just 20 days after obtaining the SARS-CoV-2 (virus causing the COVID-19 disease) gene. Production of the VLP is the first...

( ) Read all

News 12 March 2020, at: 06:47

President Vladimir Putin has said the situation with the coronavirus in Russia is "under control". Borders are closed, mass gatherings have been banned and increasing restrictions have put in place to slow the spread of the virus.

( ) Read all

News 9 March 2020, at: 18:08

 Saudi Arabia's bloated budget means it's not really a low-cost producer. That's why any race to the bottom will be difficult to win. In a war of attrition, the winner isn’t the force with overwhelming power, but the one with the greatest capacity to sustain damage.

( ) Read all

News 9 March 2020, at: 16:48

Foreign Policy The New Spheres of Influence

The New Spheres of Influence

In the heady aftermath of the Cold War, American policymakers pronounced one of the fundamental concepts of geopolitics obsolete. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described a new world “in which great power is defined not by spheres of influence . . . or the strong imposing their will on...

( ) Read all
Current tier / breakpoint: xs sm md lg xl (= visible only on this breakpoint)

.hidden-xs-down .hidden-sm-down .hidden-md-down .hidden-lg-down

.hidden-xs-up .hidden-sm-up .hidden-md-up .hidden-lg-up .hidden-xl

.hidden-xs (only) .hidden-sm (only) .hidden-md (only) .hidden-lg (only) .hidden-xl (only)