Friday, May 7, 2010

Victory 65 - Russia's "Historical" PD

I grew up with my grandparents' stories from the WWII - rather, "The Great Patriotic War". Even though it took me a while to fully comprehend what they were telling about, I was well aware of the major events, and most importantly - the cost of the war for the Soviet people.

Tanks rehearse for the May 9th Parade, Red Square, Moscow. Image courtesy of Media Support.

That was about to change when I started learning WWII history as an international student, using a British textbook. The Soviet Union, even if mentioned, was not given proper acknowledgment (that is, "proper" according to me), and almost the entire focus was on the Western Front. I literally had to look at the map from the other side. (As a thirteen-year-old, that was my first true experience of "multiple/alternative perspectives", which, perhaps, got me obsessed with history in the first place.)

Given the post-WWII years and the Cold War context, it's easy to see why the Soviet role in the war in general, and in the Victory in particular, was downplayed and perhaps, even, distorted. The same happened - to varying degrees - within the USSR about the American and Western European war effort. But now, with the Cold War (supposedly) over for more than 20 years, and the relations getting increasingly normalized (at least on the surface), Russia has come forward with its well-justified claim for its proper place in history books around the world.

Here are some passages from Foreign Minister Lavrov's address to the Council of European Parliamentary Assembly on April 29, 2010:

Russia has never divided the victory into its own victory and that of others'. The war was won by all allies of the anti-Hitler coalition, and on the 9th of May we will honor their veterans on the Red Square. However, we, the Russia, will never forget that the Soviet Union with its territory, cities and villages took the brunt of the Hitler invasion.
[...]  This is our common victory. The victory of those values that make us human. We all want the same for our children and grandchildren [...] In other words, we want a common future. For the sake of this future, we should tell each other in all due honesty and clarity, that only the full knowledge of facts, historic truth without omissions and without any politicization for the sake of short-term considerations can ensure the strength of Greater Europe that we are building.
[...] Even when the veterans of the World War II, participants and witnesses of those events lived on different sides of the Iron Curtain and quite often happened to be enemies in the Cold War, in their hearts they shared deep respect for each other, mutual understanding, and brotherhood sealed by common trials and a common victory.
[...] Russia has always stood in the joint work of historians in the study of the most intricate periods of common history. And today we are ready for this. New Russia has officially condemned Stalinism and has never advocated its ideology and practices. At the same time, we strongly reject any attempts to falsify history and to shift onto Russia all the faults of European politics."

Lavrov lays out - very eloquently - what seems to be the major goal of the unprecedented "lavishness" of the 65th Anniversary Commemoration.

Events promise to be memorable. Firstly, of course, there's the May 9th Victory Parade: the first military parade that will involve the participation of foreign armies, at the Red Square. Ironic perhaps, but a wonderful public diplomacy move. Not only does it bring together peoples who had, 65 years ago, fought side by side, but also provides an opportunity for Russia to showcase its military might for the world to see. After all, awe and reverence - according to some - can still be regarded as a product of effective public diplomacy (perhaps, "Militarism PD"?).


Secondly, there is Russia Today. Since March, it has been heating up the scene with special historical "pieces" and daily progress reports from the Red Square. It has also been running a series of short videos, featuring personal stories from Russian, Soviet, as well as foreign veterans and survivors: "War Witness." An interesting emphasis, in most of them, is made on the notions of shared tragedy as well as mutual support and cooperation, which allowed them to survive in the first place. A great PD theme, indeed!

St. George's Ribbon. Image courtesy of  RIA Novosti

Then, there is a host of other events that - in one way or another - are related to the Victory celebration. For example, there is RIA Novosti's St. George's Ribbon campaign that aimed to distribute the commemorative ribbons around the world. Russia will be giving out commemorative medals to American Veterans who have participated in war supplies-carrying operations and the "Frantic" missions of the U.S. Air Force. There was a major conference/forum held on the subject: "U.S.-Russia Relations: From Past Join Victories to Future Accomplishments" in Washingon, D.C, by the World Russia Forum. The entire May 9 parade will be broadcast live at Russia's pavilion at the Shanghai Expo. While, to make sure it facilitates the expected legions of reporters covering the May 9th parade, Moscow also set up a "special support" website for journalists, in Russian, English, French, and German. These all, to name but a few.

The 65th Victory Anniversary Commemoration is a great PD initiative on behalf of Moscow. This will certainly keep Russia in the headlines around the world (as it already has, more or less) for days, if not weeks. It will also provide an opportunity for a military show, à la russe, and very effective images for the history books of the future: prominent foreign dignitaries watching more than a 100,000 troops, hundreds of combat aircraft, tanks, and missiles parading on the Red Square. (Amazing!) Most important, however, is the effort to set the "historical record" straight, and present the "New Russia" in a new, albeit military, light.

(This would be my favorite Soviet song/march from the WWII. Enjoy!)

RT and RIA Novosti are going to broadcast the parade live on Sunday (I'm sure they will be streaming online, too). Can it beat the over-commercialized "celebrations"  of the Mother's Day in the U.S., though?

[UPDATE] RT just had a report addressing the issue openly.