Monday, May 9, 2011

Happy Victory Day!

May 9 marks the day the Soviet forces took over Berlin in 1945: i.e. the day World War II came to an end in Europe, at least on the Eastern Front. That was a big deal at the time, and still is... in the former Soviet region, that is. I am still dismayed at the lack of acknowledgement and recognition of the Soviet war effort in Western, and especially American "tradition". (For example, none of the major American news organizations mentioned the story on their front pages today, with the exception of The Washington Post.)

I had written about the case last year, but I have come across some interesting figures and information since, which I thought I would take the opportunity to share today.

Firstly, in his 2007 paper, Ivan Katchanovski cites some outrageous statistics:
"More than half of high school graduates in the U.S. in 2004 thought that not the Soviet Union, but Germany, Italy, and Japan were US allies during the Second World War. A Gallup poll in 1994 showed that 11, 12, and 65 percent of Americans considered that the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and the United States respectively contributed the most to the defeat of Nazi Germany during World War II, even though in fact at least 75 percent of German military casualties were inflicted on the Eastern Front."

Yet, perhaps not that surprising. The Cold War, coupled with still ongoing "Russophobia", lack of in-depth and well-informed news and academic analysis on the country, as well as persistent cultural biases and stereotypes can certainly explain where such attitudes are coming from. However, such historical distortions should be unacceptable and do pose a major problem for the public diplomacy of the countries concerned.

Russia has taken this issue seriously and has included it in its 2008 Foreign Policy Concept:
"The reaction to the prospect of loss by the historic West of its monopoly in global processes finds its expression, in particular, in the continued political and psychological policy of "containing" Russia, including the use of a selective approach to history, for those purposes, first of all as regards the World War Two and the post-war period."

Then, among the major public diplomacy objectives outlined in the Concept (a section called "International humanitarian cooperation and human rights"), it is stated that Russia will seek to:
"...firmly counter manifestations of neofascism, any forms of racial discrimination, aggressive nationalism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia, attempts to rewrite the history, use it for instigating confrontation and revanchism in the world politics, and revise the outcome of the World War Two."

It has certainly been trying to do so, especially through lavish parades on the Victory Day over the past decade (all too reminiscent of the past, I admit). Perhaps the most prominent among those was last's year's military parade - marking the 65th Anniversary - on the Red Square. Here's the Russia Today coverage of this year's parade.


Part 2

This year the "celebrations" were a little more humble, and still, the parade featured a record number of participants. Russia Today dedicated a lot of time to it, too: besides just relaying shots from the center of Moscow, its programming was also sprinkled with commentary on the historical relativism surrounding the issue (with a special twist, of course).

Then, of course, Medvedev made sure to congratulate everyone in English, too, on his blog and on Twitter. In short, a multi-media offensive. If only people who they are really targeting paid any attention...

In many ways, I couldn't agree more with Stephen Cohen - he does indeed touch upon some (but not all, at least not explicitly) of the issues persisting in the perceptions of the publics on both sides.

Lastly, kudos to U.S. Ambassador to Moscow John Beyrle, who - yet again - demonstrated to the Russians that he remembers. But then, for him it's also a family matter.

Yes, the Soviet Union was "bad". Yes, Stalin subjected his own population to many horrors, too terrible to be put in words. Yet, the Soviet people paid a price of close to 27 million casualties in World War II, and they deserve to be remembered and honored, despite their terrible leader at the time. After all, WWII is not just about Pearl Harbor or D-Day, and the world could have been a very different place had there not been the Soviet people to stop the Nazi advance.

Happy Victory Day!

1 comment:

  1. Yes, you are right. It is the same story again...
    As regards the Red Army's contribution, it was definitely a major one.
    Just one example would be the Battle of Ardennes in December 1944-January 1945, where Hitler gave the Allies a good beating and they urged (to put it mildly) Stalin to help them out...
    You should be attentive to important details. Red Army "entered" Berlin much earlier, I think it was late April. It was a long, day-and-night, building by building battle for several days.
    On May 8, Wilhelm Keitel, the Generalfeldmarchall, signed the Germans signed an unconditional surrender...
    Finally, Vladimir Medynsky, a popular Russian MP and historian, question a number of war-related myths, including the 27 million number, saying that Gorbachov merely added the Stalin's 7 and Khruschev's 10 millions...
    You might want to read his book "Война. Мифы СССР. 1939-1945".