As Europe celebrates the 70th anniversary of Allied victory, the Ukrainian crisis and the broader reemergence of nationalism have increasingly politicized the war’s narrative. What role has the war historically played in Russia and Eastern Europe, and how is it currently defining modern politics? On Thursday, May 7th, CGI hosted a half-day event to discuss the implications of WWII and its political and historical usage in the modern day.
Panel 1: Historical Perspectives
- Kathleen Smith, Visiting Professor, Georgetown University:
- In Soviet times, Victory Day became the most important holiday to Soviet citizens, overshadowing the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. It became a major state holiday under Brezhnev, with showy military parades that were accompanied by millions of smaller celebrations, including family reunions and veterans’ meetings, where people shared personal and often painful memories. There emerged a latent conflict between the official, happy memory of victory and the lived experience of the war.
- The early 1990s brought confusion about how to treat a Soviet holiday in an ostensibly democratizing state. The new Russian leadership rejected the totalitarian style of the celebration (big banners, big parades) while the public was learning about the atrocities that accompanied the victory through archives released during perestroika. As a result, celebration of Victory Day was muted, and politicians were fragmented on the narrative of the war. By 1995, Yeltsin most closely subscribed to a critical narrative of the war, holding that Russians won in spite of, and not because of, Stalin.
- As time went on, Russian politicians gradually abandoned the critical narrative of the war, culminating in the 60th anniversary of the war in 2005. That year, President Vladimir Putin showed that he was not averse to state pomp, organizing a massive celebration with a huge foreign presence that nonetheless brought mixed domestic reviews.
- The memory of the war in Russia has inherent flexibility, with politicians choosing at times to highlight particular aspects of the war effort, such as the sacrifice of the veterans or the U.S.-Russian alliance. Today, Putin is putting the focus on the suffering of the country (rather than of individual people) and the unfair isolation of Russia in the post-Cold War era. The previous confusion has been swept away, to be replaced with a strong official narrative. However, political and generational change will gradually change Russian collective memory practices.
- Tarik Cyril Amar, Visiting Professor, Columbia University
- Marek Jan Chodakiewicz, Kosciuszko Chair in Polish Studies, Institute of World Politics
Panel 2: Contemporary Implications
- Paul Goble, Eurasia Daily Monitor regular contributor
- Deiter Dettke, Adjunct Professor, Georgetown University
- Maxim Trudolyubov, Senior Fellow, Kennan Institute
About the speakers:
Tarik Cyril Amar is Visiting Professor of History at Columbia University where he works on the history of the Soviet Union, Russia, Ukraine and, more generally, East Central Europe. His dissertation, “The Making of Soviet Lviv,” has focused on the often violent twentieth-century transformations of a borderland city also known as Lwów, Lvov, and Lemberg. Dr. Amar is currently researching the Soviet television series “Seventeen Moments of Spring,” as well as working on a political and cultural history of Soviet and other Cold War narratives and representations of spying, secrecy, and multiple identities.
Marek Jan Chodakiewicz is Professor of History and holds the Kosciuszko Chair in Polish Studies at the Institute of World Politics. Dr. Chodakiewicz writes weekly columns for popular Polish press and contributes to the SELOUS Foundation internet hub. He has also published on foreign policy in various venues, including the Jamestown Foundation’s Eurasia Daily Monitor, The Journal of World Affairs, and National Review Online. His latest books include Intermarium: The Land Between the Black and Baltic Seas (2012) and On the Right and Left (2013).
Kathleen Smith is Visiting Professor at Georgetown University and a former Adjunct Professor at George Washington University. Dr. Smith served as a consultant to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Moscow, from 1999-2000, where she conducted research on holocaust-related topics in Russian state archives. Her book publications include Mythmaking in the New Russia (Cornell University, 2002) and Remembering Stalin’s Victims (Cornell University, 1996).
Dieter Dettke is the former U.S. Representative and Executive Director of the Washington Office of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, political Counselor and Foreign Policy and International Security Advisor of the SPD Parliamentary Group of the German Parliament (Bundestag), and Staff Director of the Office of the State Minister of the German Foreign Office.
Maxim Trudolybov is a prominent political commentator and journalist. He is the editorial page editor of Vedomosti, an independent Russian business daily, and a frequent contributor to The New York Times, The Moscow Times, and The Kyiv Post, among others. A recipient of the Paul Klebnikov Fund prize for courageous Russian journalism in 2007, Trudolyubov was named a Yale World Fellow in 2009, and a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 2010-11.
Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. While there, he launched the “Window on Eurasia” series. Prior to joining the faculty there in 2004, he served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency. Mr. Goble is a regular contributor to the Jamestown Foundation’s Eurasia Daily Monitor.