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Great Patriotic War Historiography

The sacred memory of the Great Patriotic War lives in every Russian family. Therefore, the "battle for the minds" in this fundamentally important issue is not only "abstract" in nature, but has political significance. More than 88% of Russian citizens know that their relatives were participants in the Great Patriotic War. At the same time 42% of Russians are well informed about the life of their relatives in the war years - from stories or family archives. At least 15% of the respondents had their relatives killed at the front or gone missing. But a third of respondents (31%) do not know the details of their biography, and 6% of people confess that they do not know whether one of the relatives fought or not.

Under President Vladimir Putin, the Russian government has sought to enshrine a narrative about World War II that glorifies the Soviet role in defeating Nazi Germany while ignoring the crimes and errors of dictator Josef Stalin and his government. In 2014, Russia adopted the so-called Memory Law, which criminalized the "knowing dissemination of false information about the activities of the U.S.S.R. during World War II" (Criminal Code, Article 354.1). Among the hundreds of amendments to the Russian Constitution that were hastily adopted last year was one to Article 67 that states: "the Russian Federation honors the memory of the defenders of the Fatherland and guarantees the defense of historical truth. Diminishing the significance of the people's heroic achievement in defending the Fatherland is forbidden."

Each anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War is accompanied by attempts to debunk it : the Victory's story becomes the object of pressure, the battles for history take the form of ideological support of information war, not always provoking an adequate rebuff from official historical science.

The Stalinist interpretation of the war was devised to conceal the traces of the wartime drift of the Soviet Union from its historical course of development, and to convince the Soviet people that nothing had intervened which would justify a change in past policies. Thus the history of the war became a paean to Comrade Stalin's political and military genius, a testament to the wisdom of party policies, an indictment of the perfidy of the capitalist world, a proof of the soundness of the Soviet system.

The Stalinist version of the war distorted the historical facts in at least four major respects:

  1. It presented the catastrophic defeats of the first year of the war as a preplanned and skillfully executed maneuver designed t o set the conditions for a successful counteroffensive.
  2. It magnified the roles of Stalin and the party in the achievement of victory, and diminished the roles of the military leaders and the ordinary people.
  3. It depreciated the contributions of the Allies , and sought to transform their image in the public mind from partners in the anti-Hitler coalition into crypto-enemies of the Soviet Union and virtual allies of Hitler.
  4. It claimed that the Soviet the defeat of the Kwantung army, rather than American military successes, had played the decisive role in bringing about the defeat of Japan.

After Stalin's death, the official interpretation of the war underwent important changes, These changes reflected the Soviet leaders' apprehension that the Soviet people and the Soviet military establishment were being poorly prepared, by the unrealistic portrayal of the last war, for the kind of war which they now foresaw as possible. The Stalinist line, they felt, encouraged the dangerous illusion that war was easy, and it conditioned military officets to feel that retreats and slow attritional methods were normal means of conducting war. The main content of the new version of the war which emerged from these consideraqions in 1955 was that the early period of the war had been a defeat for the Soviet army, rather than a prelude to victory.

The struggle of different approaches to evaluation on the Great Patriotic War began in the mid-1970s. At this time, the historical propagandists were carrying the theme, the essence of which was not to rehabilitate fascism and Nazism, but to save the West from blame for them and to debunk the USSR as the main winner. From their submission appeared the doctrine of the similarity of two totalitarian regimes, the identity of the ideologies of communism and fascism, the racial theory of Hitler's captures disappeared.

Historians in the United Kingdom, the United States and France were interested in revising the history of the Second World War because of their desire to relieve themselves of the responsibility for the partition of Czechoslovakia, the policy of connivance and pacification of the aggressor, in the pre-war period. Countries that participated in the war on the side of Germany (Italy, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Finland, Norway, Croatia, Austria, Spain, Denmark), received a unique opportunity to move from the category of defeated aggressors or accomplices of the aggressor to the category of victims of the Soviet totalitarian empire.

On July 3, 2009 the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in the resolution "Reunited Europe: Promoting Human Rights and Civil Liberties in the OSCE Region in the 21st Century" equated the USSR to Nazi Germany, and the period of Stalin's rule was designated as "Stalinism" and identified with the ideology of Nazism of the Third Reich in the period leadership of Hitler.

The creation of a new concept of World War II, based on the recognition of equal responsibility between the USSR and Germany, would allow the transfer of the USSR (Russia) from the category of victorious countries, the pillars of the modern world order, to the category of the aggressor that had been defeated. If Germany had long embarked on the path of correction and redemption and deserved to enter the family of civilized nations, then Russia had yet to go this way.

The Russian state took certain measures to protect Russian history, which, in particular, witnessed the work of the commission under the President of the Russian Federation to counter attempts to falsify history to the detriment of the interests of the country in 2009-2012.

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