Andrei Kalikh: Russia's WWII ... Still Too Many Taboos?






Andrei Kalikh is programme coordinator at the Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights.

22 June 2011 marks the 70th anniversary of Hitler’s attack on the Soviet Union. This date is to this day a painful memory for the people of Russia, though for a long time the official Soviet calendar ignored it. Everyone knew that 22 June was the start of the war, but it was not until 1996 that Boris Yeltsin declared it a day of national mourning.

That it went for so long unrecognised was, in my opinion, a reflection of the fact that neither the state nor Soviet historical science (which depended on the state) had a clearly defined position on the date the war began. The propaganda machine could not make proper use of the event, because the evidence that the USSR had been to blame for unleashing the war was all too obvious.
 
"22 June was far from an unequivocal matter for righteous anger and, after the war had started, the ideology machine had a hard time trying to explain to people why yesterday’s friend had suddenly become our worst enemy."
 
There was a strong desire not to be reminded of:
 
  • above all, the friendly relations between Germany and the Soviet Union which lasted until virtually the end of the pre-war days: the joint military parades and manoeuvres, the reciprocal gestures of attention and the generous concessions such as the 1939 division of Poland;
  • the mass repressions of the 30s which wiped out hundreds of good officers and commanders, or sent them to Stalin’s camps, and the crippling of the Red Army by Stalin himself;
  • the fact that the German aggression effectively caught the USSR off its guard, despite countless communications sent to Stalin from Soviet and German sources that Germany was preparing for war. The unexpected attack on the USSR revealed the total failure of Stalin’s foreign and defence policies, which, taken with other mistakes, led to the tragic defeats and countless casualties in the first months of the war;
  • the fatal similarity between the two totalitarian regimes with Socialism in their names.
 
For all these reasons 22 June was far from an unequivocal matter for righteous anger and, after the war had started, the ideology machine had a hard time trying to explain to people why yesterday’s friend had suddenly become our worst enemy...


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