The Politics of Russian Memory: The Great War in the European Context

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Abstract


This article examines how the historical memory of World War I emerged and developed in Russia, and also compares it to how Europeans have thought about the conflict. The author argues that the politics of memory differed during the Soviet and post-Soviet periods. In the wake of the 1917 Revolution, Bolshevik efforts to “re-format” the memory of the Great War were part of its attempt to create a new society and new man. At the same time, the regime used it to mobilize society for the impending conflict with the 'imperialist' powers. The key actors that sought to inculcate the notion of the war with imperialism into Soviet mass consciousness were the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Communist Party, the Department of Agitation and Propaganda, and, in particular, the Red Army and Comintern. The latter two worked together to organize the major campaigns dedicated to war anniversaries, which were important both to reinforce the concept of imperialist war as well as to involve the masses in public commemorations, rituals and practices. The Soviet state also relied on organizations of war veterans to promote such commemorative practices while suppressing any alternative narratives. The article goes on to explain how, under Stalin, the government began to change the way it portrayed the Great War in the mid-1930s. And after the Second World War, Soviet politics of memory differed greatly from those in the West. In the USSR the Great Patriotic War was sacralized, while the earlier conflict remained a symbol of unjust imperialist wars.


About the authors

Olga S. Porshneva

Ural Federal University named after the first President of Russia B.N. Yeltsin

Author for correspondence.
Email: o.s.porshneva@urfu.ru
19 Mira St., Yekaterinburg, 620002, Russia

Doktor Istoricheskikh Nauk [Dr. habil. hist.], Professor, Head of the Department of Theory and History of International Relations

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