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The Great Patriotic War of 1941–1945 occupies a central place in the historical memory of Russia and the post-Soviet states. Together with the rest of the world, they celebrate the 75th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany, in which the Soviet people played the decisive role. This issue is devoted to diverse aspects of the history of the war – including the formation of the Red Army (A.Yu. Bezugolny), the siege of Leningrad (N.D. Prigodich), the partisan movement (S.V. Blagov), life on the home front (I.S. Tryakhov, R.G. Bimbasov), as well as the relationship between the Soviet state and the scientific community (V.S. Gruzdinskaia and V.P. Korzun).

Although during the Soviet era much attention was paid to studying the participation of various peoples of the USSR in defending their country, the topic remains understudied. Most notably, precise, final data on the ethnic composition of the victorious army had not been published. The reasons lay both in lack of access to the archives, and the reluctance of the country's leadership to initiate “unnecessary” discussions about the contribution of this or that nation to victory. Only now, as a result of painstaking work in the archives – primarily with the documents stored in the Central Archive of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation – A.Yu. Bezugolny has provided complete data on the ethnic composition of the Red Army, traced their development, and described trends in conscription among various nationalities. These figures are necessary both to show how the Soviet Union’s various nations participated in the war, and to stop speculation about the topic.

Bezugolny concludes that, in addition to Russians, during the war a number of other Soviet ethnic groups also sustained severe demographic challenges as a result of conscription. These include the peoples of Transcaucasia in 1942, when the fighting approached the Caucasus Mountains, those of Central Asia in 1942–1943, due to the Battle of Stalingrad and the liberation of the south of Russia, and, finally, from 1943 to the end of the war – Ukrainian, Belarusian, Moldavian, Baltic peoples. All nations of the USSR fought in the war, which was a great achievement for the Soviet government. One important result was that it formed a sense of all-Union civic consciousness even among ethnic groups that had only recently joined the country, such those in Central Asia).

The siege of Leningrad remains important both to historians and the media. From time to time, discussions arise about the fate of those who stayed in the besieged city. This January, on the 76th anniversary siege’s end, the “Siege of bread” commemoration led to considerable controversy. Much of it involved the question of whether it was necessary to defend Leningrad, or if it would have been preferable to surrender the city to the enemy. Yet those who pose it don’t ask whether the occupiers would have fed its citizens, or even transported them away from the front to safety. What fate would the inhabitants of Leningrad have awaited under occupation?

The article by N.D. Prigodich examines the supply of food to Leningrad and the evacuation its population by air from the beginning of the siege in September 1941 to December that year. The author clearly shows that Soviet authorities carried out both the supply and evacuation of the population in the most difficult period of the war, when the enemy was at the gates of Moscow and the fate of the whole country was in jeopardy. The besieged city badly needed the help of air transport between the “Big Country” and Leningrad.

I.S. Tryakhov studies labor discipline violations during the Great Patriotic War in the town of Kovrov, Vladimir Region, which was an important industrial center. Soviet historians had not paid much attention to this topic. However, propagandistic claims that “everyone worked hard as one” during the war are implausible, since this does not happen in real life. In any case, there is no need to be ashamed about this topic. The article examines the human factor to argue that violations of labor discipline did not increase significantly during the war, and were often caused by such objective circumstances as the health and morale of the population, poor working and living conditions, and the authorities' inability effectively to solve their problems. Nevertheless, despite great hardship, the Soviet rear provided the Red Army with everything it needed for victory.

The 80th anniversary of the Second World War’s outbreak in Europe has made the relations between the USSR and Poland in the interwar period highly topical. Soviet-Polish relations were quite uneasy at the time due to the grave consequences for the USSR of the war with its western neighbor in 1919–1920. Moscow doubted the loyalty of the Polish population in the western regions of Soviet Union, which resulted, among other, in the deportation of Poles from Ukraine in 1936. After September 1939, relations between the USSR and the Polish government in exile were severed. Meanwhile, Soviet authorities continued to deport Poles, now from newly acquired territories of Western Ukraine and Western Belarus. However, Nazi Germany’s aggression against the USSR in June 1941 led to cooperation between the two countries in the fight against the common enemy. Polish military units were established in the Soviet Union, while Polish detachments appeared in the ranks of Soviet partisans.

We cannot overestimate the importance of S.V. Blagov‘s article about the morale and the political propaganda in Polish partisan detachments in Belarus in 1943–1944. Based on materials in Russian, Belarusian and Polish archives, the author considers the shift in the loyalties of the Polish population to the Soviet partisans, in addition to ideological work in Polish partisan detachments, the morale of its members, as well as their attitude towards the USSR and the future of Poland. From a variety of perspectives, the author examines this important aspect of the history of Soviet-Polish cooperation, which took place in the difficult conditions of the political split of the Polish population, as well as the complicated relations between the USSR and the Polish government in exile in London.

R.G. Bimbasov’s article examines oral propaganda and agitation in North Ossetia during the Great Patriotic War. During this period the USSR and Germany also waged an “information war,” not only in occupied territory, but at the front and in the rear of the Soviet Union. His research is of interest because he based it on sources from the national region, which had its own characteristics. At the same time, North Ossetians parti-
cipated in defending the Caucasus. In a struggle vital for the Soviet Union, they helped stop the Germans in December 1942 at the Elkhotovsky gate, in North Ossetia. The article argues that oral propaganda among the public was highly effective. Indeed, conversations with the population and oral agitation during the war years had a greater impact than impersonal propaganda aimed at an wide circle, even if the former were more costly and labor intensive.

V.S. Gruzdinsky and V.P. Korzun examine the the 220th anniversary of the USSR Academy of Sciences in the victorious year of 1945 as a scenario of celebration in the sociocultural context of the era. At first glance, the topic seems peripheral to the history of the war. However, one of the victory’s results was an increase in the authority and influence of the USSR worldwide, which the Soviet leadership did its best to enhance in politics, culture and science. Among other, immediately after the end of the war, it celebrated the 220th anniversary of the Academy of Sciences on a lavish scale in June 1945. The authors argue that this event reflected the spirit of the era, with its enormous losses, not to mention the efforts and results of the Great Patriotic War. Indeed, this celebration was an important manifestation of the country's triumph. At the same time, it was aimed at strengthening Soviet influence in the world: in celebrating the anniversary of Russian science the organisers strongly promoted the idea of a “single world science,” in which Soviet scientists would play a leading role. However, these hopes were not realized, since soon, under the pretext of combating “cosmopolitanism” and “worship of the West,” Moscow began severing ties with the scientific world.

This issue’s articles consider important questions in Great Patriotic War’s historiography, which is becoming more diverse and objective. The archival documents introduced into scientific circulation and their interpretation in the context of of the historical memory of the role played by Russians and other peoples of the former USSR in the victory over fascism open up new opportunities for scholarly discussion, as well as helping to draw lessons from the past to respond to the political challenges of our time.


About the authors

Fedor L. Sinitsyn

State University of Land Use Planning

Author for correspondence.

Doctor Istoricheskikh Nauk ческих [Dr. habil. history], Associate Professor at the Deрpartment of Social and Humanitarian Disciplines

15 Kazakova St., Moscow, 105064


Copyright (c) 2020 Sinitsyn F.L.

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