Huanqiu shibao (China): what is behind the «historical dispute» between the US, Europe and Russia

When European countries and the United States celebrated the 75th anniversary of the victory over fascism in World War II, the US quarrel with Russia destroyed the atmosphere of «Western unity» that should have developed. At the center of the discussion was «the problem of status» The Soviet Union in World War II: during this «time of celebration and reflection», the us Department of defense publicly stated that World War II began when «Germany and the Soviet Union invaded Poland», and the White House released a video of Donald Trump’s speech, where he claims that «America and Great Britain won the victory over the Nazi’s», and does not say a single word about the Soviet Union’s contribution to the victory.

The Russian side has rightly expressed strong dissatisfaction. A spokesman for the Russian foreign Ministry criticized the United States for «trying to use political motives to distort history» and called the actions of the States «false and hypocritical». President Vladimir Putin also angrily condemned the act: «There can be no justification for those who try to rewrite history». In order to «desovetize» the hidden currents of rewriting the history of World War II have never stopped in European and American academic and political circles, and in recent years the pace of their openness and politicization has accelerated. The rewriting of history by Europe and the United States is another form of «narrative struggle» that aims to suppress Russia’s soft power space by altering or distorting historical memory.

From a hidden course to the open politicization

Since not much time has passed and there is still living historical evidence, the history of the World War II was initially always «actual history». However, in fact, the debate about the history of the World War has never stopped for a moment.

Even during the Cold War, when the United States and Western Europe, the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries were divided into two hostile camps, the West ideologically classified Сommunism and Nazism as «dark evil forces» and sought increasingly irrefutable links in politics and history between the Stalinist Soviet Union and Hitler-era Germany.

In the 1980s, there was a trend in European and American historical circles towards «historical revisionism», which attempted to refute historical views recognized in academic, political, and social circles by means of newly reinterpreted historical records, thereby gaining the «right to interpret» history. At the time, German scientists were trying to find and create a «causal link» between Soviet Bolshevism and Nazism, arguing that «the concentration camps of the Stalinist era were a logical and factual prelude to the Nazi genocide». And the Nazi genocide stems from the fear of the Bolshevik «class massacre» and in a sense is the «response» of the latter. Thus, the invasion of the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany in 1941 was a kind of «preventive war» with the character of self-defense, which did not allow the other side to launch an offensive in advance. This is an attempt by a small number of Germans to reduce or remove the blame for the outbreak of World War II by reinterpreting history and, objectively speaking, to create or plant the idea in the «head» of the Soviet Union that it is the «original culprit» for the outbreak of war.

After the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern European socialist camp, the countries of Eastern Europe made numerous historical and narrative changes in the process of their own Westernization. «Desovietization» was aimed not only at the period of the socialist camp, but also spread to the Second world war, and in addition, it appeared almost simultaneously in scientific, political and social circles. These countries tried to completely break the historical link with the Soviet Union by directly dismantling or removing military monuments of the Red Army, refusing to jointly celebrate the victory over fascism in World War II, and renaming geographical names associated with the USSR. At the same time, these countries rewritten historical memory through numerous scientific studies, the mouths of political figures, through works of literature, film and television, and social education. And the Soviet Union was transformed from a «liberator» during World War II to a «big brother» during the Cold War into a military «aggressor» and a political «oppressor».

In recent years, against the backdrop of increased geopolitical competition between Russia and the West, as well as political changes in Europe and the United States, and especially the growth of populism, a new round of reinterpretation of history has begun in European countries and the United States. Some European countries have publicly accused Russia that it «was not only the victorious countries in World War II, but Nazi Germany was the aggressor, and therefore needs to take historical responsibility for the outbreak of war». As a result of rewriting historical memory and in the process of changing generations in society, Europeans and Americans are also more likely to replace historical knowledge with realistic feelings, so understanding the historical role and status of the Soviet Union in World War II in some countries has become a kind of elastic band, which is irregularly stretched and compressed over time and under the influence of political changes.

For example, a French opinion poll from 1945 to 2015 showed that the percentage of people who believed that «the Soviet Union made a great contribution to the victory in World War II» fell from 57% in 1945 to 25% in 1994 and continued to fall to 23% in 2015. On the path from undercurrent to open politicization, European countries and the United States, following a pre-planned course, changed the role of the Soviet Union in World War II to provide a logical structure and social basis for the United States to openly rewrite history and initiate narrative disputes.

The true meaning of historical disputes

In the process of strategic confrontation between Russia and the West, the introduction of edits by Europe and the United States to the history of World War II has already had a huge impact on Russia’s soft power space.

President Putin is aware that he, Europe, and the United States have «a huge difference in their view of World War II», and «lies about the war have already spread around the world like an epidemic». To this end, the Russian government specifically called this year «the Year of memory and glory» and proposed to create a worldwide network of archival documents of the World War II in Russia to «honor the memory of heroes, respect the past and protect the historical truth for future generations». It was also decided to hold a Grand celebration on May 9 to change this unfortunate situation.

Shortly before the «historic dispute» between the United States and Russia, the two countries celebrated the 75th anniversary of the World War II meeting on the Elbe in a surprisingly loud and united way. The leaders of both states stressed that «the spirit of Elba is an example of how two countries can put aside contradictions, build trust and cooperate in the name of a common goal». This is a common historical narrative used by the United States and Russia to send signals and influence the current international situation. It’s goal is to make sure that both countries can continue to maintain this spirit in order to jointly face «the most important challenges of the twenty-first century». The outside world then believed that Russia had made an excellent tactical counterattack from the point of view of diplomacy with the help of historical narratives, not only softening relations with the United States and the West, but also reconfirming it’s strategic position on a par with the United States.

But just two weeks later, the United States publicly excluded Russia, with which it had recently celebrated a meeting of allied troops during the war, from the list of «victorious countries in World War II». This shows once again that no matter how much European and American strategists want to achieve the dream of «uniting the West» by enticing Russia to their side, after many politicized historical edits and constant reinterpretation of history, European and American society is no longer able to quickly accept Russia as «their» on the basis of their own logic and public opinion. Moreover, being under the banner of «America above all», Trump will never allow Putin to stand side by side with him as the winner of World War II and the «founder of the new order».

Cui Hongjian (崔洪洪建) — Director of the European Institute of the Chinese Academy of international studies

The article was translated by second year master’s student of the faculty of oriental studies and history Andrey Fomin.


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