Historian: Putin leeches off WWII memory

World War II is the sole consolidating factor keeping contemporary Russian society together, historian Andrey Zubov told LSM’s Russian-language service correspondent Darja Kulagina in an interview Thursday. And he added that Vladimir Putin is parasitizing its memory, which touched practically every single family in the Soviet era.

Zubov was a popular professor at Moscow State Institute of International Relations who was fired after publishing his opinion comparing Russia’s annexation of Crimea with Nazi Germany’s takeover of Austria.

“The Bolsheviks did their best to erase all events leading up to the 1917 revolution from the collective public memory,” said the historian. “The people couldn’t care less about the Battle of Borodino when Russia celebrated its 200th anniversary since the Napoleonic War. That wasn’t ‘their’ war anymore. But the Great Fight for the Fatherland – as Russians refer to World War II, the victory over Nazism – that’s ‘their’ war! Practically every family has someone who took part or at least saw the horror. It’s the only mass event in post-revolutionary Russian history, and everybody – the entire nation, won,” he said.

The professor went on to say that this is precisely the consolidating phenomenon that Putin has parasitized for his own power agenda.

“He restored the meaning of the May 9 celebrations as it was understood in the Brezhnev era, when the victory celebrations over Germany were rejuvenated. However, the real tragedy – the incredible number of victims, was silenced. Officially they used to say that from six to nine million perished. The real numbers are more like 29 million. That’s about 15% of the Soviet Union’s population at the time!”, Zubov said.

Whereas May 9 has in the past been a celebration to shed a tear for those who suffered in the cataclysm, Zubov insists “Putin is trying to transform it into a triumph, to prepare the people for the idea of a war – as an entertaining walk in the park. It brings rewards. It’s what Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini told their people in their time… but which rewards?

“This wrongful, even criminal approach to glorifying war, which poisons the souls of the young generation, in my view is very dangerous. God forbid it bears fruit for Russia – readiness for new aggressions and wars,” Zubov remarked.

And this is exactly why western leaders are staying away from Moscow’s May 9 parade.

“Back then in 1945 it was a common affair: the world had been freed of Nazi totalitarianism, but not the Soviet kind. On the contrary, Stalin consolidated his positions and the regime stayed put for another half century. But now the main thing is that Putin has renewed this aggressiveness of the Soviet times.

“He’s again grabbing at other states’ territories, like during the time of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. He annexes. Realizes a hybrid war. These are terrible things. So to attend this parade and stand next to him would mean to support his policy while celebrating the victory over Nazi aggression.”

He reminded Europe that its union of member states was formed with a specific goal in mind:

“This is no economic project. It’s an attempt – so far successful, to avoid war in Europe. Putin hoped the European leaders wouldn’t strive for peace. That they’d split up over economic differences, wanting to do trade with Russia. And that would allow him to succeed with his aggression in Ukraine, like his war in Georgia went in 2008.”

Zubov praised the European states for staying in solidarity.

“It’s to its great credit that Europe found within itself the power to stay united despite the doubts and problems. Whereas Putin’s regime didn’t turn out to be as solid as it seemed at first. So the elite is grumbling about the war in Ukraine, which hasn’t attained its goals: no regime change, sovereignty intact, no New Russia created in its place.

“Nothing has been achieved. Fine, they grabbed Crimea. But that’s gotten stuck in their throats – it’s causing economic losses, they have to feed the place. Moreover, paying for it with complete political isolation.

“That’s why Russia keeps trying to find a way to split Europe. It’s the main goal of current Russian diplomacy. Not just pry away Cyprus, but some of the big states of Europe, so they could then say – let’s restart politics on a blank page, let’s be friends again and forget what just passed. Crimea will stay ours, Ukraine we’ll resolve on our own. Now there’s a new thread in the foreign ministry phrasing: two tracks – Ukraine and Russian-European relations.

“But it’s good that Europe didn’t take the tempting bait and keeps insisting that to normalize relations would require a resolution to the Crimea and Ukraine crises.

I believe it’s critical for Ukraine and for Russia, too, because if things turn out otherwise, Russia will be victorious in its vengeful aggressions and won’t stop with Ukraine and Crimea. And all of Europe’s post-war order will crumble in the end,” Zubov concluded.

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