World War II, Vladimir Putin’s obsession

Vladimir Putin hoped to gather around him several great people of this world, but the Covid-19 spoiled the party a little. After being postponed for the first time due to the pandemic, the military parade celebrating 75e The anniversary of the victory against Nazism was finally held on Wednesday June 24 without the Chinese and French presidents. Alongside the Russian leader, however, were his current allies, including the Belarusian, Kazakh and Serbian heads of state.

→ READ. In Russia and Ukraine, a very different May 9

Kicking off the parade of 14,000 soldiers in Red Square, Vladimir Putin stressed the debt that the world owed to the USSR, which lost 13 million soldiers and ten million civilians during the conflict. ” Soviet soldiers liberated the countries of Europe from the invaders, ended the tragedy of the Holocaust, and saved the German people from this deadly ideology from Nazism ”, he hammered.

Victory Day, May 9 is today the real Russian national holiday, much more than June 12, the day of Russia. The celebration of the victory against Nazism took on importance from 1965 in the Soviet Union, when Leonid Brezhnev decided to make it the heart of the new Soviet social contract, at a time when the communist ideology was running out of steam. After the parenthesis of perestroika and the first post-Soviet years, the Great Patriotic War, the nickname for the 1939-1945 war in Russia, became central to collective memory under the leadership of Vladimir Putin.

A unifying myth

For the Head of State, this is the unifying myth of this immense Russia with multiple identities. “While the 1917 revolution, Stalinism and perestroika keep dividing, the Great Patriotic War appears to be the only central element fully consensual”, said Emilia Koustova, researcher at the University of Strasbourg, at a conference organized by the French Institute for International Relations on the memory of the Second World War in Russia.

A huge tragedy, the conflict has also been sacred in the official media and in the words of leaders who banish critical speeches on gray areas, the violence perpetrated by the Red Army for example or the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact on sharing Poland between the USSR and Nazi Germany. Passing a law prohibiting “The dissemination of false information about the actions of the Soviet Union during the Second World War”, reinforced the self-censorship already present in public discourse.

The Great Patriotic War is not only a unifying event for internal use: it is part of the confrontation with the West. “The founding tale of the Soviet victory is a signal sent abroad, recalls Tatiana Kastoueva-Jean, researcher at Ifri. It legitimizes the international post-war order in which the USSR played the leading roles. The speech makes Russia appear as a fundamentally virtuous power with which the West must reckon. “

An obsession with the Kremlin

The memory of 1939-1945 has become the stuff of President Putin who talks about the issue at length during informal meetings, summits of leaders of ex-Soviet countries, his annual press conference, a meeting with entrepreneurs, in front his generals and more recently, in a long column published by a confidential American journal. His target: the Europeans and the Americans whom he accuses of anti-Russian revisionism and of underestimating, not without arguments, the role played by the USSR in the victory against Nazism.

One day he denounces the “Incredible cynicism” of Poland which he even accuses, contrary to the work of historians, of having concluded a “Agreement” with Hitler at the dawn of the war. Another, he denounces a resolution of the European parliament which condemns the partition of Poland between the USSR and Germany, seeing it as an attempt to put communism and Nazism on the same level. At the beginning of the year, he promised to close the “Foul mouth of certain officials abroad” by evoking the creation of an archive center.

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