With every year World War II loses more and more of its witnesses who actually lived through it. Within our lifetimes this conflict will become something akin to the American Civil War, a conflict of great importance to many that has become abstract and distant from our reality. The problem with this is that the battle for the meaning of the greatest conflict in human history will now continue on the movie theatre, mainstream media and social network fronts.
The Orwellian cliche that, he who controls the past, controls the future is in many ways true. One key mission of the nations in the eastern half of the European Union is to devalue the the victory over Nazi Germany and/or equate the Soviets to the Nazis as identical in nature.
In Latvia where they have had yearly marches to honor the Waffen-SS veterans but now, they have also decided to equate Red Army uniforms to those of the Nazis. Every person caught wearing this type of uniform (a common thing to do for the Russian minority in the country and various reenactors) will be fined from 700 to 7000 Euros. Note, the authorized SS marches do not seem to suffer fines for wearing related pro-Nazi uniforms.
These nuances happening in a country you have never heard of may not seem that relevant but there is a sweeping trend throughout all of Eastern Europe to reinterpret Russia’s victory over Germany on the Eastern Front.
Much of the fighting that is happening in the Donbass area between Ukraine and Russia sort of mimics the character of WWII. Some of the Ukrainian Volunteer Battalions like Azov use Nazi symbolism and on the whole the Ukrainian side sees Nazi-Collaborator Stepan Bandera as their greatest national hero. The breakaway republics use a lot of Soviet symbolism in turn, wearing the Ribbons of St. George to enrage the Kiev side and celebrating Victory Day as best they can under current conditions with full parades. They have also symbolically washed the road after captured pro-Kiev soldiers were forced to march down a central street, which the Soviets forced captured Nazis to do many decades ago.
As we can see the symbolism of WWII and its interpretation is very telling about a government. Kiev and Riga who officially despise Russia want to devalue their victory while rehabilitating their “heroes” who were on Hitler’s side. In turn, generally pro-Russian nations like Belarus and breakaway republics like South Ossetia and Transnistria observe Victory Day religiously and in the same manner that they did as part of the Soviet Union. Our view on WWII shows us which side we are on today.
Although massively destructive and nearly crippling to the USSR the victory over Germany gave every individual in the nation a feeling of shared sacrifice. The massive amounts of blood lost and human suffering created the glue that held a very multi-ethnic massive society together and this is probably the reason why Russia being one of the “good guys” in WWII is so under attack out east.
Russia is fantastic as a nation militarily, but the main reason why the Great Soviet Victory is being slowly eroded is because it has been incapable of producing and marketing a single movie outside of itself and its former territory that presents WWII to a mainstream audience the way Russians see it.