Background materials


Great Patriotic War Narratives in the Russian Cinema: Collective Self, Internal Others, and Dislocations of Identity
by Andrey Makarychev

This article examines how recent Russian films about World War II play with traditional Soviet narratives of the war. Rather than simply repeating themes of the victorious Soviet Union and the defeated aggressor, the films examine topics with much greater nuance, including an Orthodox priest who is forced to collaborate with the Nazis, young Russian criminals coerced into fighting, and people who fall in love with someone from the other side. Ultimately, these films shed light on a complex and evolving post-Soviet Russian identity.

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The Politics of the Past in Russia
by Alexey Miller

Active political intervention in the politics of memory and the professional historian’s sphere began no later than in 2006 in Russia. Today all the basic elements of the politics of the past are present: attempts to inculcate in school a single, centrally-defined, politicized history textbook; the creation of special, politicallycommitted structures, which combine the tasks of organizing historical research and controlling the activities of archives and publishers; attempts to legislatively regulate historical interpretations; and, as is typical in such cases, efforts to legitimize and ideologically justify all of these practices.

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The Victory of Myth and Russia’s Identity
by Ivo Mijnssen

The Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany is again a central tenet of Russian national identity. The Russian government sees the dissemination of the victory’s “true,” uncritical interpretation, particularly among the youth, as a crucial task, in which it is being supported by “patriotic” youth organizations such as Nashi. While these groups seem to be rather successful domestically, their efforts cause resistance in the non-Russian post-Soviet space. The victory myth, as well as the demand for a powerful Russia that goes along with it, contributes to a consolidation of Russian identity. Simultaneously, the country finds itself caught up in numerous bitter disputes over history with its neighbors.

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Overcoming the Totalitarian Past: Foreign Experience and Russian Problems
by Galina Mikhaleva

Russia’s leaders are looking to the country’s history to find ways to justify renewed imperial ambitions. While a study of foreign experience shows that there are numerous ways for a country to deal with its totalitarian past, the problem is complicated in the post-Communist context because politicians seek to use history as a tool for their own purposes. The YABLOKO party recently adopted a resolution dealing with the uses of history to stimulate democratic transition, but it so far has had no impact on Russian society.

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Interpreting the Past – From Political Manipulation to Critical Analysis?
by Oliver Reisner

Georgian historians are not alone in taking a bifurcated view of Russia, with some seeking closer ties and others blaming it for Georgia’s problems. Over time, these views have influenced the writing of Georgian textbooks. The first generation of textbooks published after the collapse of the USSR simply included superficial updates to Soviet versions. The second generation critically redefined Russia’s role in Georgia’s past. The most recent, third, generation focuses on equipping young Georgian citizens with the tools of critical analysis. However, unless there is more dialogue between the two camps of historians, politicians will continue to manipulate history for their narrow purposes.

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A Short Sketch of One Century of Azerbaijani Historical Writing
by Zaur Gasimov

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Azerbaijani historians gained the opportunity to take a new perspective on their country’s past, before, during, and after the Communist era. The history of Azerbaijan’s short-lived independence during 1918–1920 was, and remains, among the favorite research topics. Also, the subject of Karabakh and the history of Southern Azerbaijan figure prominently on the research agenda of historians. Obstacles for their work include the fact that many Azerbaijani historians have limited facility with foreign languages, problems created by the authoritarian conditions imposed by the Aliev regime, and corruption in the country’s science and educational system.

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Armenia’s Attitude Towards its Past: History and Politics
by Sergey Minasyan

How do perceptions of the past manifest themselves in the public discourse of the Armenia of today? In what way do historical myths shape the political development of the country? To what extent and how do politics impact on historical narratives and the development of history writing? The following text attempts to seek answers to these questions and thus addresses the very broad question of the role of history for Armenians and Armenia in the 21th century.

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The “Great Terror” of 1937-1938 in Georgia: Between the Two Reports of Lavrentiy Beria
by Levan Avalishvili

In implementing the “Great Terror” in Georgia, Beria used Stalin’s directives to serve his own personal needs as well. This article lays out the key events launching the repressions in Moscow and then shows how they were carried out on the ground in Georgia.

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Repressions in 1930s Soviet Armenia
by Eduard Melkonian

One of the characteristics of Soviet history is the mass political repression that began in Russia in 1917 when the Bolsheviks came to power. Soviet power was established in Armenia at the end of 1920 following the collapse of the First Republic of Armenia (May 1918–November 1920). Where goals and implementation methods are concerned, Armenia’s repressions were generally conducted in accordance with standards developed and tested in Moscow.

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1937: “Great Terror” in Azerbaijan
by Eldar Ismailov

This article describes the “Great Terror” in Azerbaijan. It began with Beria’s order and proceeded to kill thousands of individuals. There is ample evidence of the brutal methods used to kill and torture innocent people. Posterity will remember these events for the crimes that they were.

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Mass Terror in the USSR: The Story of One Family
by George Anchabadze

Much has been written about the mass terror as a system of government in Soviet Russia and the Soviet Union, though key questions remain unanswered and will be a topic for future research. The unprecedented repressions that began in 1917, after the Bolsheviks came to power, lasted until 1953, and touched (in both the literal and figurative meanings of this word) almost the entire population of the Soviet Union. Behind the statistics describing the huge number of those executed or imprisoned for political reasons, who died during transportation, in the camps or in exile from abuse, hunger and dispossession, stand the fates of concrete individuals and families. Stories about the tragic fates of individual victims during the period of Soviet state terrorism help us to understand the nature of political repression no less than “dry” statistics. The author of this article describes the history of the mass terror in the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic, and in its autonomous republic of Abkhazia during the 1930s, drawing on the experiences of his own family.

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Staging Soviet (Hi)Story in Lithuania: Museum Representations of the Second World War in Lithuania
by Ekaterina Makhotina

While I was undertaking research in Lithuanian archives and museums many local people took pity on me when they heard about my topic. ‘Why the Second World War?’ was the question they typically asked me. On many occasions I was told that the topic was of no relevance to Lithuania: “It wasn’t our war and we don’t see it as our history”. When I wondered about the total absence of World War II in the War Museum in Kaunas, one of the museum’s historians told me that “there was no war in Lithuania”. When I then asked him about the Lithuanian Division of the Soviet Army, the same historian advised me to visit the Jewish Museum in Vilnius “because the 16th Lithuanian Rifle Division comprised only Jews”. Another historian, a member of staff at the National Museum, insisted that the politics of history during the Soviet period – like the whole cultural sphere – was in Jewish hands and it therefore made no sense to have a museum dedicated to the war because it was strictly speaking not part of Lithuanian history.
The history of the years from 1941 to 1945 in Lithuania is not one of victorious battles. It is first and foremost the story of the annihilation of the Jewish population. In Lithuania about 220,000 Jews were killed, most of them in the first three months of the Nazi occupation; many Lithuanians participated in the killings. And it was in Lithuania that Soviet POWs suffered a tragic fate. Many died in Lithuanian prisoner camps and those who managed to escape received no help from the Lithuanians as they were denounced as ‘red terrorists’.
At the moment, there are only a few museums dealing with the events of World War II. Like all Soviet museums, almost all of them were closed after Lithuania regained its independence in 1990.
To reveal certain tendencies of the state-supported politics of history in contemporary Lithuania – and the main “memory players” – I would like to describe three different museums.

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