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How and Why Russia Forgot The Great War

Published: August 1, 2014 (Issue # 1822)



  • The Great War barely features in mass culture, having contributed neither myths nor heroes to Russian folk culture, and barely having made a dent in nation's wealth of arts and literature.
    Photo:

Russia lost 3 million people in World War I. But it also provided examples of explosive military strength and economic resilience that would make any nation proud.

And yet, though the 100th anniversary of the war — which Russia joined on Aug. 1, 1914 — has revived some interest in the event, Russians generally do not often speak of World War I.

This is a nation that loves and cherishes memories of other past military triumphs. World War II has developed a cult-like status over the decades, and even the Great Patriotic War against Napoleon is widely discussed and revered.

But beyond the history books, the Great War hardly features in mass culture, having contributed neither myths nor heroes to Russian folk culture, and hardly having made a dent in nation's wealth of arts and literature.

World War I's marginal position in Russian lore owes to the fact that it fell between the cracks of history, or — more specifically — between the Tsarist and Bolshevik regimes, Russian scholars said.

In destroying the tsars, the Bolshevik revolutionaries denounced the Great War as imperialist, thus robbing it of its potential for a popular legacy.

"The two world wars are antithetical national myths for Russia," said prominent philosopher and columnist Maxim Goryunov.

"It is an either-or situation. [World War I and World War II] are mutually exclusive, you cannot celebrate them both," Goryunov told The St. Petersburg Times on the eve of the war's 100th anniversary on Thursday.

The Forgotten War

Russia boasts two major museums dedicated to the legacy of its 1812 war against Napoleon. Scores of museums celebrate the memory of World War II, and monuments to its heroes and victims can be found in abundance in every post-Soviet city, from Kaliningrad to Siberia.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Sunday, Oct. 26


Zenit St. Petersburg returns home for the first time in nearly a month as they host Mordovia Saransk in a Russian Premier League game. Currently at the top of the league thanks to their undefeated start to the season, the northern club hopes to extend the gap between them and second-place CSKA Moscow and win the title for the first time in three years. Tickets are available at the stadium box office or on the club’s website.



Monday, Oct. 27


Today marks the end of the art exhibit “Neophobia” at the Erarta Museum. Artists Alexey Semichov and Andrei Kuzmin took a neo-modernist approach to represent the array of fears that are ever-present throughout our lives. Tickets are 200 rubles ($4.90).



Tuesday, Oct. 28


The Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel plays host to SPIBA’s Marketing and Communications Committee’s round table discussion on “Government Relations Practices in Russia” this morning. The discussion starts at 9:30 a.m. and participation must be confirmed by Oct. 24.



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