How Has Russian WWII Memory Shaped the Invasion of Ukraine?
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How Has Russian WWII Memory Shaped the Invasion of Ukraine?
9th May 2022 @ 3:00 pm - 4:00 pm
World War II memory is a staple of Russian identity in the contemporary era. It occupies a cult-like status, legitimising the Kremlin’s rule at home and its actions abroad. This has been abundantly clear since the invasion of Ukraine on 24th February 2022, with Russian elites and media frequently invoking memory of the war. Much of this has focused on the supposed existence of ‘neo-Nazis’ in Ukraine and allegations of ‘genocide’ being carried out against Russian-speakers in Ukraine. The Russian state has argued that it must intervene in order to stop the spread of neo-Nazism, like it did with Nazism during World War II. The Russian state appeals to World War II memory in its attempt to rally Russian citizens and the global community around its behaviour.
The Henry Jackson Society is delighted to welcome you to this panel, which will focus on how memory of World War II has been recently invoked in the context of the war in Ukraine and how it has been used by Russian state officials to justify their actions.
Ian Garner is a historian of Russian war propaganda. He is on a mission to illuminate the hidden sides of Soviet and Russian life – a world of thoughts and feelings hidden behind closed doors and the Iron Curtain – through engaging wider western audiences in recent academic discoveries. He has written/been interviewed for the Washington Post, New York Times, Rolling Stone, BBC, CBC, CNN, ABC, and many more. His first book, Stalingrad Lives: Stories of Combat & Survival, will be released by McGill-Queen’s University Press in mid-2022.
Aliona Hlivco is the Strategic Relations Manager at Henry Jackson Society. Prior to that she was a political analyst, country risk adviser (mainly focusing on the FSU states), Guest Lecturer at Regent’s University London and a regular contributor at Chatham House Russia and Eurasia Programme’s roundtables and events. Aliona had an extensive political career in Ukraine. Having obtained MPA and MA (Hons) in Political Science she went on to become a Political Consultant and a Campaign Manager for one of the largest political parties in Ukraine. After having worked as a Chief of Staff to an MP, she ran for office herself and stood as a candidate in the Ukrainian Parliamentary General Elections. In 2015 she was elected a Local Councillor in her hometown Chernivtsi and became Chief Party Whip in the Regional Parliament. Aliona also served as a Chief Adviser to the Chair of the Regional Parliament. She regularly appeared on Ukrainian national media outlets, debating on domestic, security and international issues. She has also been a TEDx speaker and is fluent in Russian and Ukrainian with a limited proficiency in German.
Izabella Tabarovsky is a Senior Program Associate at the Kennan Institute (Wilson Center). She oversees the Institute’s historical memory and research programming. Her expertise includes the politics of historical memory in the post-communist space, the Holocaust, Stalin’s repressions, and Soviet and contemporary left antisemitism. She is a contributing writer at Tablet Magazine and has been published widely.
Isabel Sawkins is a Associate Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society. She has a BA in Modern Languages at Durham University and an MA in Political Sociology of Russia and Eastern Europe at UCL. She is currently completing a PhD on Holocaust memory in the Russian Federation at the University of Exeter, funded by the South West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership (part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council). Isabel has presented her research at numerous international conferences. She has also published her findings in academic journals, as well as contributing to online media outlets. Isabel’s most recent accomplishment was the curation of an online exhibition about a Nazi death camp in occupied Poland.
On the 9th of May Isabel Sawkins, Associate Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, Izabella Tabarovsky, Senior Program Associate at the Kennan Institute, Aliona Hlivco, Strategic Relations Manager at Henry Jackson Society, and Dr Ian Garner, an expert on Russian cultural and war propaganda, discussed how the Russian memory of WWII has been used to justify the invasion of Ukraine.
Isabel Sawkins began the event by introducing the panellists and the topic of discussion. Dr Garner discussed how faith, medieval religion and messianism impacted Russian views on WWII how these competing influences are impacting the current war. He discussed how Putin is arguing that the invasion is about saving Ukraine from a fictious Nazi threat, as well as his attempts to fuse Soviet ideology, Orthodox faith and Tsarist history together. Izabella Tabarovsky discussed the issue Russian propaganda against the reality of history and the myth making around Victory Day. She argued that propaganda and history are not the same and how the mythological depiction of WWII has completely distorted the memory of the Red Army and how there has been a tendency to blame atrocities on other Eastern European countries. Aliona Hlivco spoke about how WWII is viewed in Ukraine and the recent transformation in understanding this history because of de-communisation and the continued war with Russia. As a result of Soviet repression of Ukraine there was no desire to fight for Stalin and how there was in fact conflict between Ukrainian nationalists and the Nazis.
The discussion then closed with a series of questions including how did the panellists evaluate Putin’s Victory day speech, how messianism and spirituality has influenced Putin, how did the Russian civil war impact the relationship between Ukraine and Russia, what are Russians offering to save the world, and how are apocalyptic messages being used and why countries outside Europe and the West are starting to support Putin.
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