Refighting World War II: How the Kremlin co-opts War Memory

EVENT TRANSCRIPT: Refighting World War II: How the Kremlin co-opts War Memory

DATE: 3pm, 6 May 2021

VENUE: Online

SPEAKERS: Mark Galeotti, Nikolay Koposov, Dr Jade McGlynn



Dr Jade McGlynn  00:02

Hello, everybody, I’m so sorry to have kept you waiting. We’ve unfortunately been having a few difficulties with internet connection here in the building in which we’re based. So I also have to apologize if the if there are any problems with our connection. So yes, lots of apologies there. And as a third apology, bad things come in threes. In this case, we are not yet joined by Koposov of we’re hoping he’s going to be able to join us later during the seminar. So on which note, I suppose I should probably having apologized enough, or perhaps not enough, but having apologized, at least, I will start. So thank you to all of you the memory of World War Two, just a few minor housekeeping points. First, if you do have any questions, and I hope you do, please put them in the q&a box and then during the last 20 minutes, half an hour, we will call on you to ask your questions aloud. If you don’t want to read your question, please just let us know when you’re typing it. And to spark these questions. I’m delighted to be joined right now today by Professor Mark Galeotti’s written some of my favorite books on on Russia. Mark is the director of the consultancy firm, Mayak Intelligence, he’s also an honorary professor at UCL sees the School of Slavic in East European studies. And he’s a Senior Associate Fellow at receive as well as a senior non resident fellow at the Institute of International Relations Prague where he spent a fair amount of time previously, he’s also an Associate Fellow of the Middle East Institute’s frontier Europe program. Previously, he’s held roles at NYU at the EUI, Foreign Office, and his many, many books include A Short History of Russia, We Need to Talk About Putin and The Vory: Russia’s Super Mafia. For those of you who don’t know me, I am Jade McGlynn. I’m the director of research and head of the Russia and Eurasia studies. And two here at HJS my PhD  I centered on the politics of memory in Russia, and particularly on contemporary uses in history. So I’m going to have to be on my best behavior not to geek out here too much, I think, for the sake of the audience. One thing I would like to say before starting, especially as it’s directly relevant to our event here is that sometimes one of the issues that arises when discussing the politicization of the past and Putin’s Russia, is that it can be easy to lose the tragedy of the events themselves, and the very real need to remember and reflect on them. I think it’s fair to say that in the West, many of us can forget the toll taken and the enormity of the USSR as losses in World War Two or what’s known in Russia is the Great Patriotic War standing from 1941 to 1948. There are different reasons for this. But probably at least one of them is that the instrumental role of volunteer staff complicates some of our own preferred neater historical narratives around World War Two, which is nice simplified, again sort of good and evil for freedom. But the USSR was of course instrumental and the scale of loss was thankfully on for for US and UK are unimaginable. With between 25 to 31 million Soviet citizens, Russians and non Russians among them, of course, killed in the conflict and 16 million of them said civilians is therefore entirely understandable that night of May or Victory Day when Russia celebrate the end of World War Two is known to many as the holiday with tears in your eyes. And much of the current celebrations that we see on date back to the to the British Navy era, when many aspects of the current ways of remembering the war emerged. But there are also numerous new invented or or reinvented traditions. And it’s also fair to say that the presence in World War Two is very prominent in daily Russian life as the government has launched massive programs spanning hundreds of billions of rubles using sort of government ministries and the caf ghastly, titled government organized non governmental organizations like the Russian military stalks it through these hundreds of 1000s of initiatives each year. So war films, War series books, children’s reenactment camps, children’s war, tourism, murals, exhibitions, expeditions, museums, most of which offer a very selective narrative of the war, one that’s retold with an it using the heroic and tragic legacy of it, fueled by many nations and peoples in the Soviet Union, to prop up and legitimize an increasingly authoritarian style of government and an aggressive foreign policy, even now some 76 years on. And it’s on that note that I would like to turn with my first question to Mark, and why is not only the Great Patriotic War, but also war more generally such a focal point In or why is it emerged often in Putin’s discourse? At a time when Russia itself is living through an era of relative political stability? In many ways?


Mark Galeotti  05:10

It’s a good question. And in some ways, there is a long term answer and the short term answer, the long term answer is actually about Russian history. Look, all states have, to an extent been shaped by wars, and the whole warfighting experience of building up taxation machines and everything else. In Russia, though, it’s been particularly more striking. And in part, it’s precisely that this is a country with no natural borders, at the crossroads of Europe and Eurasia, which has therefore been prone to be invaded by whichever is the military superpower of the time from East or from West or from south. And therefore, in this is a history which has actually been very much punctuated by wars, and a nation state, which also has been delineated by them. I mean, in some ways, we, we can look at wars as being a sort of crucial element of the expansion of the Russian state, across Eurasia into the south, and so forth. And in some ways, the borders which emerged, were precisely defined by that equipoise, that balance between Russia’s capacity and interest to expand, and the will and the ability of states in these regions to resist that. So in some ways, exactly. I mean, we can just actually point to the boundaries of modern Russia and the past incarnations of Russia, and say, actually, those boundaries were themselves drawn by war. And so this is why, you know, wars have always been important in 30, Russia’s national story, and they have also been used to have been exploited. For that same purpose. I mean, one can look at the 14th century, the Battle of Kulikova, which was a momentous and dramatic success against the Golden Horde. But the idea that it’s somehow reflected a turning point, well, two years later, can’t talk to Mitch came in sacked and burned Moscow. And it’d be another 100 years, that the Russians would still be paying tribute to the Golden Horde until the great stand on the ogra River. But it doesn’t matter, because at the time, I mean, Dimitri, john sky was not only a good general, he was a good spinmeister. And he understood the importance of building a narrative around that. And he had the, the Orthodox Church, which you know, if one can be light hearted about it was the cable news of the day, as also his additional mouthpiece to put out his his story. So you know, time and again, we’ve seen that I could, I will refrain from the temptation or just get going through every single major war. But the very fact that the Napoleonic War is known as the Patriotic War, as the precursor to the Great Patriotic War. And again, it says something it’s not just a Napoleonic War, it’s actually, you know, something existential struggle for the Motherland, which of course, it was, so wars do actually matter. But then, particularly when we come to Putin, I mean, he has had this campaign to really try and build a new narrative, what is Russia, one that actually not just supports his own political ambitions, but also fits the needs of the moment, because after all, in some ways, modern Russia, the Russian Federation, it was defined in 19, at the end of 1991, as the bits of the Soviet Union that had not also declared independence for themselves. In many ways, it was the hole in the middle of the Parliament. And, you know, it was hard to create a narrative, certainly in the 1990s, this is a clear issue. So Putin has tried to do that. And obviously, being put in, it suits his particular needs, he’s cherry picking through history for the bits that he likes, you know, he, he wants you cough, he doesn’t want the failures of 1941. You know, he wants to pick a number that says that Russia is a great power. It wants to hijack the memory of World War Two, for Russia, rather than as you pointed out, actually being for the whole Soviet Union. But to somehow explain Russian exceptionalism more or less says precisely, we earned great power status through the blood of 20 million of our people who failed to save the world from from Nazi barbarism. And also to give a picture of an essentially anarchic and dangerous world. That actually is one in which when Russia is not united, Russia is prey. And this is a very kind of primordial notion. And all of that works. So the very fact that at the moment, Russia is you might see a piece except for the wars that he chooses to fight, whether in the Donbass or Syria or wherever, is actually the very opposite of the picture that Putin wants to create. He wants to create this, this money. More and more dangerous picture. And therefore wars are also a way of trying, largely failing, but trying to mobilize the sense of Russia is a beleaguered fortress and therefore everyone needs to protect. So long term history and short term political expediency, as well as just simply an attempt to try and build some notion for what the hell the Russian Federation is.


Dr Jade McGlynn  10:22

Yeah, I think, yeah, that’s that was a wonderfully wide ranging but also picked up on really all of the major points that that I was hoping that you would, I was also really happy to see that you managed to include Kulikova so early on, because I knew tried to get referencing, but I was amazed, frankly, at the speed. So it’s good to have that one out of the way. And I think you pick up on some important points as well around, of course, this isn’t the first time that there’s a heavy dose of sort of warm apology or historical analogies on costs during the Great Patriotic War itself. There’s almost constant references back to the Patriotic War that you mentioned against Napoleon, and trying to use these memories themselves to feed into it all does become quite complicated. It’s not as neat is that was that was a Great Patriotic War, and then it will ascend from that.


Mark Galeotti  11:19

It’s fascinating. I have a question for you. But also thinking about the resonances. I mean, it’s also I think it’s interesting if one looks at the term that is used for the militant separatists, Russian proxies calling what you will in the Donbass, people’s militias. I mean, this is also the term was used for the forces that emerged at the end of the Time of Troubles to drive back the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth forces that are occupied Moscow and so forth. And again, I mean, this is what I find really fascinating. It’s actually the extent to which one finds all kinds of historical motifs constantly being repurposed to try and bring some some kind of luster. But I mean, I said, I mean, I’m shamelessly hijacking the situation. But you know, given given this is your, your particular area of research, you talk about the extent to which you know, there’s a harkening back to the original Patriotic War. And I can’t help but wonder, I mean, how far is it that it’s purely victories that matter? I mean, are we actually talking about wars? Or are we talking about victories?


Dr Jade McGlynn  12:27

That’s a really excellent question, because as you as you’ve already referred to the actual memory of 1941 is, is a tricky one. It’s not dealt with anywhere near as prominently as the memories sort of from the success of Stalingrad, afterwards. I think there is a discussion of victimhood. I mean, there is a description of suffering, that means that we’re not talking just about victory. And because certainly, if we think back actually, to the propaganda that was used around the war in Ukraine, when that broke out a lot of the discussion around what the Ukrainian army in the sort of anti terrorist operations were supposedly doing to the civilian population in the Donbass, there was heavy references, of course, to massacres by the Nazis during World War Two, and to the idea of the Russian population constantly, you know, being at risk of a symbol of this sort of this targeting that the Nazis had returned, or, of course, their best and in this narrative that helpers that Banderas see, say this sort of Ukrainian nationalists who this is a very, this is a very complicated one transfer from one line, but some of you collaborated with the Nazis, I think would be would be a nice easy place. And of course, that’s there’s several books that could that can and have been written on that topic. But yes, so that was a quiet constant refrain was this idea of the Russian population, or once again, being victimized, and of course, any of any Russian, we may have perceived as anything as Russian aggression, very much the Russian media presented as this is Russia, just defending his people. Because we’ve seen this before we saw this in 1941. We saw this in 1942. And we’re not going to let it happen again, which was a very powerful narrative among those very powerful narrative in and of itself, and also the intensity in which it was delivered. So you do see these, you do see these references to suffering, but they’re not references to losing. They’re just references to sort of poor Russia’s just sitting there might also be union of course, so often, ethnicized is now to Russia, sitting there minding his own business, they never do any harm. And all of a sudden, different actors throughout history, just call him invade and, and, and victimize and I think we see this as well, more recently in some of the discussions around russophobia. where of course, there have been sort of efforts by Putin by Lavrov to compare russophobia with anti semitism and even you know, discussions around, okay, well, of course, the Jews suffered terribly in world war two second only to the Russians in lots of this sort of trying to engage in competitive victimhood, which, which you see a lot. I don’t want to single out Eastern Europe, but you do you do see, east of the continent, I think it’s fair to say, and around the memory of a war two, which actually brings me on to another question I wanted to discuss, which is the topic of the idea of memory wars. So when we have these diplomatic spats, often between Russia and Eastern European country, or Eastern Central European countries, often around World War Two. So there was the famous one in 2019, at the end of 2019, around with Poland between the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs around who started World War Two after Russia essentially claimed that Poland it just sort of caught caused World War Two. To what extent do you think these memory was a diversionary tactics, or a way of sort of re reinforcing support at home, but it may be lacking?


Mark Galeotti  16:03

I think it’s an element of that because we do see exactly that everything gets recounted in extravagant detail in the domestic media. It’s not just simply a matter for diplomats to be snarling at each other. And it’s used. And again, I think it’s interesting, again, going back to your point about victimhood. I mean, there is an interesting, because there are different narratives as different countries, kind of not just gonna have wars, but perceive how they are as warfighting nations. You know, and actually, you know, what are the characteristics of their country that they think comes out? In the context of warfighting nation? I mean, one can think, you know, the, the Brits pride themselves on essentially being sort of dauntless, the Honorable, I think it’s fair to say. And there is this kind of classic trope that sort of the first half of any war, Britain will do terribly badly, until it kind of works out its kinks. And then of course, is triumphant. But that is a different kind of way of thinking about yourself in warfare as the Russian one, which as you say, in very much focuses on this dark path to victory. It’s just through extravagant suffering, that we actually win. And in some ways that makes the scale of a victory, all the more heroic, but all the more meaningful. So I mean, I think in this context, it is important to to keep reaffirming that Russia is a victim in this country that spans 11 time zones, and has a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and has strategic nuclear forces. But nonetheless, somehow, it’s the nasty Poles or the nasty Czechs, who are who are being mean to poor little Russia. So I mean, there is that element of that. But I also think we we shouldn’t forget two other elements. I mean, one is it actually memory was, you know, take take two sides to fight. I mean, often there is actually another dimension. I mean, if one looks at the particular spat with Poland, I mean, of course, the the Russian line was was historically indefensible, but so too, was much of what was being mobilized against the Russians at that time. You know, this notion that, in fact, the Russians are always wanted there to be worn and such. I mean, it was that there was there was some equally problematic memory wall stuff on the other side. Um, so, you know, I think this is the fact that actually, there are many countries at the moment, all products of 1989 to 1991, that are still finding their own way and building or rebuilding their own net national narratives. And so memory was actually can can be useful for both sides to kind of define themselves and their, their psychic boundaries, shall we say? And the last thing I would say is, yes, much of this is absolutely instrumentalized political sort of tactic to justify your actions, and also to try and  delegitimize the other side, because there are going to be constituencies in the other country who say, Well, no, that’s not true. And the Russians did come and say this or whatever. But we shouldn’t assume that, in fact, the people who are launching this on the Russian side do not also believe it. And they actually mind particularly the kind of the, the 60 year olds who essentially are dominant at the moment, while their products are the kind of the last gasp of the Soviet era. But also, they didn’t get to go through the Great Patriotic War themselves, but it was still loomed very large. No one thinks about the stories of Putin playing in the ruins of Stalingrad of Leningrad, and that kind of thing. So actually, this is a real part of their kind of quite arm’s length experiences. And I think sometimes we miss that we sometimes miss the degree to which, yes, while they are being cynical manipulators, there is a genuine edge to this. And it’s interesting when we have people like, like Putin, like unable to come on to him later Naryshkin that the head of the Foreign Intelligence Service, who’s also head of the Russian Historical Society, you know, I’m not saying he’s a good historian, it’s quite the opposite. I think actually, they are shockingly bad historians, but they are certainly interests interested in history.


Dr Jade McGlynn  20:22

That’s very true. I always think that when I’m listening to Nadinsky, as well, particularly the former Minister of Culture, now the President on matters relating to history, and memory, you know, he knows a lot, he knows a lot about history, you know, if it becomes a sort of facts and numbers, or well maybe just dates, perhaps facts is too strong a word he really doesn’t. He knows a lot about them. It’s just the order and the narratives, he puts them in a slightly baffling. But I liked your point around them. It wasn’t that it does take time, it takes two to tango, to have a memory war, which I think can also be forgotten. And I was thinking about that sort of the 2019 spat, and then what happened with Putin is national interest article last year, when actually Poland, again, was maligned, but they didn’t respond in any way on the same level as it happened sort of, in the during the 2019 spat. And as a result, Putin didn’t actually get the sort of memory, what he was quite clearly looking for, by publishing an article, or at least would have expected. So that’s, I think that’s a really pertinent point. And I suppose the other thing to consider also is that we do talk about minerals. But in some countries, Russia’s, or the Soviet history of the war is also a source of genuine soft power. So particularly in certain countries of the former Yugoslavia, in Serbia, among certain parts of the population, normally priests are parts in Montenegro, but also elsewhere, it does serve as a tool, you know, not so much of division. But there’s also Russia has been some success in using it to sort of further bolster its image normally, in countries that are already sympathetic, but sometimes among you know, for example, certain left wing sections as well as obviously, some some right wing, but the more the war tends to cause to appeal to those who have a more anti fascist inclination for obvious reasons. But, but yeah, so I think that’s probably one thing also worth worth mentioning. Because particularly as this is a growing area, we’ve spoken about how sorry, go on.


Mark Galeotti  22:25

I mean, it just, I just, that’s an interesting point. And it reminded me of there was there was this again, quite quite bitter dispute with the Czech Republic, proceeding the current bitters dispute with the Czech Republic, when the particular sort of local local council in Prague wanted to remove this huge statue of Soviet martial Konya that stood there. And, obviously, you know, the statue was a product of the Warsaw Pact, Soviet domination days. And it was because, you know, Konev had been part of the, you know, the commanding the forces that had liberated Czechoslovakia, against the Nazis, you know, obviously, simply to impose Soviet rule, but that’s a whole other story. And, you know, it had as a result been, understandably, a constant target for graffiti and everything else. And eventually, I mean, an admittedly rather anti Russian and regional they decided, Okay, we’re gonna get rid of it. And of course, this became the subject of a furious campaign from Moscow about the extent to which it was, you know, obviously denigrating the memories all those who that sort of saved Czechoslovakia, from from from the Nazis and such like. And the interesting thing is that actually looking at the kind of responses at the time from within the Czech Republic, I mean, first that because it’s not as though the Russians are especially well regard in the Czech Republic and and then remember 1968, as well, and the crushing of the Prague Spring and such like that the other checks, then then, in just my own impression is that it’s not not really people to kind of hold strong, bitter grudges and such like. But the interesting thing was that, after certain point, a narrative evolved that are Yeah, but that’s because but Konev had also been responsible for the crushing of the plant spring in 1968. And therefore, of course, he was sort of actually at an oppressor. He wasn’t. But the interesting thing is that actually what happened by the very vehemence of the Russian campaign to denigrate what was happening in the Czech Republic, and absolutely by by making it much more extreme than the situation really was. It created this backlash and created a sort of a, I don’t think it was I don’t think it was actually the evil people created it. It was just a sort of a bubble forth a sort of a narrative and response that actually painted this as being not about Konev of the world war two marshall, Konev of the Warsaw Pact marshall. Which is interesting, because I think it shows the extent to which actually, often when Russia tries this particular tactic, it handles it really badly. Because it cannot step beyond its own perspectives. They don’t stop and think well look at what does this war? What does this monument? What does this individual mean to the locals? It’s just purely Well, how do we see him? And that’s how the locals ought to be seeing it. So again, I mean, I think it’s really interesting the extent to which they tried this in areas where you think they would have some kind of traction, the sense I get, and you also get that from Bulgaria, I mean, I don’t know, for example, sort of the Balkans area at all as well. But the sense I get is that actually, the more the Russians played his card, the smaller a value that card has, and what was once you know, a queen, or a jack is now maybe a three.


Dr Jade McGlynn  25:55

Though I think that’s a fair point, really, what I’m talking about more is less that attempt to be combative, and to just push their own narrative onto people. But more what I’m seeing is increasing efforts to try to find a point of conciliation between narratives. Of course, it’s very selective in how it’s done. And it is normally a case of, of bolstering that influence. But sometimes it can also seem quite, what’s my mind, perhaps slightly, not random, but perhaps unusual, organizing lots of different Russia to be shown that dubbed into Portuguese. So they clearly do see it as a soft power weapon. And I think when it’s used in those more sensitive and sort of conciliatory ways it can be but I agree, obviously, the approach that again, you will associate in Bulgaria, as you just referenced, where they’ve been really unnecessary memory, memory was there with Bulgaria within a population area generally, reasonably well inclined, certainly by European standards towards Russian they didn’t arguments they needed to be having. It would appear we have been joined by Nikolai. Oh, that’s okay. We’ve just been talking about memory wars. So you’ve really unfortunately, you’ve missed out on some points. But if you’re happy to take your question, I feel like I’m sort of bombarding you. But one of the questions that we’ve been discussing is the extent to which some of the process that we see in Russia around memory was alright, sorry, around the sort of world war two cult, the constant sort of use of history? To what extent is that perhaps just an intensive, intense version of what we’re seeing across other European countries? And is this sort of a shift from the age of ideology to the age of memory, as you put it in your book?


Nikolai Koposov  28:15

Well, thank you for this question. And, well, of course, with a rusher well, Russia is of course, a Jurassic Park. And of course, things that happen more or less elsewhere take extreme forms in Russia. This happened, unfortunately, very often, and the entire communist experience was a little bit of this nature. And what we are living through now is paternalism and stuff like that. It’s also kind of Jurassic Park of Europe, there are plenty of little Putins in most European countries, and not only in Europe. But the concentration of this portrait ism is taking place, specifically in Russia. And from this point of view in the politics or memory that we are discussing today. It’s also known as Oh, it’s everywhere. It’s in America, it’s of course, in France. For us, it’s a little bit, you know, two sides to the issues of historical memory has always been like that, in France is perhaps the most historically oriented, you know, culture, intellectual culture in Europe, but German is also very close to that so and hit battles about the power around the past, you know, have become really memory was and those memory wars have been fought well. from among West European concepts, perhaps in France more intensely than in other classes, but in Eastern Europe, even more intensely than in France. And most of the know, history has become a kind of language for expressing usual dissatisfaction in a pretentious, counter pretentious or whatever. And what we see now between Poland and Russia, Russia and Ukraine and Russia Ukrainian with this war in Donbass started is the memory of war is being continued largely is interpreted by both sides is a memory of war. So memory was symbolic wars can lead to shooting wars in the shooter wasn’t always there must be more than one part more than one participant. But once again, Russia lays his suit and especially now I mean, unpleasant role. The role of private key to someone three countries three years most of those processes, and this is there’s basically no, there’s kind of ecological aspect, all that rush is so big the processes which are taking place in Russia necessarily now influence processes which take place in countries around which have many customers through the history to have a close look at what’s happening in Russia.


Dr Jade McGlynn  31:10

Thank you. For that very thorough answer, Nikolai. I wonder if I could follow up with you. This is a question to move to you Nikolai but also, as well, Mark, please feel free, if you have any comments on this. But so far, we’ve looked very much at how memory is used in or historical narratives use in a very aggressive way against other sort of abroad against other countries. But what impact is the use of memory loss having on the ability of Russians domestically, whether that’s online, whether that’s an academia to challenge the state’s distorted view or distorted narrative of history?


Nikolai Koposov  31:53

Well, you know, the system of censorship is never really used to kind of legal regulations, or formal censorship or whatever call there is kind of social censorship, which is at least as important as a kind of governmental, legal, formal censorship. And this social censorship, which see at work in America, in sometimes very, very impressive ways, is also at work in Russia. And in Russia, people are very much accustomed to kind of self censorship. During the final decades, or the Soviet period. Of course, there were relatively limited political pressures, but self censorship factors is exceptionally well, and people simply didn’t allow themselves to think or to write or to talk about things I thought well, can be a little dangerous to do to go in. And this kind of experience of self censorship, which has been completely reanimated now in Russia, there are regulations, you know, formal regulations, including this in famous memory law 2014, which prohibits, you know, from discriminating prohibits disseminating, you know, columnist information about the politics of Mr. Stalin during the Second World War. But this lore is there, it doesn’t have to be applied too often. So far, we have something like certain cases only in seven years of applications of this law. And in almost all cases, the law has been just used against bloggers, not against professional historians, but professional historians know the law is there. And also they have their own bosses, they have editors over just publishing houses, editors, and the reviews that they might, you know, want to publish their work, and so on and so forth. So all this system was a law being the functions extremely well. And also there is one more thing which you know, very strongly impacts the historians capacity to express themselves freely in Russia, salaries are not extremely high. So most people need something in addition to their salaries, not only they need stability in the jobs, but also something in addition to their salaries. And that’s what, it can be kind of participating in preparing a kind of documentary on historical events and so on. And if you want to have something on the top your salary, you need to adjust the watch, you know, those people who will make those documentaries will expect from you. So, in part, historians have simply been bribed in bribery is a strong form of censorship.


Mark Galeotti  35:01

Very briefly and I agree with everything that’s been said. And so just to kind of recount a vignette a couple of years back talking to a couple historians I know at Moscow State University, who are both 20th century historians. And we ended up talking about exactly the whole issue of, you know, kind of the reemergence of blank spots in history, shall we say. Whereas once upon a time, it was exactly outright censorship. Now, it’s just simply mean, these are areas you wait where you know, you’re not really meant to go, and all the various metrics, which are otherwise going to affect your promotion, in your career, and so forth. Basically, suggest, you have to be very careful if you’re going to be sort of stepping into them. And they were actually going back and thinking about because both of them came from academic families, how their parents had operated under Soviet times. And in a way, one tactic was if you really did want to write about something that the state was a bit iffy about, you would basically bury it, you would hide it in articles about what seemed to be very tedious and esoteric things in tedious and esoteric journals. So you know, it looks as if you’re writing about, I don’t know, you know, levels of congenital birth defects in the 1950s. But in fact, you’re actually talking about the impact of malnutrition in the 1940s, because the state had failed, failed to actually talk about, to look after the health of its own civilians, that kind of thing. So there’s one one, and that is still around, it’s still a way of doing it. The other one is actually Well, once upon a time, you know, about five years ago, even but certainly 10 years ago, you could publish abroad, what you couldn’t really publish at home. But what they said they’ve now found, is that actually the state or is precisely that the department heads and the vice provost and everyone who kind of enforces these sort of new new values and new taboos, they have become aware of this. And therefore now people are actually finding that just because you publish something in a Western journal, that doesn’t mean to say that you won’t get someone saying, excuse me, what have you written. So again, it’s interesting how we’ve almost got also good habits beginning to, you know, also recur in how you can try and sneak a bit of subversiveness into your academic output.


Dr Jade McGlynn  37:31

That is interesting, I think, speaking to some of the younger historians, I know, sort of just finished their PhDs, I think they find it quite a depressing, depressing prospect in terms of their ability to pursue their interests, unencumbered, as it were. I do have some questions, but actually are incredibly informed audience have pretty much asked some of these questions anyway. So I think I’m going to hand over, hand over to the audience’s questions and let them ask it before we get out of my voice. So what I would do is I will ask, because we have quite a few questions, I’m going to ask people to sort of ask the questions if that, if that makes sense. I feel like I’m over explaining this, just so that that way we can get through some more questions. So the first question will come from Ian Bond, please.


Ian Bond  38:37

Yeah. Thanks very much. I mean, very interesting discussion. And nice to see you again, Mark. I mean, the question I had was about the the historical ignorance of most Western politicians who have to deal particularly with Putin, and how that affects the effectiveness of Russia’s narrative. So I wondered, you know, whether any of you wanted to comment about how you can ensure, for example, that Western politicians dealing with Russian counterparts are better informed about the fact that per capita bill, Russians and Ukrainians suffered much higher casualties than Russians during the Second World War, or how are you? How are you made sure that people don’t fall into the trap of accepting Russia role, Putin’s version of why the Molotov Ribbentrop pact was signed?


Nikolai Koposov  39:51

It’s such a complex question. And I guess we need to separate several levels here. Well, on the one hand, you know, his mask has already been said, for two, so memory is a component and an essential component of Russia’s Putin’s and not only Russia’s politics, nowadays, geopolitics, as the Russians like to say, and things like that. And from this point of view, you cannot ignore historical narratives, historical narratives, if you allow a kind of, you know, cramming, for example, to impose his point of view, and convince many people, for example, in Ukraine, or in washroom and below routes or whatever, that those people are now against Russia, that is basically they, whomever, then can come with a lot of cost, you know, two Ukraines, two Latvias, and so on. So what to do, DNS is a kind of Russia strategy to split those nations, and to establish, you know, improve its control over those parts of the world. And this has to be taken very seriously. So this has to be a post and it has to be a post not only are the label of what, I don’t know, Frau Merkel and Mr. Putin speak of between them when they meet, I think that they will find more important things to discuss. But the we asked, needs to develop a large scale systematic strategy for opposing Putin’s politics of memory. And this strategy should work differently in different countries. It is one thing for example, to how you know, how it might be possible to counter Putin’s attempts to establish his control over Belarus, for example, in Belarus, most young people hate Lukashenko who promotes old Soviet Russian narrative of the war. So it’s one context, completely different quarters, for example, the Baltic countries, especially the latter understood, they were just both internally with strong Russian minorities. So the strategy of addressing young people in Belarus and the strategy of addressing young people on stone in Latvia would be different strategies. And this has to be very careful to, you know, somehow there should not be an impression of people in the West saying different things to different audiences. So it should be clear and picture somehow revealed by Western propaganda, history, propaganda, counter attempts of Russian history, propaganda, but still, it should be different things emphasize to different audiences in the stone and locker, what’s important is not to allow to split those concepts and belong short and important is to conquer continue conquering leads to different strategies.


Mark Galeotti  43:08

I’m actually gonna, I’m gonna push back slightly, because I think I mean, on the one hand, I think it’s, you know, having a good understanding of the history is useful, particularly for working out how one can, as it were used these these not memory wars, but falsifications of history or caricaturing of history, and actually try and turn them to our advantage. You know, for example, I think there’s a lot more that Britain could do for soft power in Russia, precisely by doubling down on things like the Arctic convoys. So you know, a knowledge of history would help there. On the other hand, I’m not convinced that we really want to start getting involved in shows a direct competition in terms of alternative variants of history with with Putin in this respect, although it pains me to say so as a historian by training, in some ways, I think for our politicians, ignorance is bliss. You know, we shouldn’t get bogged down in that. But I don’t think that this memory stuff actually really has much of an impact in terms of Western audiences. I don’t think many people really are being seduced by, you know, stories about the glories of World War Two, whatever, actually having shallow pragmatic politicians, which is, frankly, what we have, with almost no knowledge or interest in history, in some ways, allows precisely so some of Putin’s memory wall politics, just slide off a Teflon surface. So I think I just would want to be aware a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing. If we start to educate our politicians, God knows what they’re going to do next.


Nikolai Koposov  44:40

Yeah, I totally agree with there. And to what I said, I guess I would also add like you that well, on the one hand, is it possible to combat those people on the other hand, in some cases, we better ignore them and A lot of what’s happening on the Kremlin side is that they are trying to attract attention to them. So they attract attention seeking people want to be in the center with a very limited, huge, but still limited, nothing in comparison to the United States with limited resources that they have. They want to play a much more important role that they can. And one of the things, one of the strategies they can use to do that is to make scandals all the time. Just to private life, if you see a scandal just don’t get involved. But at the same time, we need to take seriously a part of those candles and oppose them on pragmatic level with regard to concrete, you know, national situations where the struggle is going on. It’s a war. It’s, it’s hybrid, memory, cold, whatever we called, but the serious competition. And I also want to add to that, you know, the most important thing perhaps, is this, in my view. Well, this love of communism fell, largely because people all across the world in Russia, Israel, became convinced that it’s not the best social system. The ideal image of the we asked became so popular among active minorities in the Soviet Union, that, you know, this float union symbol lost this competition, symbolic competition with the rest of us sure now that the West can win symbolic competition with its opponents, the West have to be more trustworthy of itself, we need to have higher opinion in the west of what the West can offer. But now, West offers not necessarily as both things that is used to in the 1960s and 1970s. So to win the war, but with China, with Russia, we need to improve the war. And everything else will come naturally, logically, as a consequence.


Dr Jade McGlynn  46:59

Thank you. Thank you, Nikolai. So unfortunately, I was being very silly andI cut off two of our questioners before they were about to ask their questions, we’re now going to return to them. So that’ll be Noel Hadjimichael and Taras Kuzio we’ll come to you for the next few questions. Thank you very much.


Noel Hadjimichael  47:17

Is there a risk that natural questioning by the pluralist west of the way prison day Russia commemorates the Great Patriotic War is used by the Putin regime to paint otherwise historic allies as disrespectful enemies of contemporary interests, and the absence of any focus on the scandalous treatment of Soviet Army POW is by the 1945 Stalinist Elite is incredibly telling.


Taras Kuzio  47:56

Yes, hi. The debate on the whole question of the Great Patriotic War, for me is interesting, because we should not and I’m wondering what people here think about this one, we should not accept that, that this is somehow stuck in stone. Things can be changed. And Ukraine is a great example of that, that in 2015, with the passage of decolonization laws, Ukraine moved to, to commemorating World War Two, as opposed to celebrating the Great Patriotic War. And this has many consequences. For one thing, I mean, West Ukraine began the war in 39, not in 41. And it moves into a different type of event. We’re talking about commemorating human tragedy, not celebrating military promptness and victory. So I think there are alternatives. Of course, you know, it’s probably like unlikely just linked to that. I’m in the discussion. I’m wondering whether, whether you agree with me that I don’t see any Russian experts and academics who understand Ukraine. And because of that, this explains the poor and weak Russian policy towards Ukraine.


Dr Jade McGlynn  49:21

Thanks, Taras. And we’re just going to take one extra question now as well from Jon Holloway.


Jon Holloway  49:28

Thank you. My question is about the the immortal regiment. It’s very interesting that that move from being a an alternative to the official 9th of May celebrations in I think Tomsk, and it strikes me it’s now being completely taken over by the state and is pushed forward on a worldwide basis. Is this the way that that Russia is going to commemorate when all the veterans are dead? Is that? Is that why that’s been done?


Dr Jade McGlynn  49:55

Okay, thank you. Um, so I’m actually going to pick up on that last question, and then I’ll Possibly, but the broader questions as well to Mark and Nikolai. But I spent some time researching the emotional regimen, including having some interviews with Sergey Lavrov who was the sort of the spokesman among the founders of the of the Tomsk movement that you spoke about. And I don’t think it was set up so much in opposition to the state, the same thing. And of course, some sort of elements, this idea of holding a portrait of one of one of your relatives you lived through what did exist beforehand in different variations. But perhaps Tomsk was the 2013 was the first time that it’s perhaps more of more of an official approach. But what he did want what they did want from it was for it to be a political, and for it to honor people who were people who had fought in the rear people who had been POW use who of course, were not honored. And sometimes were sent to labor camps upon returning from POW camps. So it was about opening up that narrative of glory. As you’ve alluded to, in 2015, there was a sort of hostile takeover or an alleged hostile takeover of the movement by the Moscow City Council, where I won’t go into the details, because there’s quite a few, but essentially, yes, where the state took it over because it was clearly already morphing into a very popular movement. And it clearly had a lot of good control. Sorry, a lot of popularity in terms of do I think that signals a shift? Yes, I suppose as that communicative memory dies out. And we shift more towards cultural and we are going to increasingly see this need to reconnect to find this authenticity and to find the personal connections. And that is one of the things that is so moving about the emotional regimen is it does remind you of that, that personal connection, however, I think it’s fair to say that the state is not necessarily using it for that I know, there have been plenty of stories where kids have just been sent out with pictures of just random people, and then march around the aren’t these children’s sort of grandparents or anything, it’s just for show and sort of a demonstrated attempt. So there will be efforts to make it look that way to resemble authenticity, how often to get will actually be is perhaps a different question entirely. But I’ll pass over the other questions now to Mark and Nikolai.


Mark Galeotti  52:16

Absolutely. What you said about the immortal Regiment, again, I think it’s interesting thing is precisely about the this overlap between a genuine belief that there is something important that needs to be remembered, which is understandable, and frankly, admirable. And sometimes in the West, we could do a little bit more of that, with a cynical attempt to try and create this kind of groundswell in support of a wider state ideological program that basically wants to say precisely that, basically, war is important, and we are facing a lot of it. But to go on to the other question, I mean, no, I think you’re absolutely spot on about the policy issue of trying to make sure that we push back where we need to push back on the distortions of the historical memory. And yet, with as far as possible, without doing that in a way that can be characterized, or indeed is disrespectful. I mean, this is one of the reasons why, you know, my view is that, you know, we should in the UK, we should absolutely be calling out times when, when Moscow is basically as it was practice spreading lies about the nature of the war. But at the same time, absolutely, we should be remembering sort of common actions, you know, as should be one of the biggest wreaths, the war memorials, and so forth. You know, we need to find that balance, both for moral reasons, but also, again, for cynical political reasons. And very, very briefly tell us, um, yeah, I mean, this is the interesting thing is that, if we start finding ourselves debating the Great Patriotic War, we have already allowed ourselves to be sucked into the Russian frame of reference. Fine. I mean, I mean, and it’s not for a moment that I think we should be saying to the Russians, you shouldn’t be talking about the Great Patriotic War 4145, you should be talking about World War Two, they have exactly the same, right, define what they choose to commemorate, as, as we do. But again, we need to know this is one of the things that actually the Russians are really quite good at, often just simply by by dint of just sort of hammering us over the head with the same point over and over again, is precisely in terms of creating a framework that we automatically kind of buy into and start to argue with. So yeah, I mean, I think when when Ukrainians chose to make that step from from GPW to World War Two, that was, I think, an important way of emancipating the imagination.


Dr Jade McGlynn  55:01

Okay, on that note, I think it’s probably time for us to call an end to the event. And I would like to say thank you a huge thank you to Professor Galeotti, to Professor Koposov, for joining us, and also to all of you for your patience, the beginning the delay to the event and with any internet hiccups that may have happened. I really appreciated all of your questions. And thank you so much for joining us. Bye bye.



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