How and Why Russia Forgot The Great War
Published: August 1, 2014 (Issue # 1822)
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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