History as politics in Putin’s Russia
If in the first years after the war, most of the French assigned the USSR the main role in the victory over Nazi Germany, then the USA took this place.
When world leaders gather on Thursday to celebrate the anniversary of the Allied landings in Normandy, the absence of Vladimir Putin will signal that the enormous sacrifices Russia suffered during World War II are gone from the memory of most French people..
This is in stark contrast to what it was 75 years ago, when France considered the contribution of the Soviet Union, which lost 27 million soldiers and civilians in the war, as the most important component of the victory over Nazi Germany..
After the end of the war in Europe in May 1945, a poll by the French sociological service Ifop showed that 57 percent of the French believed that Moscow contributed most to the victory, and only 20 percent believed that the United States.
By the 60th anniversary of the Allied landings in Normandy in 2004, when Russia was first represented by Putin, the numbers have changed – already only 20 percent put the Soviet Union in first place..
At the same time, 58 percent attached the greatest importance to the United States, although their total losses of 400 thousand people in the European and Pacific theaters of military operations were only a small fraction in comparison with the losses of the USSR.
“From a purely historical point of view, it is absurd to ignore the extremely important role of the Soviet Union,” says Denis Peschansky, senior researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), who has studied the evolution of the French collective memory of war for many years..
The Russian Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday that the role of the Allied landings in Normandy should be viewed in context.
“The contribution of the allies to the victory over the Third Reich is understandable, but it should not be exaggerated, and even more so, the significance of the titanic efforts of the USSR, without which this victory simply would not have happened,” said the spokesman for the Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova.
The fierce Soviet offensive weakened Germany’s military power, pinning down millions of Nazi soldiers who could be sent to strengthen the Atlantic coast.
“In 1945, Stalin and the USSR were a great ally – the French were very clear about their role,” says Stéphane Grimaldi, director of the World War II Memorial Museum in Caen, Normandy.
“But 50 years later, it turned out that the victory was won by the United States for the simple reason that it was the times of the Cold War,” he said..
Hollywood also helped change perceptions when it released several hits, starting in the 1960s, featuring brave Americans fighting far from home..
“The film The Longest Day played a major role,” says Peschanski. “He focused on the Americans and the French Resistance movement and had phenomenal success.”.
“The Cold War isolated the Russians and also isolated their war history,” says Grimaldi. – The hero was the glorious American, as portrayed by the actor John Wayne. It was he who was now saving Europe, not the Russians “.
After the end of the war, gratitude to Russia did not supplant admiration for the United States in the minds of the French..
In 1944, when asked which country they would like to visit if they could, 43 percent of Parisians chose the United States and only 13 percent chose the Soviet Union..
Russia’s image has tarnished further under Putin, whose relations with the West have deteriorated after he dispatched troops to neighboring Ukraine in 2014 to annex Crimea..
“The fact that Putin was not invited has nothing to do with the Second World War, it is caused by modern realities,” Peschansky said. “If the goal is to talk about the past, then the Soviet Union and its successors, and therefore Putin, should be at the forefront along with the Americans and the British.”.
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