Dec 31, 2020
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Reflections after the scientific conference

One of the significant dates of the outgoing 2020 was the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War. Despite the global epidemic that swept the whole world, many other events (sometimes very tragic and alarming), this date has not been forgotten. In different parts of the globe, the War was remembered and recalled in very different ways.

One of the final events of the memorable year was the international scientific online conference “The Second World War in the Public Consciousness. Historical memory and modern society ”, organized by the Historical Perspective Foundation and the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation. Russian and foreign historians, publicists, publishers, and representatives of the public took part in its work.

The 19th century military theorist Karl von Clausewitz believed that “war is a continuation of politics by other means.”

Opening the conference, Natalia Alekseevna Narochnitskaya, President of the Historical Perspective Foundation, noted that in our time, the continuation of politics is no longer the war itself, but the memory of it. Moreover, this is happening on an unprecedented scale, even during the Cold War, of the acute confrontation between the superpowers.

Then the memory of the common victory over the terrible enemy was one of the few areas where the USSR and the USA found a common language.

Three quarters of a century is a seemingly long enough period for historians to thoroughly study those events, and society – to assign them a certain place in the people’s historical memory. But, apparently, the scale of the conflict and the upheavals caused by it were so global that they still excite the mass consciousness and influence politics.

As noted in his report, Ph.D. Professor Andrei Leonidovich Andreev, according to the results of sociological research, the Great Patriotic War remains the most important event of the 20th century for our society, much more important than the death of the Russian Empire in 1917 and the collapse of the USSR in 1991.

And this is no coincidence – for the older generations, the War is a part of not only national but also family history. She entered their lives both from the pages of books and from films, but, first of all, from live communication with its participants. That is why any distortions of the historical memory of World War II hurt our society. Internal problems are also superimposed on external influences. For new generations of Russians, the Great Patriotic War is a part of national history.

But today, rarely any of the young people have experience of direct communication with the participants in the war, and soon, alas, it will not be at all. More often, young people are forced to turn to such an unreliable source of information as the Internet.

The new digital space, of course, has fantastic opportunities for the accessibility and clarity of the presentation of the material, but as for the reliability, truthfulness of the content, reliance on sources – this is a big question.

Books, which have been the main source of knowledge for so long, are attracting less and less young people. And the point here is not only the emergence of new, more visual sources of information and the attraction of young people to everything new, but also in the crisis situation of the book industry itself. Sergei Dmitriev, editor-in-chief of the Veche publishing house, spoke about this with pain in his speech at the conference. This year, a wonderful project was carried out – the catalog “Books of Memory and Glory”, which includes almost all publications in Russia dedicated to the Great Patriotic War and published in the anniversary year. It seems like a lot has been published. But most of the catalog items are reprints by Soviet authors. The books are good, but they were written for other generations, for those who came into contact with the war, and the cat cried for new authors, writing in a language understandable to modern youth, as they say. There are almost no popular and effective multi-platform projects when the book is supplemented with a video film, or even a computer game, forming a visual representation of historical reality.

It would seem that young people can get some basic knowledge at school in history lessons. But it is school curricula that are now beginning to use unscrupulous politicians in other countries for propaganda purposes, presenting historical material from a certain angle to form the public mood they need.

Professor Jean Pierre Arrignon, in his report, examined in detail how the history of the Second World War is taught in French schools and came to a disappointing conclusion:

“The reform of history teaching, carried out this year for the first year of study at the Lyceum, which is planned to be extended to the rest of the Lyceum classes in the coming years, is actually the destruction of history as a subject. The aim of education is henceforth not the acquisition of knowledge, but the “formation of a citizen”. We are dealing with a sociological reading of history and using it as a tool to create citizens of the European Community. “

Maybe there is nothing wrong with that? After all, has history always been seen as a school of citizenship? However, it is alarming that the difference in the assessment of the significance of certain historical events (it is clear that the French schoolchildren will be more interested in the landing in Normandy than the battle on the Kursk Bulge, and for the Russian – on the contrary), is replaced by a selective study of history.

For the sake of the current conjuncture, facts are distorted. Not assessments of the significance of facts, but the facts themselves. There is a difference between the statements – “The USA, Great Britain, the Soviet Union and China won the Second World War” and “The USA and Great Britain won the Second World War.” The first is the usual emphasis on the role of their ancestors in history, the second is its distortion.

Professor Peter Kuznik told the story of the creation of the first feature film dedicated to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The picture was released in 1947, and was created with the direct participation of the American military and employees of the Mathattan Project. It would seem that everything should be accurate. But what the viewer saw on the screen is very different from reality. What is the statement of American pilots about the alleged tenfold warning of the Japanese about an impending nuclear strike (which in reality, of course, was not).

The problem of transferring adequate information about the War to the younger generation is not specifically Russian. Associate Professor of Tel Aviv University Boris Markovich Morozov detailed in his report how this problem is being solved in Israel. Perhaps this is one of the few countries in the world where, just like in Russia, they react sharply to attempts to apply “modern criteria” and “values” to assessing past events, in particular to attempts to equalize the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, as two totalitarian regimes that equally threatened the values ​​of freedom and democracy. In Israel, they remember very well and tell young people who built the death camps and who freed their prisoners.

The manipulation of historical memory is impossible in societies where historical consciousness is based on the data of scientific research, on history as a science. But for a modern teenager, a fluently speaking amateur on the Internet is becoming clearer and more authoritative than a Doctor of Science with his monographs based on the results of many years of research.

Surprisingly consonant were the reports of two professional historians – Professor of the Jagiellonian University in Krakow Hanna Kowalska-Stus and senior researcher of the IRI RAS, Ph.D. Vladimir Kruglov. The same idea was heard in both speeches – historians, in spite of everything, continue to work! Modern technologies greatly simplify access to archived data, allow to introduce into scientific circulation a large amount of hitherto unused layers of information. Amazingly, modern specialists sometimes know the history of individual operations of the Second World War better than their direct participants. And again, oddly enough, historians from different countries quite well find a common language among themselves – the language of facts and scientific analysis. But, again, this trend is typical for many countries – the works of historians remain almost unclaimed at the level of society. Do not serve as a basis for popular science works, fiction books and films. Of course, this is partly the fault of the historians themselves, who do not pay due attention to the dissemination of historical knowledge, but nevertheless, everyone should do their own thing, and scientists cannot replace popularizers.

Many films about the War are being shot in our country, but their quality is getting worse from year to year. As noted by the blogger and film critic Grigory Pernavsky, it seems that among the filmmakers, stable clichés have formed that have little in common with both the traditions of Soviet war cinema and historical reality. And endless penal battalions with heroes rolled across the screens, tankers speaking in modern slang, shaking hands with SS-sheep, etc.

Of course, good films also come across, but they get lost in the general stream of filmmaking, and the Ministry of Culture, instead of supporting good cinema, equally generously distributes state money for both.

Three quarters of a century after the Victory, Russian society needs to solve the most important task of preserving the memory of the war. The task is not simple, but one that requires active, creative, creative activity. After all, the memory of the War is one of the important semantic points of our mass consciousness.

That is why Russia’s enemies will continue to put pressure on it, using manipulations and even outright falsifications of historical facts.

The best defense is creative development and understanding of history. Moreover, there is a certain groundwork for this. New books are published, there are several historical projects on the Internet that combine modern technologies for presenting information and a high level of historical accuracy, and there are still good ones among our films about the war. And most importantly, there are many people, active, creative, constructive, for whom the memory of the War is not an empty phrase. And sincerity and truth, multiplied by talent and will, will prevail over everything. The way they defeated in 1945, when they were able to enter the defeated enemy capital.

Alexander Chekalin

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