If Hitler had defeated the USSR, modern Europe would have considered him a great savior
A REGNUM continues the survey of Russian and foreign historians, the theme of which is the official commemoration in Europe this year of the day of commemoration of the victims of totalitarianism, which means only two political regimes - German Nazism and Soviet Communism. For questions A REGNUM August 3 was answered by Oleg Nemensky of the Institute of Slavonic Studies, RAS.
A REGNUM: Why the EU commemorates the victims of totalitarianism only, without remembering the victims of democracy and authoritarianism, fascism and militarism?
The main reason is the modern European identity. One thing is your sins, which are thought of as either overcome or as inevitably necessary. Another thing - thanks to the overcoming of which modern Europe was born. And the post-war Europe is built on the denial of Nazism and communism as that evil, in the struggle with which the good, the light of Western civilization, shows itself. And although many Europeans see the world as somewhat more complicated, it’s not they who set the weather, they don’t form the framework of European identity.
A REGNUM: What was the nature of the political regimes of Central and Eastern Europe in the 1930-1940-ies that the USSR faced at its western borders?
Political Regimes in Interwar Central and Eastern Europe were ideologically and organizationally much closer to Germany than the USSR. Most of them can be regarded more as a part of the fascist Europe of that time, than a liberal one.
And it is important for us now to understand that for many of these peoples (with the exception of the Czech Republic and, with some reservations, Slovakia), the victory of our country in the Second World War meant its own defeat, a national catastrophe. Even the Poles perceive the result of that war in precisely this way, because they have lost a third of the country in the east (their “Eastern Crees”), which they still grieve about. And it is hardly reasonable to expect that these people will be grateful to us for the fact that they were saved from the sad fate prepared by the Nazi politicians. It is all the more unpleasant to insist on gratitude from them. At one time this feeling was instilled in them, but it was so hard for them that now they would hardly return to it voluntarily. However, let us be honest - the liberation of these countries from Nazi Germany, the defashization of their policies - all this was in our best interest. For them, this event will never be a bright holiday. Where there is a victory of one side, there is a defeat of the other. And they were that other side. Now they need revenge.
These nations are sick of nostalgia for their interwar statehoods, for the geopolitical projects that they then built. And, yes, all these projects had connections with Germany, at least with the way she presented her plans in pre-war propaganda. The dream of revenge inevitably leads them to partial rehabilitation in their minds of the Third Reich. But the problem of these countries is that Nazism is recognized as “unequivocal evil” not only in Russia (USSR), but also in the West. And here the Central European peoples have problems. However, so far they manage to smooth out well.
A REGNUM: What goals were pursued by these regimes in relation to the USSR?
If we talk about those states that were formed as a result of the defeat of Russia in the First World War, or of its territories (like Romania), then for them the success of their interwar geopolitical projects was seen as a military defeat of the USSR. Only the fact of a defeated Russia again could guarantee them their independence from Moscow and their sovereignty over large territories that were formerly part of the Russian Empire. And Germany was seen as a natural ally in this matter, which she then used quite well in her policies and propaganda.
A REGNUM: What political device was planned to be implemented by national movements, in the 1940-ies. fought for independence from the USSR?
The political movements of the prewar years and the beginning of the war should now be assessed on the basis of the understanding that they were extremely inadequate in their understanding of what Nazism was and with what Germany takes their land. However, many of their leaders, due to rather quick military actions, did not believe in the inadequacy of their ideas. Or did not want to believe.
By the way, some movements could really have a chance to live with the new system. Nazi plans for the dismemberment of the Russian land went even further than the Bolshevik, and many current activists, for example, the Cossacks or Idel-Ural, have hard-to-hide nostalgia for projects that did not take place at that time.
A political structure - in any case, these would be different forms of fascism. However, it is not necessarily Nazi.
A REGNUM: Who started the division of Europe with Hitler on the eve of the Second World War: the USSR or the Western democracies?
The task of both Hitler and the "Western democracies" was in many ways common - the struggle against communism and the destruction of Soviet Russia. The trouble of the same France is that its leaders hoped that Germany would do it herself, without her participation. Hitler did everything to unite the West for a joint campaign against Russia. If he had won on the eastern front, modern Europe would surely have remembered him as a great savior and founding father, and any schoolchild could explain what a mortal danger for progressive humanity was represented by Jews, Roma and Russians. And so it would be not only in the Third Reich, but also in the countries of English-speaking culture.
This common goal was the basis for maximum compliance with Hitler. In general, before the attack on Poland, the actions of Berlin fit well into the logic of the "unification of historical Germany." And Bohemia, and Austria, and the requirement of the corridor to Danzig - everything was justified by the goal of creating a single national state in the territories of the old German lands. Such a policy - the creation of a unified national state - could not cause too harsh criticism, since, according to the concepts of that time, it was considered quite justifiable and even noble.
The division of Czechoslovakia, made by Germany, Poland and Hungary, was seen as a minor change in the political map compared to a much larger task "in the East." Here we must understand that few people still believed in the viability of Czechoslovakia as a political and national project, so they did not attach much importance to the fact of its destruction. To this day, even in our historiography, this event is not considered to be a part of the Second World War - but only its prehistory. This is hardly indisputable, if only not to deny the direct connection of this section and further military actions. But it is very important to remember that it was our country that was then opposed to this decision - in fact, even then Berlin had already subordinated ethnically non-German lands.
By the way, in the logic of uniting national territories, the USSR acted in September 1939. Unlike Germany, Moscow returned then what was occupied by the Poles twenty years earlier and were not territories with a predominantly Polish population. And now, when Poland is trying to equalize the "acts of aggression" of Germany and the USSR 1 and 17 of September of that year, it is very important to emphasize this fundamental difference. As, of course, the fact that September September 17 Poland was no longer a state.
A REGNUM: Why the EU did not condemn the Munich Agreement 1938 of the year?
And why should they? They, after all, need to condemn Russia, and not "give an impartial assessment of the events of the past."
It seems that we often underestimate the need of the West in condemning the actions of the USSR in the Second World War. Without Russia's condemnation, the West cannot be sure of a positive self-esteem, that is, of a positive perception of its historical experience and its values.. But Western values are thought of as universal (universal) precisely because they are convinced that they are the Absolute Good. Liberal values have replaced Christianity with the West, it is religiously faithful to them, it realizes itself through them - and nothing should interfere with this. Especially - historical memory.
Mass perception of major historical events is always based on a simple “childish” model of the struggle between good and evil. World War II - the most important event in stories The West, constituting its current political and ideological state, and its memory should also be structured according to an intuitive pattern of the victory of Good over Evil. After all, Good - it is because good, because Evil is evil. And just in this, the West has a big problem: what is now considered there as the Great Evil was defeated by Russia, which is also regarded as Evil. But according to the logic, Good should always defeat Evil, and not another Evil. To recognize Russia as something other than Evil, the West cannot for deep cultural reasons. And most importantly - it is not the West. And even with all the twisting of the events of that war, it is also impossible to completely escape from the fact of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany. So, it is necessary to present the matter in such a way that the war itself was the result of the collusion of these two evils, and thus their joint event.
The Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact is a central event here, since it is he who, regardless of its real content, becomes a symbol of this collusion, a symbol of the unity of World Evil. No other agreements with Berlin of other countries have such symbolic significance, and therefore they are not significant for European history. Moreover, any differences between the communist and nazi regimes in such a scheme should be erased, and this is done using the theory of totalitarianism. So, the Third Reich and the Soviet Union are transformed into one thing, and conflicts within this "one" are no longer of fundamental importance. The very fact that these two powers then began to fight each other, and one defeated the other - well, this is their own failure, the failure of Evil. In all fairy tales, evil characters conflict not only with the good ones, but also with each other - is this not a reason to be happy for them?
The very victory of May 1945 was not seen in the West as such an absolute Victory, as in Russia. For them, the “forces of good” finally defeated “Evil” only as a result of the end of the Cold War. This is what ideologically justifies the leadership of the United States in the modern world. After all, this is the case of "protecting freedom and democracy," which the United States and its allies took upon themselves during World War II and were able to complete it. However, not quite to the end. The collapse of the USSR, after all, also occurred "somehow wrong", without American tanks in the Kremlin - so that Evil still lives there, it just became weak, but therefore no less dangerous..
By the way, the Third Reich is evil, but understandable for Europeans. So it’s not equal with Russia at all - it’s something alien. This is evil from the outside. It must be fought with, and the idea of the “new Nuremberg”, only over the USSR and its “successor state”, is very appropriate here. For the political elite of Poland and the Baltic countries, it has turned into a fixed idea, an important political dream. And, I think, the relevance of this topic will only increase, and no historical or logical reasoning can stop the West from its promotion. I repeat, the West has a psychological need to condemn the USSR / Russia, this is a very serious cultural complex, which we have only been able to stir up in Western cultures of the peoples of Central Europe and the Baltic states. And the main reason for the attacks on the USSR was precisely that it won the Second World War.
The only thing weapon, which Russia can oppose, is Western material interests. As it will be more beneficial to “deal with” Russia than to clash with it, the itch of Russophobia will become quieter. But in this we, unfortunately, are not doing well now.
There is another area in which we would have to fight, but somehow everything does not work out - perhaps because the social sciences in Russia are in a half-dead state. This area is the theory of totalitarianism itself. Behind it is a great tradition of understanding the common features (and, accordingly, the general nature) of Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s USSR. The theory is very slim and beautiful, it is fascinating to many and is absolutely dominant in any attempt to understand the history of these two states in the West. But since the question itself does not involve finding differences, but only common features, any work within the framework of this theory has a common answer - they argue that these two modes were similar to each other almost like two drops of water. And since there is no political order for the search for differences between them in the West (and there will not be), the theory of totalitarianism dominates almost completely. Meanwhile, we should pay attention to how different these systems were and how a small part of their qualities the theory of totalitarianism actualizes. After all, most aspects of social and political life and ideology in the Third Reich and in the USSR are simply overlooked in this theory as superfluous for a previously adopted scheme. And, as it seems to me, if you pay attention to them, the differences between these states will come to light much more than common features. And these differences are extremely important for understanding what the Third Reich was, and what the USSR was about.
In our science, unfortunately, there is a very weak tradition of criticism of the classical theory of totalitarianism. We, too, were passionate about it in 1980-90-ies, for the most part without realizing that the political background of this theory closes the possibilities for an adequate perception of our past. At the same time, the only view that opposes this theory remains to this day only the “Old Soviet” approach, which in the same simple manner contrasts Stalin’s USSR with the Third Reich as absolute good to absolute evil. The approach, I must say, is extremely convenient for "researchers of totalitarian regimes", since it presents them with an "ideal opponent", who by their very existence only substantiates their whole theory, and most importantly, is as ideologically motivated as they are.
We cannot be drawn into the game which mode is better. After all, they are expecting from us that we will fiercely protect all the actions of the communist government, playing the role of a common European scarecrow. No, these modes are simply too different, in general, they are difficult to match. Our attitude to the past is difficult, it does not fit into the framework of the black-and-white approach, which they demand from us, but this is our internal affair and not a subject for discussion at the political level. But on the scientific side, yes, I think, the substantiation of the fundamental differences between these systems and their ideologies should in no way be linked to the romantic apologetics of one of them. Here we need a rather abstract, maximally de-ideologized analysis, which does not try to consciously ignore or simply justify the dark events of the past, the worst crimes of the authorities - but revealing completely different motivations for these actions.
By the way, it would be equally important to analyze the differences between the core values that were instilled in the official culture in the Third Reich and the USSR, between their concepts of good and evil: about how children were taught “what is good and what is bad”, which goals in a person's life were considered worthy, etc.. And in this area (perhaps the most significant for general assessments), the differences will be generally huge ...
However, there is one aspect that is constantly being raised precisely at the political level - this is the question of national responsibility for the actions of those regimes. It is central here - and especially in the light of the perspective of the “new Nuremberg”. It is extremely important for us to show and state that the responsibility of the Germans for the Nazi regime and the responsibility of the Russians for the communist regime cannot be put on a par. The Nazi regime, based on the assertion of the power of a specific nation - the German people, and the internationalist regime, fundamentally supranational, moreover, based on the severe infringement of the Russian people. These are fundamentally different political systems, and the systems of responsibility, if a question arises about them, are also fundamentally different here.
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