Russia's Ailing Soul

Putins Victory Parade. Host Ria Novosti
Some Western leaders stayed away from Mr. Putin's parade on Saturday.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Russia’s revisionist approach to its World War II history and aggressive foreign policy is destroying sympathy for the country’s important role in defeating Nazi-Germany.

  • Facts


    • May 8 marked the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe.
    • The Soviet Union suffered more deaths than any other country in the war – about 10 million by some accounts.
    • After the Soviet Union’s collapse, Russia’s economic performance rose about 32.3 percent from 1991 to 2014, compared to 232.4 percent in China.
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Poor Russia. Seventy years after World War II ended in Europe, not everyone is full of joy and gratitude for the Soviet soldiers who helped topple the inhuman Hitler regime.

Far fewer grieve the millions shot, raped or gassed by advancing Nazis and have compassion for the suffering of all Soviet people during or after the war.

The Soviet Union was not only the biggest victim of Nazi Germany’s conquest; for decades, the victorious Soviets had to endure much worse living conditions than the vanquished Germans.

That simply added to the envy and misconceptions. It also plays to the advantage of today’s historic about-face in Russia. Across gigantic Russia, there is no hatred of Germany or Germans – Russia’s soul is big and forgiving, even when it is ailing.

Yet, after 15 years of resurgence under Vladimir Putin, Russians are experiencing another recession. On top of that, they are still being given false history lessons that weigh heavily on their souls.

Russian history is no simple story of success or pure heroism. It is a bitter irony of history that the conquerors lived worse than the conquered after defeating Hitler, which has remained the case even after the Soviet Union collapsed.

Germans are thankful today for the heroism of the Soviet people during the Second World War.

From 1991 to 2014, Russia’s economic performance rose about 32.3 percent, compared to 232.4 percent in China. India showed a plus of 157.4 percent during the same period, and even the saturated United States had a 59.6 percent growth.

For its great heroic day on May 9, the Kremlin needed new orientations – and unfortunately also old images of the enemy.

It’s understandable why some state leaders went to Moscow to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the end of the war with Vladimir Putin: It is as a thank-you to the Soviet army, which suffered the greatest death toll.

It’s also understandable why some government leaders declined the invite. Not only is the Kremlin chief guiding a war in eastern Ukraine after annexing Crimea, but Moscow is offering new historical interpretations on World War II – namely, that the Soviet victory was purely Russian.

With that, Mr. Putin is negating the sacrifice of millions of civilians and soldiers from Ukraine, Belarus and other former Soviet republics who died resisting the horrors of the Third Reich.

There are no rights to forgetting – neither for Germany nor for the victors.

It should be remembered that after the war, Joseph Stalin forced his autonomous republics and all of Eastern Europe behind the Iron Curtain.

It also belongs to the historic truths that in 1991, not only Ukraine, Belarus and others wanted to leave the Soviet Union, but also Russia itself. It was Boris Yeltsin, celebrated in the West, who wanted to rid himself of the supposedly hesitant Soviet president, Mikhail Gorbachev.

But now the collapse of the Soviet Union is being reinterpreted and revised under President Putin as a betrayal of Russian people.

Germans are thankful today for the heroism of the Soviet people during World War II. We also urgently hope that Russia will again revise its historic role looking back – and end its hubristic historical symbolism and aggressive foreign policy.

Both the war in Europe and the Cold War should finally be over, even in the heads of the battling Soviet heirs.


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