That’ll Teach’em to Love Their Motherland!: Russian Youth Revisit the Battles of World War II
The cult of World War II once again occupies a hegemonic position in the frigid, increasingly militaristic cultural climate of modern-day Russia. A matter of great pride for the overwhelming majority of Russian people, the war serves as a model for group solidarity and a means of social control. It is used as a positive, character forming experience as each new generation is initiated into it through popular culture. Three recent films, the duology We are from the Future and The Fog, take on the role of the « ceremony masters » for contemporary Russian youth in its rite of passage. Essentially the vehicles of state propaganda, the films not only explore the idiosyncrasies of the proverbial Russian character, while reviving military traditions and encouraging civic responsibility, but also reflect the deep-seated anxieties of Russian society regarding its younger members.
Research Fields :Political Sociology
« […] Yea, were there men when I was young, Whose songs your tribe is not to’ve sung: They’d fight, - you’re none as good! » (Mikhail Lermontov, Borodino, 18371)
« In our country the young are going to the dogs… It is a pity they can’t be just teleported [into the past] for a day or two… » (a blogger commenting on the film We are from the Future2)
- 3 L. Gudkov, “ ‘Pamiat’’ o voine i massovaia identichnost’ rossiian”, Neprikosnovennyi Zapas, Vol. 2- (...)
1A keen observer of Russian society once remarked that when Russians speak of the War, they mean only one war, the Great Patriotic War of 1941-19453. Though it ended sixty-six years ago, its echo reverberates across time and space transcending political and cultural borders erected in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse. It continues to excite popular emotions, as well as serve as a pawn in political and ideological battles of the ruling elites in the post-Soviet space. And even though various groups nowadays attempt to ascribe to it a distinct national colouring, for the majority of Russians it was a war fought by “us” (my) or “our lot” (nashi), a spontaneous reference devoid, at least on the surface, of any particularistic connotation. It is this unity of purpose, a “patriotic consensus” that many believe is lacking in modern-day Russia, something that has disintegrated together with the Soviet Union and that needs to be recovered in order for the nation to regain its social identity and preserve its political integrity.
- 4 Such anxiety regarding the young generation’s moral corruption was a phenomenon all too familiar to (...)
- 5 J. Liderman, “Kurs na patriotizm i otvet rossiiskogo kinematografa v 2000-e gody. Novye biudzhety, (...)
2In this respect, the War serves as a model for group solidarity and a means of social control. As its traumatic experience is passed from generation to generation, every new cohort is implanted with a feeling of guilt and irredeemable debt to their forefathers. This logic of indebtedness still offers redemption through a heroic service to the Motherland, who demands no less in her constant search for enemies. As will be shown, this approach follows a well-trodden Soviet path, with each new generation having to prove its worthiness. However there is a fear that, as matters stand now, current Russian youth will not live up to expectations. Reportedly infected with individualism, hedonism and disrespect for authority, the post-Soviet generation lacks the moral fibre required of future heroes4. Thus, the official policy of war commemoration, which enjoys the majority of public support, seeks to save this unheroic youth from itself, by teaching it a lesson in solidarity and self-sacrifice. And since it is widely believed that the best qualities of the proverbial “Russian character” manifest themselves only under extreme circumstances - traditionally in time of war5 - it is the War that is offered to the young as a truly formative experience.
- 6 See media-ratings and ticket sales, available at http://www.kinopoisk.ru/level/1/film/260315/; http (...)
- 7 I.A. Snezhkova, “Predstavleniia o Velikoi Otechestvennoi voine rossiiskikh starsheklassnikov na mat (...)
- 8 For excellent English-language film reviews by G. Dolgopolov and D. McVey, see KinoKultura # 22, Oc (...)
- 9 In carrying out research for this article, I consulted various online discussion sites and utilised (...)
- 10 The term was coined by Hayden White and used by Denise Youngblood to trace the history of Soviet wa (...)
3The best examples of this purification through violence recently appeared on screen in Russia and have quickly gained public acclaim6, with some viewers even proposing to include them in school curricula. As if in response to this request, the films have been broadcast on television numerous times throughout the past couple of years. This resulted in many schoolchildren naming them among the most influential celluloid productions about the War7. The duology We are from the Future (My iz Budushchego, dir. A. Maliukov (2008), My iz Budushchego-2, dirs. A. Samokhvalov and B. Rostov, 2010)8 and The Fog (Tuman, I. Shukhovetskii and A. Aksenenko (Dirs.), 2010) specifically target a young audience and are clearly intended as propaganda. Dubbed “agitation posters (agitki)” by some viewers9, they reflect and accommodate the political and social changes that are currently underway in Russia. In the frigid, increasingly militaristic cultural climate, where the war cult occupies a hegemonic position, these films, among other media, serve as a means of reaching out to the young and attempting to control their presumably destructive energies. In order to do so, producers of these features pay homage to the best heroic traditions of the official Soviet “historiophoty”10, all the while employing a mix of genres that is unusual for a combat film, to make the War more exciting and appealing to the target audience. Yet, what do these films actually say about Russia’s young generation as well as society at large, and their attitude to the Second World War? What role does the War play in the inter- as well as inner-generational conflict that is underway in Russia today? How do the War’s cultural representations affect Russia’s relationship with her neighbours? And what role do some of these cultural representations play in the transformation of real-life young cynics, as their cinematic counterparts quite literally revisit the battles of World War II?
4When Mikhail Lermontov wrote his poem Borodino in 1837, celebrating the largest and the bloodiest battle of Russia’s war with Napoleon, literary critics applauded the poet’s use of the colloquial which subverted the monumentalism and rigidity of official language. But it was not just the intrinsic patriotism of the common folk that the poem revealed; something else was laid bare in the lines as well. Born two years after the events, Lermontov bemoaned the lack of partisanship and the inertness of his own generation, as he looked at an heroic past with admiring envy. The patriotic poem has long since entered the Russian classical canon, becoming a staple of school curricula, but the generational disparity that plagued Lermontov’s contemporaries, is still very much alive in modern-day Russia, where millions of pupils find themselves under ideological assault.
- 11 K. Mannheim, “The Problem of Generations” in Paul Kecskemeti (Ed.), Essays on the Sociology of Know (...)
- 12 One exception were the so-called “shestidesiatniki”, although this group of activists were not nece (...)
5Though written almost two centuries ago, Borodino captures the essence of “generational tension” that has been brewing in Russia during the last ninety-four years. While Russians and their Western counterparts ascribe a similar meaning to the notions of “generation” and “generational conflict” (the first locates various age groups within historical time, and the second captures social change activated by a collision of cohorts) the Russian/Soviet reality did not produce generations in a traditional sense of the word, whereby a “generational unit” is formed by young people developing self-consciousness as they participate in a social change11. In the Russian case, this crucial process of youth’s self-determination was generally appropriated either by the state or older generations, who in their desire “not to lose the youth” tried to identify the younger cohort, thereby provoking the indignation of those whom they endeavoured to preserve12. The regime, in its turn, attempted to assert its power over popular minds by deliberately setting “fathers” and “sons” against one another, elevating each according to the ideological requirements of the day. As the system aged, however, such manipulation often achieved unintended results, undermining the regime itself.
- 13 Dubin, Rossia nulevykh, op. cit. pp. 58-59 (first quotation); N. Tumarkin, The Living and the Dead: (...)
- 14 O. Kucherenko, Little Soldiers: How Soviet children went to war, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2 (...)
- 15 Fürst, Stalin’s Last Generation, op. cit.
6Thus, seen as transmitters of the new ideology in their families during the post-revolutionary decade, children were brought back under adult authority when Stalin completed the construction of his paternalistic state. By demolishing the leader’s cult and drawing back the “Iron Curtain”, Stalin’s successor Khrushchev let in the breeze of change, thereby unintentionally provoking spiritual awakening among Soviet youth. Nervously appraising the consequences of the “consciousness revolution” that erupted in the West in the late 1960s, the succeeding Brezhnev’s government mobilised World War II veterans to bridge the “generation gap” that had snaked its way across the border into the Soviet Union. War experience and the myth of total solidarity in the face of great adversity was used to “mask and contain the budding social and cultural differentiation… signs of individualistic, consumerist orientation” among young urbanites, and to “shame” them into feeling respect for those who sacrificed their health and lives for future generations13. However, the incessant state-managed glorification of war heroes and systematic belittling of post-war generations eventually backfired14. The fast-growing subculture of cynicism and mockery among young people, which had sprouted as early as in the first post-war decade15, received an unexpected boost when a new generation of politicians led by Gorbachev, in a noble desire to “fill in the blank spots” on the map of Soviet history began opening up state archives, thereby letting out the genie of contention.
- 16 D. Andreev, G. Bordiugov, Prostranstvo pamiati: Velikaia Pobeda i vlast’, Moscow, AIRO, 2005, pp. (...)
- 17 For the discussion of the veterans’ long struggle for recognition, see M. Edele, Soviet Veterans of (...)
- 18 Andrei Turkov quoted in Jolie, Pobeda liuboi tsenoi, Moscow, 2010, p. 296; see also Dubin, Rossia n (...)
- 19 Kucherenko, Little Soldiers, op. cit., p. 16
- 20 A. Krylova, “Dancing on the Graves of the Dead, Building a World War II Memorial in Post-Soviet Rus (...)
7In order to forestall the ideological erosion, state opinion-makers turned to the past in search of usable symbols untarnished by Soviet “excesses”. Victory in the Great Patriotic War seemed to be the only positive event in twentieth century Russian history capable of consolidating the nation. But it too was not immune to re-evaluation. The War was no longer a sacred mummified object, abused by the ailing regime to legitimise itself16, but a contested field for challenging the official historiography and with it the system itself. Once again the state turned for help to “the generation of victors” (pokolenie pobeditelei). It finally recognised the old soldiers as a “status group” after several decades of suspicion about their political loyalty17, and courted their support by representing the veterans as moral paragons who could teach wayward youngsters a lesson in partisanship. However, glasnost’ split the rapidly thinning ranks of the “trench brotherhood” as well. Some veterans rejected the “insincere drum jabber (fal’shivaia barabannaia treskotnia)” of official propaganda - which in their view only repelled younger generations18 - and began publicly to defend their versions of the War, where genuine patriotism and heroism co-existed with fear, cowardice and treachery. Predictably differences of experience, further corrupted by decades of state-sponsored war myth and self-censorship, led to bitter embattling between those who attempted to re-assess their wartime experience and the advocates of the official, sanitised narrative.19 Their primary audience, in the meantime, began to adopt an attitude of not simply resistance to the official war memory, that was characteristic of their parents’ generation, but its complete rejection and estrangement20.
- 21 Ibid., 92
- 22 A popular among young people saying at the time thus went: “The defeated live better than the victo (...)
- 23 Krylova, “Dancing”, op. cit., pp. 85-88; N.I. Kondakova, Voina, Gosudarstvo, Obshchestvo. 1941-1945(...)
8The disintegration of the Soviet Union and the attendant collapse of state ideology in the early 1990s wrought havoc on public opinion. The Soviet past was now subjected to intense mockery and condemnation, while the Great Victory of 1945 threatened to turn into a great national defeat. Coming of age, the children of the 1970s and 80s who have never witnessed the War yet who had been incessantly socialised into it, “fervently embraced the “denunciations” as reassurance of their long concealed animosity toward Soviet war propaganda and the generation embodying it”21. War decorations no longer commanded respect and invited snide remarks, while those who wore them in public risked being physically assaulted, since some members of the public held veterans responsible for the economic degradation of the Soviet population, whilst the “defeated” nations enjoyed prosperity and political freedom22. Economic hardships, the loss of social reverence and “historical denunciations” which old soldiers (and many left-wing historians and politicians) often mistook for a concerted attack on their lives, contributed to a rise in suicides among veterans23.
- 24 Krylova, “Dancing”, op. cit., p. 93.
9Ascending to fever pitch in the early 1990s, generational tension exhausted itself by mid-decade largely under the influence of a new cohort of politicians and cultural leaders. In their forties, more conservative and less interested in social change, these people saw the consequences of painful social and economic transformations that the fall of the Soviet Union had brought about. Generally immune to the cynicism of the young, the new elites sought to avert the steady deterioration of collectivist sentiment among the post-Soviet populace by investing the war generation with a mobilising power once again24.
- 25 S.A. Oushakine, Patriotism of Despair: Nation, War and Loss in Russia, New York, Cornell University (...)
- 26 Take, for instance, violent protests by the Russian minority in Estonia in 2007 against the relocat (...)
- 27 See Oushakine, Patriotism, op. cit., pp. 104-105, 110. Interestingly, the « enemy » is fairly abstr (...)
- 28 For further discussion, see “Kreml’ boitsia ne uderzhat’ kontrol’ nad natsionalistami”, Svobodnaia (...)
10For the Russian-speaking Diaspora in the former Soviet republics, the stoicism and “war-tested solidarity”25 of the older generation helped sustain cohesion and overcome a sense of injustice during a time of collapsing living standards and national humiliation26. In Russia proper, however, the renascent war cult warranted the resurgence of national assertiveness and with it aggressive nationalism (especially towards “the West” and its internal “hirelings”, who were blamed for the disintegration of the Soviet Union as well as the cultural and spiritual decay of the Russian nation27). As some analysts have postulated, unlike other nations of the former Soviet bloc, which had developed a basis for self-determination, Russian nationalism fed off familiar stereotypes from the recent past. As the corruption, and lawlessness undermined the legitimacy of the government, the desire for a “strong hand” and “order” (poriadok) inevitably led to the idealisation of Stalinism; economic chaos and social disintegration induced nostalgia for the perceived ethnic solidarity and prosperity of the Soviet Union (especially of the Brezhnev period), while the victory in the War became associated with international respect and a stable collective identity28.
- 29 Dubin, Rossia nulevykh, op. cit. pp. 26-27, 349.
- 30 L. Gudkov, “Ideologema ‘vraga’: ‘Vragi’ kak massovyi sindrom i mekhanizm sotsiokul’turnoi integrats (...)
- 31 For further discussion, see M. Sapper, “Povsednevnost’ voinstvennosti v Rossii: Nasledie militarizo (...)
- 32 Gudkov, “ ‘Pamiat’’; Dubin, Rossia nulevykh, op. cit., pp. 50, 60, 145; Andreev, Bordiugov, Prostra (...)
11This longing for past glory, which had reportedly been snatched away from the Russian people, as well as resentment towards persistent accusations of abetting Communist crimes, encouraged the reanimation of old phobias and conspiratorial delusions about a foreign threat, including that emanating from Russia’s immediate neighbours and CIS partners29. In fact, the first two post-Soviet decades witnessed the reinforcement of an entrenchment mentality among the Russian population. As the idea of “hostile encirclement” re-emerged and devalued the pro-peace sentiments of the Gorbachev period, the defence enforcement agencies - and the leaders graduating from them - gained increasing popularity30. In this context, the War, as the ultimate collective action and the vindication of strong militaristic traditions so cherished by the Soviet regime31, again became the fundamental point of reference and a matter of great pride for the overwhelming majority of Russian people. It obfuscated all other events in Russian/Soviet history and came to represent the pillar of the new Russian identity and collectivity, eventually reconciling generations32.
- 33 Dubin, Rossia nulevykh, op. cit. pp. 145-155; V.G. Bezrogov, “Pomnit’ nel’zia zabyt’: Kollektivnaia (...)
- 34 S. Lovell, The Shadow of War. Russia and the USSR, 1941 to the Present, Oxford, Wiley-Blackwell, 20 (...)
- 35 See, for instance, an insightful discussion of recently published ABCs, in Bezrogov, “Pomnit’ ”, op (...)
12As the nation strove for cohesion, the new political elite of the “naught” years consciously encouraged the neo-mythologization of the War and the re-institutionalisation (and with it commercialisation) of its cult33. Soviet in their background and often mentality,34 the leadership reverted to Brezhnev-style pomposity in celebrating Victory Day, with an added touch of imperial boastfulness and orthodox spirituality. The old practices of state control over historical memory as a means of political legitimacy have also been reintroduced. Scornful of foreign and home-grown intellectuals attempting to understand the war (especially its less glorious aspects) and to put it in a world context, the politicians attempted to indoctrinate new generations of schoolchildren in the officially sanctioned version of collective memory through the so-called “lessons in courage” (uroki muzhestva, called “lessons in peace” (uroki mira) during the Soviet period), para-military training and new textbooks, which have become noticeably militarised over the last decade35.
- 36 Polikanov, “Vtoraia Mirovaia voina”, op. cit.; see also T.S. Guzenkova, “ ‘Svoia voina’ (Velikaia O (...)
- 37 See E.S. Seniavskaia, “ ‘Obraz voiny’ v massovom soznanii i istoricheskoi pamiati: voprosy teorii i (...)
- 38 See « The Law on the days of military glory (victory days) of Russia », dated 13 March 1995 and ame (...)
- 39 See the State Programmes « On patriotic upbringing of citizens of the Russian Federation » for 2001 (...)
- 40 This is done partly through the introduction of seven professional holidays and the creation of sev (...)
- 41 Lovell, The Shadow, op. cit., p. 11; Bezrogov, “Pomnit’ ”, op. cit., p. 64; on All-Russia textbook (...)
13Despite the fact that polls show only a minor discrepancy in generational perception of the War, with 73% of young people today accepting the official version36, the political and cultural elites insist that “an entire generation has been brought up under conditions of historical nihilism and forgetfulness”. In their view, this tendency dangerously undermines national security and prestige of the army, and leads to societal disorientation and pessimism37. To reverse the perceived damage, modern Russian officialdom utilise old Soviet tools for promoting a sense of patriotism through a number of projects that revive military traditions38, encourage civic responsibility and military preparedness39, and improve the public image of the armed forces40. At the same time, a “Commission for countering attempts to falsify history to the detriment of the interests of Russia” established in 2009 ensures a correct interpretation of the War by the Russian scholarly community. Historians are instead given a chance to show their civic spirit by creating “textbooks on patriotic themes, which contain sections on military history of the Fatherland”41.
- 42 Seniavskaia, “‘Obraz voiny’”, op. cit., p. 328.
- 43 Gudkov, “‘Pamiat’ o voine”, op. cit.; Liderman, “Kurs na patriotizm”, op. cit., p. 299.
- 44 Dubin, Rossiia nulevykh, op. cit. p. 166.
14Therefore, the modern Russian government, much like its Soviet predecessor, plays a dominant role not only in the formation of historical memory by way of careful selection and interpretation of past events, but also in the amplification of militaristic discourse among the populace, either directly through school curricula or implicitly via the mass media and popular culture. Whereas in Soviet times the state’s influence was all encompassing, nowadays it is less direct yet fairly intense42. Indeed, there is strong evidence of a “semantic seconding” of the state effort on the part of popular culture, considering the small number of new anti-war films as well as the large percentage of all primetime programming allocated to military-related items (including teen series about the army), historical documentaries and Soviet war epics. This percentage increases dramatically during major commemorative events43. Moreover, the majority of films and programmes on historical subjects seem to enjoy at least partial financial support from the government, which controls more than 70% of Russian electronic media44.
- 45 In fact, Russian bookstores are filled with historical literature of every sort and kind, ranging f (...)
- 46 See A. Weiner, “Saving Private Ivan: From What, Why, and How?”, Kritika: Explorations in Russian an (...)
- 47 Idem., “The Making of a Dominant Myth: The Second World War and the Construction of Political Ident (...)
15Nevertheless, if social scientific re-examination of Russia’s military past, and specifically of the War, is often equated with disloyalty (which does not mean that works contradicting the official history are not published45), cultural productions generally enjoy more freedom of interpretation, although their positive reception with viewers is not always guaranteed. In this respect, it would be misleading to attribute the popularity of the war theme to the hegemonic influence of the state alone. After all, some fundamental components of the myth, such as enormous sacrifices, unparalleled violence directed against civilians, the magnitude of the task faced by the defending nation and its tenacity in the face of great hardship remain undeniable. Resonating across time and space, these fundamental truths find support among the Russian public and indirectly sustain the myth until this day, despite new revelations46. The “articulators of the myth”, to use Amir Weiner’s words47, come from all walks of modern Russian society, including professional filmmakers. In fact, their influence on public opinion proves to be as important as that of officially approved teaching aids and textbooks.
- 48 G.M. McLuhan, Ponimanie media: Vneshnie rasshireniia cheloveka, Kuchkovo Pole, Moscow, Kanon-Press- (...)
- 49 Snezhkova, “Predstavleniia o Velikoi Otechestvennoi”, p.388; Seniavskaia, “‘Obraz voiny’”, p. 327; (...)
- 50 When the films that did not conform to the government-sponsored conservatism and epic representatio (...)
- 51 Idem., “A War Remembered: Soviet Films of the Great Patriotic War”, The American Historical Review, (...)
- 52 D. Gillespie, “Defence of the Realm: The ‘New’ Russian Patriotism on Screen”, The Journal of Power (...)
16Specialists note that the medium of film currently supersedes the printed press as a major source of information48. According to sociological studies, the overwhelming majority of Russian youth gain their historical knowledge from the celluloid media (as well as school textbooks). Memoirs, belle-lettres and other printed material are sought out only by 40% of the audience, while ego-sources are the least utilised resource49. With the passage of time and generations, a direct transmission of historical knowledge becomes more problematic. As a result, the young are relying increasingly on the symbolic reproduction of the past offered by cinematography. Its authority of historical judgement and interpretation, however, is doubtful, especially in the case of feature films about the War, where Soviet influence, and specifically that of the “shelf period” of the Brezhnev rule50, is still acutely evident. Except for several notable productions which, like some of their more exceptional Soviet predecessors, “stri[p] the war of the cant and bombast of official history”51, a vast majority of modern Russian war films simply borrow the main formulae of representation from the Soviet canon without any critical interpretation or innovation, except perhaps “a keener sense of national pride, and the increased brutality”52.
- 53 More on the idea of ‘testing’ in Soviet cinematography, see Liderman, Motivy “proverki”.
17Since these productions continue to represent the War as a positive, character forming experience, they serve as a tool of current state propaganda, which, in the best traditions of socialist realism, turns the traumatic war experience into an acid test for Russia’s New Man53. For it is precisely the young Russian man who needs to be reformed to become a moral member of society as well as a nation’s defender (the woman usually takes a back seat, performing her traditional role of the victim). Several recent productions go about it in a very unusual yet poignant way, by teleporting their protagonists into the “heroic past”.
- 54 Perhaps careful not to heroicise the neo-Nazi movement, film producers removed all direct reference (...)
18The first group of youngsters about to meet their valiant ancestors and experience the brutal reality of war first-hand, could be considered fairly typical representatives of the atomised and amorphous Russian youth: an America-hating, swastika-clad neo-Nazi appropriately nicknamed Cherep (Skull)54, a Russian version of a rastaman, Spirt (Spirit), a non-entity called Chukha (Pushover) and their leader, an intelligent and ruthless history buff, Borman, named after the prominent Nazi. The four characters of the first instalment of We are from the Future could not be further apart from each other in their life goals and worldviews, but they nevertheless find one common interest and a way of making a living by digging up and selling war artefacts on the black market. They express little respect for the dead and are merciless towards their competitors, ignorant and greedy “khachiki” (a derogatory term for the peoples from the Caucasus), whom the four heroically banish from their territory. After a hard day’s work, interrupted with bickering and fighting amongst themselves, during which Spirt loses his dreadlocks to the skin-head, the four friends stumble upon a bombed out blindage full of war trophies. As they celebrate their find, an old woman appears offering them some milk and asking to find the remains of her son who went missing in 1942. She mentions a silver ruby-incrusted cigarette case to identify him by, but the four jeer at her. Detecting the sinister meaning of their promises, the woman suggests in an ominous voice that the boys cool off in a nearby lake, but the latter again laugh it off and continue with their merrymaking.
19Rifling through the booty, Borman suddenly comes across four Red Army soldier books, with the boys’ own names and photographs in them. Thinking they are hallucinating from the illicit vodka, acquired earlier in a nearby village, the four dive into the lake, but re-emerge in the midst of a shoot-out in August 1942. As they frantically scramble to the shore, a group of perplexed Red Army soldiers apprehend them. After a short (if quite improbable in the Soviet context) interrogation, during which the boys’ insistence on being from the future is dismissed by a kindly sergeant-major as shellshock, the four are issued with second-hand uniform and thrown into battle. No strangers to violence in their own time, the boys are debilitated with fear and apprehension of the frailty of their own lives. Having survived the first battle, they attempt to dive back into the lake again, hoping to turn up in the twenty-first century, but fail.
20Eventually, the four realise that in order for them to return, they need to fulfil the promise given to the old woman and find her son. As they make inquiries about the missing soldier, the boys keep themselves busy with burying the bodies of fallen warriors (an irony certainly not lost on them), peeling potatoes, squabbling amongst themselves about matters of patriotism, entertaining their new mates with modern tunes, and falling in love with a beautiful nurse. Finally, they learn that the soldier they are looking for was a part of a reconnaissance squad which did not return from its mission. When the quartet themselves are sent behind the enemy lines to procure a prisoner for interrogation (iazyk), they see it as an opportunity to track down the missing soldier. Their efforts are paid off, even though they do not manage to fulfil the mission and are captured. The severely wounded prisoner, with whom the boys end up sharing a cell, is their salvation and ticket back to the twenty-first century. Having escaped from German captivity, they bring back the cigarette case, with which the dying man had entrusted them, but are forced by circumstances to linger and witness the final battle that humbles the four street-wise brutes and ultimately reforms them.
21The four resurface in our time having undergone the transformation each in his own way: cynical Borman through love and loss, timid Chukha through a mortal wound, cowardly Spirt by overcoming his fear and xenophobic Cherep by appreciating the real meaning of patriotism. As his final act of repentance and renunciation, the latter scratches the swastika off his shoulder with a stone and, blessed with moral rectitude, together with his newly initiated “trench brotherhood”, boldly faces his former neo-Nazi kith and kin on the streets of modern-day St. Petersburg.
22Cherep’s rapid conversion from an ultranationalist into an ardent patriot leaves the issue of his anti-Americanism unresolved, however. His distrust of Spirt only reinforces under the weight of shared risks. As Cherep prepares to fight all the way to Berlin, he gains a higher moral ground over his ally, a decadent, spineless and oppugnant representative of Western culture, whose only concern is his own well-being. What is more, the other two seem to support Cherep insidiously, thereby betraying an ideological rupture with the West, which is actively cultivated in contemporary Russian society.
- 55 Quotation available at http://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Мы_из_будущего.
23We are from the Future thus effectively uses traumatic experience of war implicitly to underscore Russia’s unique position among the erstwhile Allies as well as unite generations. At the same time, the film demonstrates that modern youth, whatever its vices, is also capable of rising to the challenge, if a situation so demands it. Nevertheless, even though the creators of the film reject any moralising subtext, insisting that the film does not criticise or celebrate anything55, the ultimate moral authority and spiritual strength still lie with the older cohort, epitomised in the image of the fatherly sergeant-major; the strict but fair older brother, senior lieutenant Diomin; strong-headed and vastly more experienced, both in matters of love and war, nurse Nina, and the ideologically pure young scout (razvedchik) Dmitrii. It is the valiant heroes of the past who sacrifice their own lives to save the “guests from the future” from death and moral degradation. The boys live to see another day, but are vested with a mission to propagate what they have learnt amongst their own lot. Two of them return in the sequel, We are from the Future-2, to put the record straight, only now it is Russian’s “fraternal people” of Ukraine that are about to be taught a lesson in history.
24Having abandoned his dubious business in favour of a much lower-paid but more fulfilling career as a university professor, Sergei Filatov (formerly known as Borman) discovers that the object of his affection, nurse Nina, survived the blast that had supposedly killed her in 1942. Secretly hoping to somehow travel back in time to meet her, Sergei arrives in Western Ukraine to participate in a large-scale re-enactment of the Battle of Brody of 1944, during which German forces, accompanied by the Ukrainian 14th Waffen-SS volunteer division Galizien (Halitchina), attempted to break out of Soviet encirclement. Filatov’s reformed neo-Nazi friend, Oleg Vasil’ev, joins him and attempts to dissuade broody Sergei from this dream. On the old battlefield they meet an army of ragtag Nazi sympathisers from among the local folk, who express their intense dislike of the Russian guests (“moskali”) by engaging in a mass drunken brawl accompanied by heavy-metal music and fireworks. As their flag-waving, lederhosen and braces-wearing brethren head for a showdown with the moskali, two Ukrainian students, “mama’s boy” Siryi and his bodyguard Taran (literally Ram, a pun on the name Taras) flee into the surrounding woods, where they come across an old, rust-eaten monument to the fallen Red Army heroes. Enraged by the presence of a monument to the “accursed occupiers (okupanty kliati)” in his native land, Taran kicks down the obelisk, disturbing the dead and opening a portal into the past, where he will get a chance to meet those whose memory he has just desecrated.
25The next day, Taran and Siryi surreptitiously follow Filatov and Vasil’ev to a dilapidated building and detonate an old bomb by throwing a thunderflash at their rivals. The four are caught in a fiery whirlwind and carried back into 1944. There, they encounter fierce anti-Soviet guerrillas, fight suspicious SMERSH officers (a Red Army counter-intelligence unit), warn their old friend, the now major Diomin, of the impending German breakthrough, assist his pregnant wife Nina in giving birth, and then carry her newborn baby to safety. As in the prequel, the four understand that the only way out for them will be through fire. In the moving catharsis of the final scene, the Russians and the Ukrainians stand shoulder-to-shoulder, arms at the ready, as they face the common enemy. Resolute, united and prepared for self-sacrifice, the “brotherhood” is consumed by an explosion to be reborn in the twenty-first century, both physically and spiritually.
- 56 According to the polls, taken in the late 1990s, vast numbers of Russians, Ukrainians and Byeloruss (...)
- 57 See an interview with one of the producers of the doulogy, “Liudmila Kukoba: ‘Uspekh kartiny ‘My iz (...)
- 58 More on the content of new history textbooks in these countries, see Vtoraia mirovaia i Velikaia Ot (...)
- 59 Dubin, Rossia nulevykh, op. cit. pp. 31, 349.
- 60 Idem., pp. 25-8, 31, 38-39.
26Whereas the first instalment of We are from the Future explores inter-generational conflict, the sequel reveals the tensions within one generation, happened to be divided by a geographical border56. Apparently infected with similar afflictions as their Russian counterparts, Ukrainian youth also need to be cured for its own and its country’s sakes, according to the film’s producers57. As expected, the Russians lend a helping hand and bring the disoriented Ukrainians back into the fold, explaining to them that their vision of the past is incorrect. In this respect, the film reflects not so much the state of modern Ukrainian historiography, but the Russians’ own fear and disapproval of the ongoing re-evaluation of Soviet history in the neighbouring states, especially in Ukraine, Georgia and the Baltics58. This moral panic stems from the old insecurities, unresolved consequences of totalitarianism and obsessive modern rhetoric of hostile encirclement. The dissolution of the Soviet Union generally did not bring any radical changes into the structure of Russian collective identity. A considerable proportion of Russians still refuse to see Ukraine as a separate country, with 38% insisting on the imposition of Russia’s economic and political domination over her western neighbour59. Any attempts by Ukrainian historians to discuss or challenge the conventional history of solidarity arouse suspicion and resentment among Russians, who feel themselves the aggrieved party, even more so than the Ukrainians60. It is not coincidental that in the film, a nationalist historian urges the Ukrainian Nazi-sympathisers into battle.
- 61 “Liudmila Kukoba: ‘Uspekh kartiny” (quotation). The idea harks back to the actual ‘civil war’ ragin (...)
- 62 K. Andreev, “Vy ch’i budete?”, 15 February 2010, available at http://www.film.ru/article.asp?id=607 (...)
- 63 “Kievskie natsionalisty prosiat Pinchuka zapretit’ pokaz fil’ma My iz Budushchego-2”, 24 November 2 (...)
- 64 Dubin, Rossia nulevykh, op. cit. p. 30; on the Ukrainian intellectuals’ pessimistic predictions reg (...)
27Under the circumstance, the inner contradictions suffered by the main heroes in the first instalment of the duology, are replaced by a very concrete opposition of “us” versus “them” in the sequel. It is a face-off, “a war within the war”, between two antagonistic camps of the reformed and the misguided61. Predictably, such an attempt to identify and discipline the Ukrainian young generation by the outsiders provoked indignation in Ukraine and raised a few brows in Russia62. The film, however, also exposed the ideological divide among young Ukrainians. Nationalist youth organisations in western parts of the country demanded a ban on its distribution, although it did come out on the big screen in the eastern regions63, where the anti-Russian sentiment is least pronounced and where the resistance to the new version of Ukrainian history is also the strongest64.
- 65 “Ochen’ ‘vazhnoe’ kino”, op. cit.
28Clearly intended as a cinematic answer to the rehabilitation of the Ukrainian insurgency movement, as well as a metaphorical warning to Russia’s neighbours demolishing Soviet war memorials, the sequel is much more politically biased compared to its seemingly apolitical (as far as history is concerned) prequel. It is also more chauvinistic in its portrayal of non-Russians. In the first instalment, soldiers of various nationalities set an example of bravery to the panicky “guests from the future”, while a sympathetic Russian NKVD officer behaves in a way that would have been construed as criminally negligible by his real-life colleagues. In the sequel, however, the Ukrainian rivals, both in the present and in the past, come across as uncultivated, murderous scum (nechist’), fighting against their own people. Moreover, as Russian protagonists exhibit almost inhuman courage and fortitude in the face of peril, their Ukrainian counterparts, when not serving as comic relief, merely perform an auxiliary function. Smacking of a double standard, such a “snide anti-Ukrainian caricature”65 does a disservice to the film’s main goal of uniting the two nations, if not geographically then at least ideologically. Unfortunately, one is left with a feeling that inter-ethnic solidarity, initially forced on the protagonists to help them establish new bonds, still remains a mere camaraderie under compulsion. But there is still hope. It is perhaps not accidental that when asked where they came from, as the four re-emerge amidst the smoke of battle into the twenty-first century, Taran replies pensively, “We? We are from the future.”
29The producers of another sci-fi-war-adventure, The Fog, however, do manage both to convert their disunited protagonists into a cohesive group, and to bond them with the older generation, even though this solidarity comes at a heavy cost. The action takes place somewhere in a modern-day western Russia. A section of army conscripts are on a quick march to a firing range. To make it on time, they cut across a marshland. Having wandered through a thick fog, the recruits come out on the other side of the swamp but are unable to recognise the terrain. Suddenly, they spot a motorised column of troops dressed in German uniform from World War II and mistake it for a film shoot. Their excitement soon evaporates as they witness a savage reprisal against local villagers. Losing their commander to a German bullet, they take refuge in the neighbouring woods and regroup. A realisation soon dawns upon them that they have somehow travelled back to 1941.
30Leaderless, weaponless and disoriented, the boys are forced to repeat the fate of thousands of Red Army strugglers (okruzhentsy) in the first year of the war. Their general dislike for each other is eventually replaced by sympathy and cooperation for the sake of survival. Whilst taking the risk of falling into the hands of either the Germans or suspicious Soviet partisans, the group attempt to procure contemporary ammunition, since their unloaded assault rifles are still unknown at the time. Most of the recruits heroically die in the process, putting into action what they have learned in the army. When the Germans seize one of their AK-74s, the survivors embark on a mission to retrieve the weapon, lest it change the entire course of the war. Along the way, they befriend local inhabitants, who help the boys in their quest. But all are to pay the ultimate price.
31In the long-drawn final scene the entire squad stands to attention at a parade, as bemedaled veterans of the Second World War march by. As they look intently into the faces of the old soldiers, the recruits catch a glimpse of the people they encountered in the past, but they do not see themselves among the fallen heroes. It was not their war and thus the glory does not belong to them. They were simply sent there for a short period of time, “given a chance”, in the words of the main protagonist, “to realise what kind of person you are”, to appreciate that the War is not a myth and that “there is only one Motherland for all times.” Each one of them did it on his own terms, exhibiting how differently people can behave in a military situation. Once they fulfilled their predestination, they were allowed back into the twenty-first century.
32With its patriotic message explicitly laid bare in the final monologue, The Fog stands out as the most didactic of all three films discussed here. At the time when the Russian government is frantically constructing national ideology that would help society overcome the effects of identity crisis, such a movie lends itself particularly to the promotion of patriotism and civic duty among youngsters, as well as to boosting the prestige of the Russian armed forces. Besides, by offering a sense of immediacy to its young audiences, the film claims to be more instructive and interesting than the supposedly boring history textbooks. Its educational value is reinforced by the idea of choice - whereby its protagonists make a conscious decision to die defending the Motherland or return into the safety of their reality - which transforms this sci-fi production into a social drama. However, even though the characters’ experience brought them closer together as well as to the generation they had only recently struggled to understand and connect to, it also distanced them from the rest of their contemporaries who are yet to undergo the transformation and assume their new identity.
- 66 For further discussion of the initiation ritual and its stages, see the seminal work by Arnold van (...)
- 67 Dolgopolov, Review of We are from the Future, Kinokul’tura, # 22, October, 2008, available at htt (...)
33In this respect, all three films take on the role of the “ceremony masters” for the modern young generation in its rite of passage66. As their protagonists literally go through the cleansing ritual of fire, water and brass pipes (ogon’, voda i mednye truby, in the old Russian expression), they become the archetypal models of change and a symbolic link between generations. By travelling into the past, the characters sever their existing social ties and shed their identities and nicknames; they are then forced to question their entire value system, witness the change of hierarchy and experience physical and emotional pain, which will eventually prepare them for the reintegration into society and new social roles. The three elements follow the protagonists through their initiation process. They not only serve as gateways between two temporal planes (water, fire and incense), but also as the means of conversion and purification (blood, sweat and heat of the battle). The brass pipes of glory signify their self-sacrificial death, either symbolic or physical, as well as a celebration of their rebirth. And this, in the words of a film critic, is “the key dramatic moment” when the audience witnesses the boys’ re-entry into society with a new found respect for their valiant ancestors and the appreciation of their own responsibilities as mature men67.
- 68 Liderman, Motivy “proverki”, op. cit.
- 69 The term belongs to Oushakine. See his “‘We’re nostalgic but we’re not crazy’: Retrofitting the
- 70 See, for instance, anti-war films, such as Kukushka (The Cookoo, 2002), Poslednii Poezd (The Last T (...)
- 71 The full quotation is available at http://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Мы_из_будущего.
- 72 M. Feretti, “Neprimirimaia pamiat’: Rossia i voina. Zametki na poliakh spora na zhguchuiu temu”, Ne (...)
34The rituals of “trial” and self-discovery, whereby a hero accepts a new hierarchical social order, expresses his readiness for self-sacrifice and acknowledges his destiny (prednaznachenie) were typical of the Soviet war cinematography68, and as such, the films discussed here, refurbish and solidify the Soviet patriotic ethic. They revamp the war myth through “creative recycling”69 of classic Soviet clichés and famous phrases, spicing it up with dynamic action, a fair amount of blood and gore, subtle religious allusions and a captivating storyline, which makes the War entertaining for the young audience. Even though they incorporate a few exposé details for the sake of the plot, unlike several other post-Soviet retro-films, these productions do not attempt to re-evaluate the history of the War or convey a pacifist sentiment70. The scriptwriter of We are from the Future insists that his film makes one “remember once more, what [aggressive behaviour] can lead to, and ponder whether it’s worth stirring up trouble yet again”71. Nevertheless, the film’s explicit heroic motive overshadows any implicit anti-war intentions. As all three movies celebrate conformity over individuality and do not dwell on the principles of freedom and democracy for which the Second World War was actually fought72, they are very much in tune with the current tendency of re-militarisation of Russian society.
- 73 Gudkov, “‘Pamiat’’ o voine”, op. cit.; M. Lipovetsky, “War as the Family Value: Failing Fathers and (...)
- 74 Being less then successful, and more importantly aggressive in their nature, all the subsequent war (...)
35The films’ producers attempt to give the War a human face, to show everyday life at the front without glorifying aggression or creating heroes, but they achieve the opposite. With the vast majority of Russians (77%) believing that the finest qualities of their national character are best exemplified in times of war73, the language of violence is accepted without much reflection. Furthermore, the former plays an important role in the articulation of national identity. When other universally accepted, pride-inducing achievements are found wanting, the desire for self-affirmation feeds on the idea of national uniqueness, any encroachment upon which warrants an aggressive response. It is this national distinctiveness that, many Russians believe, led the Soviet people to triumph against all odds in the last war74. The feeling of loss, the emotional memory of combat experience is translated into ideas of collective belonging. And as they revoke the trauma - while setting aside all the distracting and unpleasant details - the films not only enhance group solidarity, but also truthfully reflect what the War has become for Russian society - a panacea against social ills (like domestic fascism), a departure point for national greatness and an acid test (proverka na vshivost’) not only for those who lived through it, but also those born long after the last bullet was fired.
- 75 See Weiner, « Saving Private Ivan », op. cit., pp. 334-335.
- 76 Seniavskaia, “‘Obraz voiny’”, op. cit., p. 324.
- 77 S. Boym, “From the Russian Soul to Post-Communist Nostalgia”, Representations, # 49, Winter, 1995, (...)
- 78 See the results of a poll carried out in Moscow schools in 2010. Snezhkova, “Predstavleniia o Velik (...)
- 79 Feretti, « Neprimirimaia pamiat' », op. cit.
- 80 Dubin, Rossiia nulevykh, op. cit. pp. 63-64, 68.
36The unblemished and heroic representation of past wars is a universal phenomenon, of course, and the process of mythologizing the War was hardly a uniquely Soviet/Russian trend75. However, whereas in any other society memory of war runs its natural course, gradually losing its emotional and social significance with each succeeding generation76, in Russia this inter-generational “rupture” has constantly been patched up, initially through a governmental effort and later also by the force of popular inertia. Turning into a “national obsession”, the war myth outlasted the Soviet collapse, because it has long moved “above and beyond politics and ideology”77. With each new generation being initiated into it, it is unlikely to fade away any time soon, especially in the absence of other symbols and ideas capable of consolidating the nation. As to the initiates, the “fathers” need not worry - as the films and their popularity among young viewers show, the “sons” are perfectly capable of defending their Motherland, if the need arises78. It is another matter, however, which version of historical truth will guide and nurture their patriotism. For unless the war experience is studied in full and all its heroic as well as less glorious aspects are equally acknowledged, the “irreconcilable memory”79 of the War will continue to breed nationalistic, xenophobic and isolationist sentiments among Russians80; and so will irresolvable contradictions remain between and within generations.
3 L. Gudkov, “ ‘Pamiat’’ o voine i massovaia identichnost’ rossiian”, Neprikosnovennyi Zapas, Vol. 2-3 (40-41), 2005, available at http://magazines.russ.ru/nz/2005/2/gu5.html. A part of World War II, the Great Patriotic War is nevertheless seen by Russians as a parallel but a separate entity. See B. Dubin, Rossiia nulevykh: Politicheskaia kul’tura, istoricheskaia pamiat’, povsednevnaia zhizn’, Moscow, ROSSPEN, 2011, p. 48.
4 Such anxiety regarding the young generation’s moral corruption was a phenomenon all too familiar to the Soviet regime and its imperial predecessor. A pleiad of Russian authors from Aleksander Pushkin to Ivan Turgenev directed their creative energies to exposing the dilemma. On the experiences of the Soviet regime in chronological order, see A. E. Gorsuch, Youth in Revolutionary Russia: Enthusiasts, Bohemians, Delinquents, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 2000; C. Kuhr-Korolev, Gezähmte Helden: Die Formierung der Sowjetjugen 1917-1932, Essen, Klartext, 2005; A. Krylova, “Soviet Modernity in Life and Fiction: The Generation of the ‘New Soviet Person’ in the 1930s”, PhD Dissertation John Hopkins University, 2000; J. Fürst, Stalin’s Last Generation: Soviet Post-war Youth and the Emergence of Mature Socialism, New York, Oxford University Press, 2010.
5 J. Liderman, “Kurs na patriotizm i otvet rossiiskogo kinematografa v 2000-e gody. Novye biudzhety, novye zhanry, novye fil’my o voine” in M. Laruelle (Ed.), Sovremennye interpretatsii russkogo natsionalizma, Moscow, NLO, 2007, p. 292.
6 See media-ratings and ticket sales, available at http://www.kinopoisk.ru/level/1/film/260315/; http://www.kinopoisk.ru/level/1/film/468123/; http://www.kinopoisk.ru/level/1/film/507169/; see also “Telereitingi: ‘Tuman’ povtoril uspekh fil’ma ‘My iz Budushchego’”, 20 May 2010, available at http://newsru.com/cinema/20may2010/tuman.html.
7 I.A. Snezhkova, “Predstavleniia o Velikoi Otechestvennoi voine rossiiskikh starsheklassnikov na materialakh sotsiologicheskikh issledovanii” in Vtoraia mirovaia i Velikaia Otechestvennaia voiny v uchebnikakh istorii stran SNG i ES: problemy, podkhody, interpretatsii. Materialy mezhdunarodnoi konferentsii, Moscow, RISI, 2010, pp. 390-391.
8 For excellent English-language film reviews by G. Dolgopolov and D. McVey, see KinoKultura # 22, October, 2008, available at http://www.kinokultura.com/2008/22r-future.shtml and KinoKultura # 30, October, 2010, available at http://www.kinokultura.com/2010/30r-future2.shtml.
9 In carrying out research for this article, I consulted various online discussion sites and utilised the social network Odniklassniki to discern viewer opinions on the discussed films. For publicly available forums, see, for instance, http://www.kino-teatr.ru/kino/movie/ros/9028/annot/; http://www.kino-teatr.ru/kino/movie/ros/81347/annot/; http://www.kino-teatr.ru/kino/movie/ros/85631/forum/#684559; http://ruskino.ru/mov/forum/9025; http://ruskino.ru/mov/forum/12737; http://ruskino.ru/mov/forum/12945; see also the official website of We are from the Future 2, available at http://mib2.ru/site/.
10 The term was coined by Hayden White and used by Denise Youngblood to trace the history of Soviet war-cinematography. See Hayden White, “Historiography and Historiophoty”, American Historical Review, Vol. 93, December, 1988, p. 1193 and Denise J. Youngblood, Russian War Films: On the Cinema Front, 1914-2005, Lawrence, University Press of Kansas, 2007, p. 3.
11 K. Mannheim, “The Problem of Generations” in Paul Kecskemeti (Ed.), Essays on the Sociology of Knowledge, New York, Oxford University Press, 1952, pp. 276-320.
12 One exception were the so-called “shestidesiatniki”, although this group of activists were not necessarily young at the time and represented several age cohorts. Moreover, the name itself was in many ways a post-Soviet construct popularised by Peter Veil’s and Alexander Genis’ in their cult book. The term “shestidesiatniki” has since come to represent the spirit of the time and a state of mind. Despite the recent attempts by writers and historians to delineate later Soviet generations, Boris Dubin points out that the Russian/Soviet reality never really knew a sharp, clear-cut breakaway of a certain group of people with their own distinct language, independent elites and autonomous institutions. Instead various generations found themselves lumped together in a single time period, “which they cannot call theirs,” having been denied a chance to realise their potential, gain social recognition and therefore failing to offer other generations any positive social example. To be sure, generational change did exist in the Soviet Union, but it went along more general civilisational lines, slowly filtering through societal structures (B. Dubin, Intellektual’nye gruppy i simvolicheskie formy. Ocherki sotsiologii sovremennoi kul’tury, Moscow, Novoe Izdatel’stvo, 2004, pp. 51-52; P. Vail’ and A. Genis, 60-e. Mir sovetskogo cheloveka, Moscow, Novoe Literaturnoe Obozrenie, 2001). For an insightful analysis of Soviet generations, see Fürst, Stalin’s Last Generation, op. cit., pp. 15-17.
13 Dubin, Rossia nulevykh, op. cit. pp. 58-59 (first quotation); N. Tumarkin, The Living and the Dead: The Rise and Fall of the Cult of World War II in Russia, New York, Basic Books, 1995, p. 133 (second quotation); L.A. Kirschenbaum, “Innocent Victims and Heroic Defenders, Children and the Siege of Leningrad,” in J. A. Marten (Ed.), Children at War: A Historical Anthology, New York, NYU Press, 2002, p. 285; A. Livschiz, “Children’s Lives after Zoia’s Death: Order, Emotions and Heroism in Children’s Lives and Literature in the Post-war Soviet Union,” in J. Fürst (Ed.), Late Stalinist Russia, op. cit., pp. 192–208.
14 O. Kucherenko, Little Soldiers: How Soviet children went to war, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2011, p. 252.
15 Fürst, Stalin’s Last Generation, op. cit.
16 D. Andreev, G. Bordiugov, Prostranstvo pamiati: Velikaia Pobeda i vlast’, Moscow, AIRO, 2005, pp. 28-29.
17 For the discussion of the veterans’ long struggle for recognition, see M. Edele, Soviet Veterans of the Second World War: A Popular Movement in an Authoritarian Society 1941-1991, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2008.
18 Andrei Turkov quoted in Jolie, Pobeda liuboi tsenoi, Moscow, 2010, p. 296; see also Dubin, Rossia nulevykh, op. cit. p. 67.
19 Kucherenko, Little Soldiers, op. cit., p. 16
20 A. Krylova, “Dancing on the Graves of the Dead, Building a World War II Memorial in Post-Soviet Russia”, in D.J. Walkowitz, L.M. Knauer (Eds.), Memory and the Impact of Political Transformation in Public Space, Durham, Duke University Press, 2004, p. 91.
21 Ibid., 92
22 A popular among young people saying at the time thus went: “The defeated live better than the victors. Let’s declare war on America or Germany and surrender!” (Pobezhdionnye zhivut luchshe pobeditelei. Nado ob”iavit’ voinu Amerike ili Germanii i sdat’sia).
23 Krylova, “Dancing”, op. cit., pp. 85-88; N.I. Kondakova, Voina, Gosudarstvo, Obshchestvo. 1941-1945, Moscow, MGF Veteran Moskvy, 2001, p. 11.
24 Krylova, “Dancing”, op. cit., p. 93.
25 S.A. Oushakine, Patriotism of Despair: Nation, War and Loss in Russia, New York, Cornell University Press, 2009, p. 179.
26 Take, for instance, violent protests by the Russian minority in Estonia in 2007 against the relocation of the infamous statute of Bronze Soldier from a city square in Tallinn to a memorial cemetery; or a mass defiance of Moldovan government’s decision not to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War, when thousands of peaceful protesters (both Russian speakers and Moldovans) marched from the Chisinau city centre to the War Memorial. This action was later erroneously presented by the official media as staged by the Communist opposition.
27 See Oushakine, Patriotism, op. cit., pp. 104-105, 110. Interestingly, the « enemy » is fairly abstract in political journalism, which was characteristic of Soviet discourse, especially during high Stalinism. See, for instance, Kondakova, Voina, op. cit., p.10.
28 For further discussion, see “Kreml’ boitsia ne uderzhat’ kontrol’ nad natsionalistami”, Svobodnaia Pressa, available at http://svpressa.ru/society/article/38650/ ; J. Zajda, R. Zajda, “The Politics of Rewriting History: New History Textbooks and Curriculum Materials in Russia”, International Review of Education / Internationale Zeitschrift fürErziehungswissenschaft / Revue Internationale de l'Education, Vol. 49, # 3/4, July, 2003, p. 379; L.A. Sedov, “O chiom zhaleiut rossiiane v sviazi s raspadom SSSR?”, available at http://www.polit.ru/research/2007/12/24/ussr_print.html; Oushakine, Patriotism, pp.37, 38, ch1; Dubin, Rossia nulevykh, op. cit. pp. 33, 51-52. On the fast growing popularity of Stalin, see B. Dubin, “Stalin i drugie. Figury vysshei vlasti v obshchestvennom mnenii sovremennoi Rossii”, Monitoring Obshchestvennogo Mneniia, # 2 (64), March-April 2003, pp.34-35; Idem., Rossia nulevykh, pp. 53, 157 and Gudkov, “ ‘Pamiat’’”.
29 Dubin, Rossia nulevykh, op. cit. pp. 26-27, 349.
30 L. Gudkov, “Ideologema ‘vraga’: ‘Vragi’ kak massovyi sindrom i mekhanizm sotsiokul’turnoi integratsii”, in L. Gudkov (Ed.), Obraz vraga, Moscow, OGI, 2005, pp. 10-11; on the re-emergence of the cult of state security apparatus, see J. Fedor, Russia and the Cult of State Security: The Chekist Tradition, from Lenin to Putin, London, Routledge, 2011.
31 For further discussion, see M. Sapper, “Povsednevnost’ voinstvennosti v Rossii: Nasledie militarizovannogo sotsializma?”, The Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies, # 3, 2005, available at http://pipss.revues.org/index381.html.
32 Gudkov, “ ‘Pamiat’’; Dubin, Rossia nulevykh, op. cit., pp. 50, 60, 145; Andreev, Bordiugov, Prostranstvo, p. 50. In this sentiment, the Russians are joined by Ukrainians. See D.V. Polikanov, “Vtoraia Mirovaia voina: otsenka nyneshnego pokoleniia,” available at http://www.kreml.org/other/85197855?mode=print.
33 Dubin, Rossia nulevykh, op. cit. pp. 145-155; V.G. Bezrogov, “Pomnit’ nel’zia zabyt’: Kollektivnaia pamiat’, vospominaniia o detstve i tema voiny v uchebnikakh dlia nachal’noi shkoly kontsa 1940-kh – nachala 2000-kh gg.”, in A.Iu. Rozhkov, Vtoraia mirovaia voina v detskikh “ramkakh pamiati”: Sbornik nauchnykh statei, Krasnodar, Ekoinvest, 2010, pp. 59-60.
34 S. Lovell, The Shadow of War. Russia and the USSR, 1941 to the Present, Oxford, Wiley-Blackwell, 2010, p. 315.
35 See, for instance, an insightful discussion of recently published ABCs, in Bezrogov, “Pomnit’ ”, op. cit., pp. 58-59; see also E. Sieca-Kozlowski, “Russian Military Patriotic Education: A Control Tool Against the Arbitrariness of Veterans”, Nationalities Papers, Vol. 38, # 1, January 2010, pp.73-85; A. LeHuérou, E. Sieca-Kozlowski (Eds.), Culture militaire et patriotisme dans la Russie d’aujourd’hui, Paris, Karthala, 2008.
36 Polikanov, “Vtoraia Mirovaia voina”, op. cit.; see also T.S. Guzenkova, “ ‘Svoia voina’ (Velikaia Otechestvennaia voins v uchebnikakh istorii i predstavleniiakh shkol’nikov Rossii, Belorussii, Ukrainy i Pridnestrov’ia)” in Vtoraia mirovaia i Velikaia Otechestvennaia voiny, op. cit., p. 24.
37 See E.S. Seniavskaia, “ ‘Obraz voiny’ v massovom soznanii i istoricheskoi pamiati: voprosy teorii i metodologii”, in I.V. Narskii et al., (Eds.), Opyt mirovykh voin v istorii Rossii, Kamennyi Poias, Cheliabinsk, 2007, pp. 326-327, 328 (quotation); see also the wording of a state programme on patriotic upbringing, available at http://www.rg.ru/oficial/doc/postan_rf/122_1.shtm.
39 See the State Programmes « On patriotic upbringing of citizens of the Russian Federation » for 2001-2005, 2006-2010, 2011-2015, available at http://www.rg.ru/oficial/doc/postan_rf/122_1.shtm; http://www.llr.ru/razdel3.php?id_r2=55; http://www.government.ru/gov/results/12530/ respectively.
40 This is done partly through the introduction of seven professional holidays and the creation of several television and feature pieces dedicated solely to the armed forces.
42 Seniavskaia, “‘Obraz voiny’”, op. cit., p. 328.
43 Gudkov, “‘Pamiat’ o voine”, op. cit.; Liderman, “Kurs na patriotizm”, op. cit., p. 299.
44 Dubin, Rossiia nulevykh, op. cit. p. 166.
45 In fact, Russian bookstores are filled with historical literature of every sort and kind, ranging from serious scientific material to quasi-historical opuses. However, in this author’s personal observation, the literature that relays the official version of history has recently come to dominate bookshelves.
46 See A. Weiner, “Saving Private Ivan: From What, Why, and How?”, Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History, Vol.1, # 2, Spring 2000, pp. 334-335.
47 Idem., “The Making of a Dominant Myth: The Second World War and the Construction of Political Identities within the Soviet Polity”, Russian Review, Vol. 55, # 4, October 1996, p. 640.
48 G.M. McLuhan, Ponimanie media: Vneshnie rasshireniia cheloveka, Kuchkovo Pole, Moscow, Kanon-Press-Ts, 2003, p. 332.
49 Snezhkova, “Predstavleniia o Velikoi Otechestvennoi”, p.388; Seniavskaia, “‘Obraz voiny’”, p. 327; Dubin, Rossia nulevykh, op. cit. pp. 153, 199, 201.
50 When the films that did not conform to the government-sponsored conservatism and epic representation of the War, were not allowed on screen. See Ju. Liderman, Motivy “proverki” i “ispytaniia” v postsovetskoi kul’ture. Sovetskoe proshloe v rossiiskom kinematografe 1990-kh godov, Stuttgart, Ibidem-Verlag, 2005, p. 132. For an extensive discussion of Brezhnev cinematography, see Youngblood, Russian War Films, pp. 142-186.
51 Idem., “A War Remembered: Soviet Films of the Great Patriotic War”, The American Historical Review, Vol. 106, # 3, June, 2001, p. 855. For similar tendencies in Soviet post-war literature, see D. Gillespie, “Russian Writers Confront the Past: History, Memory, and Literature, 1953-1991”, World Literature Today, Vol. 67, # 1, Winter, 1993, pp.74-9.
52 D. Gillespie, “Defence of the Realm: The ‘New’ Russian Patriotism on Screen”, The Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies, # 3, 2005, available at http://pipss.revues.org/index369.html.
53 More on the idea of ‘testing’ in Soviet cinematography, see Liderman, Motivy “proverki”.
54 Perhaps careful not to heroicise the neo-Nazi movement, film producers removed all direct references to neo-Nazi insignia, substituting it with an ersatz-swastika on Cherep’s shoulder and a cross on his eagle decorated t-shirt.
56 According to the polls, taken in the late 1990s, vast numbers of Russians, Ukrainians and Byelorussians considered themselves a single people. See Dubin, Rossiia nulevykh, op. cit. pp. 30-31.
57 See an interview with one of the producers of the doulogy, “Liudmila Kukoba: ‘Uspekh kartiny ‘My iz Budushchego-2’ neminuem”, 20 January 2010, available at http://www.proficinema.ru/questions-problems/interviews/detail.php?ID=76245.
58 More on the content of new history textbooks in these countries, see Vtoraia mirovaia i Velikaia Otechestvennaia voiny, op. cit., pp. 13-25, 185-189, 190-196, 211-220, 240-246, 254-263.
59 Dubin, Rossia nulevykh, op. cit. pp. 31, 349.
60 Idem., pp. 25-8, 31, 38-39.
61 “Liudmila Kukoba: ‘Uspekh kartiny” (quotation). The idea harks back to the actual ‘civil war’ raging in the occupied territory of Ukraine during the 1940s. More on this see J.A. Armstrong, Ukrainian Nationalism, New York, Columbia University Press, 1963.
62 K. Andreev, “Vy ch’i budete?”, 15 February 2010, available at http://www.film.ru/article.asp?id=6071. For reactions in Russia, see, for instance, a review by S. Stepnova, “Polovina uspekha”, available at http://ruskino.ru/review/344 and “Ochen’ ‘vazhnoe’ kino. Kak delaiut den’gi na ura-patrioticheskikh kartinakh”, available at http://newtimes.ru/articles/detail/16748?phrase_id=279628.
64 Dubin, Rossia nulevykh, op. cit. p. 30; on the Ukrainian intellectuals’ pessimistic predictions regarding the divide, see U. Blacker, “Ukraine. Victory Day provokes conflict”, East European Memory Studies, # 5, May 2011, p. 19.
65 “Ochen’ ‘vazhnoe’ kino”, op. cit.
66 For further discussion of the initiation ritual and its stages, see the seminal work by Arnold van Gennep, The Rites of Passage, London, Routledge, 2004 (rpd edition). Van Gennep’s theories were further developed by V.W Turner in his influential study, The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1974.
67 Dolgopolov, Review of We are from the Future, Kinokul’tura, # 22, October, 2008, available at http://www.kinokultura.com/2008/22r-future.shtml. Although the idea of a rite of passage came to me independently, I would like to acknowledge Greg Dolgopolov’s review as being influential in the further development of my argument.
68 Liderman, Motivy “proverki”, op. cit.
69 The term belongs to Oushakine. See his “‘We’re nostalgic but we’re not crazy’: Retrofitting the
Past in Russia”, Russian Review Vol. 66, July 2007, pp. 451–482.
70 See, for instance, anti-war films, such as Kukushka (The Cookoo, 2002), Poslednii Poezd (The Last Train, 2003), Peregon (The Ferry, 2006), Okkupatsiia (The Occupation, 2003). Among the films that challenged Soviet historical and cinematic traditions, see Shtrafbat (The Penal Batalion, 2004), Svoi (Our Lot, 2004).
72 M. Feretti, “Neprimirimaia pamiat’: Rossia i voina. Zametki na poliakh spora na zhguchuiu temu”, Neprikosnovennyi Zapas, # 2-3 (40-41), 2005, available at http://magazines.russ.ru/nz/2005/2/fere8-pr.html.
73 Gudkov, “‘Pamiat’’ o voine”, op. cit.; M. Lipovetsky, “War as the Family Value: Failing Fathers and Monstrous Sons in My Stepbrother Frankenstein” in Helena Goscilo and Yana Hashamova (Eds.), Cinepaternity. Fathers and Sons in Soviet and Post-Soviet Film, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 2010, p. 117.
74 Being less then successful, and more importantly aggressive in their nature, all the subsequent wars fought by the Soviet Union or Russia, are not considered as something to be proud of and thus are consigned to oblivion. In fact, as is shown by Oushakine, veterans of these wars attempt to appropriate WWII as an emotional link that makes their own war experience “personally and socially meaningful”. See Oushakine, Patriotism, op. cit., p. 208.
75 See Weiner, « Saving Private Ivan », op. cit., pp. 334-335.
76 Seniavskaia, “‘Obraz voiny’”, op. cit., p. 324.
77 S. Boym, “From the Russian Soul to Post-Communist Nostalgia”, Representations, # 49, Winter, 1995, p. 134.
78 See the results of a poll carried out in Moscow schools in 2010. Snezhkova, “Predstavleniia o Velikoi Otechestvennoi”, op. cit., p. 392.
79 Feretti, « Neprimirimaia pamiat' », op. cit.
80 Dubin, Rossiia nulevykh, op. cit. pp. 63-64, 68.Top of page
Olga Kucherenko, « That’ll Teach’em to Love Their Motherland!: Russian Youth Revisit the Battles of World War II », The Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies [Online], Issue 12 | 2011, Online since 02 June 2011, connection on 24 May 2015. URL : http://pipss.revues.org/3866Top of page
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