Russia Starts to Rehabilitate its Forgotten War Topic: World War I
Emperor Nicholas II speaks from the balcony of the Winter Palace to a large crowd in Palace Square in St. Petersburg
announcing Russia’s entry into war with Germany, August 2nd [O.S. July 20th], 1914
Copyright Notice: The following article was originally published in the June 23rd, 2014 edition of the Irish Times. The author Isabel Gorst, owns the copyright of the version presented below.
Defeat and its fallout meant the first World War went unheralded until last year
There are only three marked graves in Moscow’s former Brethren cemetery, where the bodies of thousands of soldiers and officers who perished in the first World War were laid to rest beneath the aged oak and lime trees.
For most of the last 100 years Russia has tried to bury memories of the conflict of 1914-1918 and the even more disastrous civil war that followed in its wake.
However, as the centenary of the outbreak of the first World War approaches, Russia has begun to delve into its history and talk about the so-called forgotten war.
Russia commemorated the outbreak of the war for the first time last year in what was seen as a milestone in the complicated rediscovery process. At the same time the Kremlin announced a competition to design a memorial to the millions of Russians who rose up in 1914 “to protect the motherland”.
Andrei Kovalchuk, president of the Russian Artists’ Union, made the winning sculpture, of a soldier brandishing a huge Russian flag. It will be unveiled on August 1st at Poklonny Hill park in Moscow, where there are already memorials to other wars – including the second World War and the 1812 defeat of Napoleon – about which Russia feels more proud.
Statues by the two runners- up in the competition will be unveiled on the same day at Gusev in the Kaliningrad region and Pskov in western Russia, both scenes of important battles fought by the Russian imperial army against the central alliance.
The reasons why the Kremlin sought for so long to bury memories of the first World War go much deeper than the obvious fact that Russia suffered a humiliating defeat in 1918 and lost control of large swathes of territory in the Baltics, Belarus and Ukraine.
Shot as traitors
Many of the soldiers who survived the battles went on to fight for the White army in the bloody civil war that tore Russia apart after the Bolsheviks or “Reds” seized power. Men who in other circumstances would have been hailed as heroes were rounded up in large numbers by the Soviets and shot as traitors.
In the Soviet encyclopedia the 1914-1918 war was dismissed as “an imperial struggle between capitalist powers for the redivision of a divided world.” Information about the war disappeared from the official historic narrative, which highlighted the rise of Vladimir Lenin, the Bolshevik revolution and the foundation of the first communist state.
Russia has struggled to come to terms with its history and establish a new identity since the Soviet Union collapsed.
President Vladimir Putin, who has set out to restore Russia’s great power status, understands the consolidating role history can play. Huge crowds attended an exhibition in Moscow honouring the 400th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty that the Russian president opened last year. A special commission founded by Putin is organising a series of exhibitions and educational events to mark the centenary and bring the first World War into the mainstream of Russian history and cultural life. Among the highlights will be the Last Battle of the Russian Empire at the State Historical Museum in Moscow’s Red Square – the first exhibition dedicated to the first World War staged in Russia.
“We live in a different country now and can look at the war more widely,” says Kirill Meerov, head of multimedia projects at the Historical Museum. “It was all so politicised before.”
An even more ambitious endeavour is under way in St Petersburg, where the authorities are restoring the first World War Museum founded at the Ratnaya Palata, or Armoury, by Tsar Nicholas II in 1915. Most of the original exhibits either disappeared or were hidden in archives when the Soviets took power and destroyed the place. Curators have appealed to the Russian public to donate any first World War memorabilia they can find, from old photographs, clothing to binoculars and gas masks.
Soviet and more recently Russian directors have made countless films about the second World War and are now looking to the first World War for inspiration. With the support of the Russian culture ministry, Igor Ugolnikov is producing Death Battalion, which tells the story of a woman who joined Russia’s first female combat unit founded by the provisional government in 1917.
It was essential that Russia produced a film about the war to coincide with the centenary, Ugolnikov told the Vecherny Petersburg newspaper. “Few people want to talk about the first World War, it’s understandable that there is nothing to be proud of . . . Patriotism is not only about saying ‘Hurrah’; it’s about showing human tales from the war.”
Russians have mixed feelings about the revival of the war’s history. In recent years the Moscow authorities have installed war memorials in the former Brethren cemetery and allowed the descendants of White army soldiers to reinstate tombstones torn down in the Soviet era.
However, Tatiana Bartsova, a local pensioner who grew up at a time when it was forbidden to talk about the cemetery, said it was best not to dig up the past. “Everyone died – even officers – in that meat grinder, and the civil war was even worse. All over Moscow we are walking on bones.”
How 'Willy' and 'Nicky' Failed to Avert WWI Topic: World War I
Emperor Nicholas II of Russia with Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany
In the four days before World War I broke out, the Russian tsar and his cousin the German emperor -- "Willy" and "Nicky" as they nicknamed each other -- traded telegrams in a last-ditch bid to save peace, even as their army chiefs readied for battle.
On July 29, 1914, a day after Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, Russia's Nicholas II sent the first of these oddly surreal English-language telegrams to Wilhelm II, pledging his affection and commitment to peace.
"I foresee that very soon I shall be overwhelmed by the pressure forced upon me and be forced to take extreme measures which will lead to war," read the first message from Nicholas II, sent hours before Russia ordered a general mobilisation that would in turn pull Germany into the war.
"To try and avoid such a calamity as a European war I beg you in the name of our old friendship to do what you can to stop your allies from going too far," the tsar wrote.
Writing the same day, informed that Russia was about to mobilise -- a clear casus belli for Germany's army chiefs -- Wilhelm II pleaded with his cousin to stay out of the Austria-Serbia conflict.
"With regard to the hearty and tender friendship which binds us both from long ago with firm ties, I am exerting my utmost influence to induce the Austrians to deal straightly to arrive to a satisfactory understanding with you," the German wrote, signing off: "Your very sincere and devoted friend and cousin. Willy".
The first two telegrams crossed one another, like most that followed.
"Willy" went on to urge "Nicky" for "Russia to remain a spectator of the Austro-Serbian conflict without involving Europe in the most horrible war she ever witnessed."
Nicholas thanked Wilhelm for his attempts to mediate, and appealed to "the wisdom and friendship" of his German cousin to put an end to Austria's war preparations.
- 'On your shoulders now' -
But on July 30, Wilhelm -- having received news that Russia was mobilising its troops -- warned Nicholas this would endanger his role as mediator and force Germany to take "preventive measures of defence".
The next day came the admission from Nicholas II that -- while he hopes mediation with Vienna can still bear fruit -- he was powerless to reverse the military march.
"It is technically impossible to stop our military preparations which were obligatory owing to Austria's mobilisation," he wrote, signing off: "Your affectionate, Nicky".
By this point Wilhelm II had become markedly less affectionate, laying the responsibility for the looming disaster squarely with his cousin.
"The whole weight of the decision lies solely on you(r) shoulders now, who have to bear the responsibility for Peace or War," he wrote on July 30.
"The responsibility for the disaster which is now threatening the whole civilised world will not be laid at my door," he warned the following day, with Berlin poised to enter the war.
Still, Nicholas II seemed to believe until the last that war could be averted, sending an SOS on the morning of August 1 in which he asked Wilhelm II to confirm that Germany's mobilisation did not mark the end of efforts for peace.
"Our long proved friendship must succeed, with God's help, in avoiding bloodshed. Anxiously, full of confidence await your answer. Nicky."
But the die had been cast.
"Willy" replied tersely that he could no longer discuss the matter short of "immediate affirmative clear and unmistakable" message calling off the Russian mobilisation -- something he already knew to be impossible.
"As a matter of fact I must request you to immediatly [sic] order your troops on no account to commit the slightest act of trespassing over our frontiers."
That evening, at 7:00 pm, "Willy" declared war on "Nicky" and the "horror", "bloodshed" and "disaster" foretold by the courteous cousins had begun.
Russia Prepares First Museum Dedicated to World War I Topic: World War I
The restoration and reconstruction of the Ratnaya Palata for museum use began in 2011.
The new World War I museum will open at Tsarskoye Selo in August 2014.
Photo Credit: citywalls.ru
The following article was originally published in the December 17th, 2013 edition of the Art Newspaper. The author Sophia Kishkovsky owns the copyright presented below.
If all goes to plan, 100 years after Tsar Nicholas II mobilised his vast army for war with Germany and Austro-Hungary, Russia will open a First World War museum that is not dominated by a Marxist interpretation of history.
The Moscow office of the US-based design firm Ralph Appelbaum Associates is in discussions with Russia’s ministry of culture to create a First World War museum at the Ratnaya Palata, a former military museum in Tsarskoye Selo, which was the country residence of the tsars. The ambitious project will require military precision to meet its planned opening date of 1 August 2014.
“The main thing is that the [war] museum is interesting, so that people who come will want to return with their friends and children,” said Russia’s culture minister, Vladimir Medinsky. He was speaking in a meeting at the end of October, when concepts for the project were presented, the RIA Novosti news agency reported. Medinsky, the author of a bestselling 2011 book about the Second World War, has been a major proponent of the new museum.
Restoring the war’s legacy
Natalia Narochnitskaya, a historian who leads a foundation campaigning for projects to educate Russians about the First World War, says: “Throughout the Soviet period, [the conflict] was interpreted as imperial and unnecessary. How can one say that when it threatened our entire 300-year history?”
The Appelbaum-designed Jewish Museum and Tolerance Centre opened in 2012 in Moscow’s landmark Constructivist bus depot, which was designed in 1927 by the avant-garde architect Konstantin Melnikov. The Jewish museum’s multimedia design attracted the attention of Russian officials, who see it as a way to draw younger audiences to the First World War museum.
The ministry has also set its sights on Star Media, a film and television production company that makes historical documentaries, romantic comedies and a Russian version of “Dancing with the Stars”. The aim is for the company to work with Appelbaum’s Russian-based team to create content for the museum and to restore the legacy of the war to Russia’s historical consciousness.
Nick Appelbaum, a partner of Ralph Appelbaum Associates, visited Moscow last month to meet officials from the ministry. He says: “I understand that there is an ideological component behind any government project. I can’t say to what extent that is driving this. I would say that everyone is looking to clearly say what happened and that’s what’s been missing. We’re seeing it in all the projects we are working on [in Russia].”
The construction of the Ratnaya Palata, or Military Chambers, began in 1913. The cornerstone was laid in the presence of Nicholas II and work was completed in 1917. Yelena Tretyakova, the widowed sister-in-law of Pavel Tretyakov, the founder of Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery, was the military museum’s main benefactor. It was initially meant to be a museum of the history of Russia’s military forces, but, as events unfolded, it became a museum of the Great War. After the Bolshevik Revolution, the museum’s collection was dispersed among other museums or destroyed. The building was severely damaged during the Second World War.
The Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Preserve has been working on a concept for reviving the war museum since 2008. “We will turn over everything that we developed and collected, everything we prepared in terms of content, and it will all be adapted to the new concept,” says Iraida Bott, the deputy director of Tsarskoye Selo. “It will be more interactive. There will be some paintings; we don’t have a lot of paintings in our collection, and as it won’t be possible to make a convincing array from our collection, it is most likely that another [medium] will be used.”
There is a growing demand for exhibitions devoted to historical topics that were previously repressed or depicted through the prism of Soviet ideology. In November, a queue of visitors snaked past the Kremlin wall to get into the Manege exhibition hall for a Russian Orthodox Church-sponsored multimedia exhibition about the Romanov dynasty. A press statement about the show boasted of “350 multimedia carriers”, including touchscreens, 50in plasma screens, light boxes, tablet computers with interactive quizzes and educational apps developed specially for the exhibition.
The most valuable artefact on show is an icon of the Mother of God, with which Mikhail Fyodorovich Romanov was blessed in the 17th century before he became Michael I of Russia. It was lent by Kostroma’s Epiphany Monastery.
For more information on this new museum, please refer to the following Royal Russia links;
Historians Meet at Tsarskoye Selo to Assess Russia's Role in World War I Topic: World War I
The Third International Academic Conference entitled The First World War, Versailles System and Contemporary World runs October 11-12 at Tsarskoye Selo. It focuses on Russia’s role in the war-time events.
The First International Academic Conference, The First World War, the Versailles System and the Present, was held at the St. Petersburg State University in 2009.
The current conference, organized by Russia’s Ministry of Culture, Russian Military & Historical Society, St. Petersburg State University, Russian Association of WWI Historians, and the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Universal History, gathered over 100 historians from the largest Russian and foreign universities and research centers. The honorary guests and attendees include representatives of Tsarskoye Selo, Hermitage, Central WWII Museum and Russia’s Defense Ministry.
The conference will see a presentation of the first modern Russian WWI museum, Russia in the Great War, which is to open at the Martial Chamber of Tsarskoye Selo on August 1st, 2014.
Russia Marks World War I Remembrance Day Topic: World War I
No one is forgotten! Nothing is forgotten!
Russian Soldiers’ World War I Remembrance Day is being marked for the first time in Russia today, August 1. Chairman of the State Duma lower house of parliament, Chairman of the Organising Committee for the preparation of activities associated with the 100th anniversary of the First World War and the chairman of the Russian Historical Society (RHS) Sergei Naryshkin laid a wreath with a black ribbon at the Obelisk to the Soldiers Fallen in the World War of 1914-1918 in Moscow, ITAR-TASS reports.
“The remembrance date was established on the initiative of the Russian parliament in the autumn of 2012 and is timed to the Russian Empire’s entry into the First World War,” the State Duma press service noted. Sergei Naryshkin will also hold on Thursday a working meeting with the Organising Committee members and the leadership of the RHS and the Russian Military and Historical Society dedicated to the preparation for the events marking the 100th anniversary since the outbreak of the First World War. This date will be observed next year. The meeting will be held at the Museum of the Patriotic War of 1812.
The First World War began on July 28, 1914, after Austria-Hungary attacked Serbia. The formal reason was the assassination in Sarajevo (now Bosnia and Herzegovina) of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria by Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip. Historians admit that the accumulated insoluble interstate and inter-allied contradictions caused the war. That is why the declaration by Austria of war on Serbia caused a “domino effect:” Russia said it would not allow the occupation of Serbia, the Germany - an ally of Austria-Hungary, began secret mobilization, and France – Russia’s ally, started to put its troops in the alert.
Germany put forward an ultimatum that Russia end its mobilization, and when Russia refused, it declared war on August 1. A day later, Germany declared war against France, which formed one military bloc with Russia and England, after which England also entered the war.
Contemporaries noted that the war had caused widespread enthusiasm in all countries, but nobody thought that it would last not 3-4 months, but four years and cause unprecedented casualties and destruction. As a result of this war, four empires: the Russian, German, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman ceased to exist. The total number of the war victims is estimated at 30 million.
Remembering the Russian Soldiers of a Forgotten War Now Playing: Language: Russian. Duration: 3 minutes, 46 seconds Topic: World War I
The State Historical Museum in Moscow has opened an exhibit showcasing designs for a new monument to the Russian heroes and soldiers of World War I. An All-Russian competition resulted in a total of 32 sculptural design entries, which has now been narrowed down to 15. The winning design will be made into a full scale monument which will be erected on Poklonnaya Hill in Moscow in Autumn 2014.
Most Russians conclude that the country's entry into the First World War was an event that largely determined the fate of the country in the twentieth century, one that was virtually forgotten or simply non-existent under the Bolsheviks and the Soviets. The label "imperialist war" officially assigned to the First World after October 1917, did not allow an objective assessment of the scale of the tragedy. It is estimated that the number of Russian soldiers who died during the war was any where from 1.8 million to 2.4 million. This lack of empathy is a typical example of the total disregard for human life that the Bolsheviks maintained during their destruction of the Russian Empire.
Next year will mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I, the war in which Tsar Nicholas II mobilized Russia against Germany, a war which brought disastrous results for Russia and an end to the monarchy. August 1st, 2014 has been designated as a Day of Remembrance for the Russian soldiers who died during the First World War.
Kremlin to Celebrate Jubilee of World War I Topic: World War I
The Kremlin has announced that Russia will mark the 100th anniversary of the country's entry into World War I in 2014. Russian authorities intend to refresh the knowledge of its citizens of Russia's participation in the Great War.
The Kremlin will order the burials of soldiers of the Russian army in the territory of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Armenia, Serbia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Greece and Germany. An online archive of documentary photographs and soldiers’ letters and memories of military operations will be created on the Internet. A monument will be erected in Moscow in memory of the victims onboard a hospital vessel which was sunk by a German submarine in 1916.
Authorities also plan the founding of a uniform museum and archive of World War I.
The immense contribution which Russia played during the First World War was largely ignored during the Soviet years. A century later, it seems only fitting that Russia now honour those who sacrificed their lives for their country.