World War I Remembered in Russia

Emperor Nicholas II and Grand Duke Nicholas Nicholaievich during the First World War

World War I Remembered in Russia

This month saw the formation of the Russian Association of World War I Historians, reports the Voice of Russia’s Mikhail Aristov. This major international organization is currently grappling with the creation of a database, which will shed more light on the developments related to the 1914-1918 First World War.

Russia’s role in WWI has been repeatedly distorted, and the upcoming celebrations dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the war should prompt the publication of more monographs on the topic. A statement to this effect was made by the presidential chief of staff, Sergei Naryshkin, during an international conference in Moscow earlier in the month. The conference was called Russia and Great War: Experience and Prospects, and attended by historians from 35 countries. At the end of the day, a decision was made to create the Russia-based International Association of World War I Historians.

Mapping out a pertinent international research program that would be available to all those interested in the topic remains a key task of the Association. As for the creation of a WWI database, it was initiated by representatives of the World Organization of the Russian Press jointly with the Russian Academy of Sciences, better known by its Russian acronym RAN.

Yelena Rudaya, of the RAN’s Institute of Russian History in Moscow, urged her country’s media outlets to contribute to creating the WWI database:

"This is not just lip service, Rudaya says, touting joint efforts by prominent public, scientific and cultural figures from all across the globe to establish such a database. Suffice it to mention a WWI Encyclopedia, which was initiated by the RAN’s Institute of World History," Rudaya explains.

She warned against playing down the fact that millions of Russian soldiers gave their lives to help the Triple Entente prevail over Germany:

"The decisive battles took place on the Eastern, or German Front, where the Russians fought to the bitter end in an attempt to stop the German forces, Rudaya says. Many in Russia, she adds, met the war with patriotic fervor, with WWI widely referred to as the Second Patriotic War in a clear association with the 1812 War with Napoleon."

Historians also point to Russia’s role in defeating Germany and Austria-Hungary in 1914 and 1916, respectively, which they said specifically prevented the enemy from entering Paris.

It only remains to add that speaking at the Moscow conference, representatives of the Russian World Fund, in turn, urged the creation of a WWI History Museum in Russia and the erection of more WWI memorials there.

Russia in the Light of the First World War

The First World War, in which 38 countries were involved, changed the course of history. It killed millions of people and witnessed that technical progress could be extremely dangerous.

The war went on for over four years and ended on the 11th of November when the Compiegne armistice agreement between Germany and the Entente, military block involving Britain, France and Russia, was concluded. Russia, which lost at least 3 million people on the fronts of the war, is not being mentioned as a participant of the First World War in textbooks in the West.

There are many myths linked to the First World War, and in fact, they are unjust towards Russia that paid a great price for the victory of the Entente, says a leading fellow at the Institute of History, Elena Rudaya.

“The reason here is that the decisive battles were fought on the eastern front between Russian and German forces,” says Elena Rudaya. “Russia perceived the beginning of the war with patriotic enthusiasm. And the war was named the Second Patriotic War after the war against Napoleon, which was known as the First Patriotic War of 1812,” Elena Rudaya said.

In 1914, two major offensives launched by the Russian army prevented the seizure of Paris. Two years later, Russian forces dealt a crippling blow on Austrian-Hungarian forces. After fulfilling the commitments undertaken as an ally, Russia was exhausted in three years. The revolution and the civil war were the tragic consequences of the war.

Russia was not even invited to the Versailles Conference of 1919 because the Bolsheviks signed the separatist Brest-Litovsk treaty. The winners of the war redrew the world map at the conference. The German officials were also not invited to the conference.

Many historians say the Versailles Treaty is unjust. The countries of the Entente withdrew their responsibility for the world war, although it was a common European tragedy and all countries involved in it were to be blamed. Germany had to pay a huge sum as reparation, and this led to inflation and impoverishment. Historians insist that the Versailles Treaty is responsible for the seizure of power in Germany by the Nazis led by Adolf Hitler, who put forward the populist slogan of taking revenge and later, unleashed the Second World War.

During the First World War, works of the so-called lost generation appeared in the West. Among these are Richard Aldington in England, Earnest Hemingway in the U.S. and Erich Remarque in Germany.

Hundreds of scholarly works have been devoted to this period, but the Russian historians believe that an unbiased history of the First World War has yet to be written.

Source: The Voice of Russia
14 December, 2010