A window into how Russia sees the role of the Soviet Union in WWII

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[This online supplement is produced and published by Rossiyskaya Gazeta (Russia), which takes sole responsibility for the content.]

Something has changed in Russia. Twenty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the values on which Soviet society was based – and after two decades of hard times – the search is on for a firm footing in values and ideology. Attention has focused on the Second World War, especially the question of what we were fighting for.

It seems, in Russia and in the rest of the world, that there are two points of view about the war. The first holds that Stalin's regime was undoubtedly tyrannical, but the war was fought for humanitarian values and freedom. The Soviet Union made a decisive contribution to the victory of these values, though it was certainly no showcase for them.

The second may be called the revisionist one, that the Second World War was in fact two wars: the one on the Western Front a battle for democratic ideals and freedom; the other, on the Eastern Front, between tyrants seeking to oppress and enslave nations.

One Russian political analyst has even written that, while the Western allies were fighting for democratic ideals, most people in the Soviet Union had little idea of either democracy or Nazism, and were simply fighting for the Motherland. And even then they thought long and hard before fighting: Stalin's regime had so "exhausted" them that many were ready simply to surrender. This, in part, explains why Russia lost the early stages of the war.

Most Soviet citizens fought simply for their Motherland, with no thought of ideology; the same can be said about most people in the anti-Nazi countries and those who fought in the Resistance. It is true that all the enemies of Germany and Japan also lost ground in the early stages of the war.

If one pursues the logic further, then, evidently, the French, as well as the Czechs, Belgians, Dutch and others, had been "exhausted" by democracy. That isn't too far from the truth: democratic positions, as we now know, were seriously undermined throughout Europe as a result of the First World War and the Great Depression. This preordained the victory of the fascists and the Nazis in Italy and Germany.

One shouldn't forget that the younger Soviet generation supported the regime because it had allowed them to have educations and careers that before had been off-limits to them. They were fighting, if you will, for the Soviet Dream, for anyone having the chance to become, if not general secretary of the Communist Party, then at least a marshal or a people's commissar.

Who was the backbone of the Resistance in France? Supporters of de Gaulle and the communists. De Gaulle could not be called a consistent democrat. In his youth he was, after all, close to the right-wing thinker Charles Maurras.

The countries that conducted a real underground partisan battle and put up a genuinely fierce resistance to the Germans were ones that had not been especially democratic before Nazism: Poland, Yugoslavia, Albania and Greece. Resistance leaders in these countries, such as Josip Tito and Enver Hoxha, could hardly be called democrats.

Indeed, only a small group of countries were then democracies, and far from contemporary notions of what a true democracy should be. Think of segregation in the United States; think of the state of human rights in British, French and other European colonies. In Eastern Europe there was real democracy only in Czechoslovakia: in Poland you had the Sanacja regime; in Lithuania Smetona's dictatorship; in Latvia Ulmanis's dictatorship; in Hungary you had the dictatorship of Horthy; and in Romania that of Antonescu....

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