In This Review

The Soviet Myth of World War II: Patriotic Memory and the Russian Question in the USSR
The Soviet Myth of World War II: Patriotic Memory and the Russian Question in the USSR
By Jonathan Brunstedt
Cambridge University Press, 2021, 323 pp.

According to Brunstedt’s thoroughly researched book, the Soviet understanding of World War II, which Russians call “the Great Patriotic War,” consisted of two competing narratives. One story was “Russocentric,” emphasizing the leading role of the Russian people in the ethnically diverse Soviet Union and the legacy of pre-revolutionary Russia’s military prowess through the centuries. The other was “pan-Soviet” or internationalist, glorying in the supranational Soviet community and framing the victory over Nazi Germany as a triumph of the communist Soviet system. Brunstedt describes the uneasy balancing act attempted by consecutive Soviet governments of remembering the victory as an event with a “uniquely Soviet provenance” without fully abandoning the Russocentric view of the war as the specific triumph of the Russian people. Joseph Stalin promoted strongly Russocentric views of the war, but even in his tenure, pan-Soviet conceptions of victory gained greater currency, thanks in large part to concerns about provoking anti-Soviet Russian nationalism. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s de-Stalinization campaign and his introduction of the doctrine of the Soviet people as a “new historical community” worked to suppress Russocentric imagery, or at least to dissociate it from the victory. Under Khrushchev’s successor, Leonid Brezhnev, the effective expansion of a purely pan-Soviet war cult was accompanied by the rise of Russian nationalism among high-ranking Communist Party functionaries and the literary elite.