For almost a century Russia’s domestic and global mindset has, perhaps understandably, been shaped by its experiences in the Second World War, or the Great Patriotic War, as it was known in Soviet times. The glorification of the victory over Hitler has increasingly become the cornerstone of the ‘Putinist’ project as he has rolled back what little democratic advance there had been.
Nothing epitomizes this more than the vast Central Museum of the Great Patriotic War, which is situated on the Poklonnaya Hill overlooking central Moscow, which was opened to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the end of WWII on May 9, 1995.
It’s almost 20,000 square meters bears witness to almost every conceivable aspect of the war, as seen from the Soviet political perspective. An April 2023 report from Democracy.net highlights how, since 2014, its focus within newer exhibits has increasingly been manipulated to highlight the supposed parallels between WWII and Russia’s war in Ukraine and to legitimize Putin’s “special military operation.”
One exhibition, entitled ‘Ordinary Nazism’, portrays what it calls the ‘Ukrainian brand of Nazism’. It catalogues the ‘crimes,’ of German-allied Ukrainian nationalists in WWII, while categorizing today’s Ukrainian military as their direct successors. It claims, for instance, that Ukrainian forces killed 20,000 civilians in the Donbas between 2014 and 2022, compared with official UN estimates of a total of 15,000 deaths, civilian and military, from both sides.
Two screens are used to place footage of Hitler’s troops committing atrocities on the eastern front alongside scenes from Kyiv’s Maidan Square protests in 2014.
Another exhibition, called ‘Ordinary NATOzism’, claims to show how the Western military alliance is part of a global anti-Russian conspiracy, with its roots in the 1940s. The museum suggests that NATO’s agenda is ‘self-evidently’ world domination. Luckily, it tells us, that Putin’s ‘special military operation’ has put a stop to NATO’s sinister plans.
Victory Museum Interactive exhibit Photo: Volodya Vagner Democracy.net
In yet another exhibit, ‘True to Their Legacy’, visitors are invited to participate in the same heroic struggle alongside Russian troops through a series of interactive screens. In an application reminiscent of the ‘Tinder” dating app you’re invited to swipe through vast numbers of pairs of faces: one marked VOV (the abbreviation for the Great Patriotic War) and the other with SVO (Special Military Operation). Visitors are given pens and paper to select one of the pairs and to write a letter of support to troops at the front.
Finally, visitors are taken to yet another interactive video installation, where they can stand in front of a green screen and to virtually participate in scenes of Donbas civilians tearfully embracing liberating Russian soldiers and then to download the movie in which they have just co-starred, as a souvenir.
Rather than a sincere statement of patriotism, as the founders of the museum intended, this has become tacky infotainment, just another product to be bought along with the toy tanks and trinkets adorned with the ‘Z’ symbol from the museum gift shop.
The editors of Democracy.net suggest that this virtual reenactment of Russia’s heroic past along with the rigged elections that simulate popular support for Putin’s regime may not be worth much in preparing the population for the actuality of the hardships the war will bring.
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