Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia: How Putin re-writes history

The world in Orwell’s 1984. Source: Wikipedia.

George Orwell’s novel 1984 describes how a totalitarian regime can constantly re-write history. It was one of the pillars of the Big Brother’s power. At one moment, it was believed that Oceania was at war with Eurasia and allied with Eastasia. The next moment, it was announced that “Oceania was at war with Eastasia: Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia.” And nobody had any questions.

The Kremlin has been re-writing history for a long time already, especially as far as World War II is concerned. In 2020, Putin published an article “75th Anniversary of the Great Victory: Shared Responsibility to History and our Future”, where he defended the Soviet leadership’s actions before and during the war. For example, he claimed that the “incorporation” (not occupation) of the Baltic states by the USSR in 1939 had been performed “on a contractual basis, with the consent of the elected authorities”. Sending Soviet troops to Poland was a military necessity, a matter of security. And so on and so forth.

But these are rather modest attempts, in comparison with the more recent efforts at squeezing history into the current political narrative. The beginning of 2023 marked two important 80th anniversaries: the breaking the siege of Leningrad and the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad. Putin couldn’t possibly miss these opportunities to promote his narrative “Russia against the West”.

At a meeting with war veterans, he said:

People from many European countries took part in the siege of Leningrad and committed crimes on the Leningrad Front.

Due to a certain tolerance or unwillingness to spoil relations or the background of our relations with many countries, we have not generally talked about this. But it happened not only in Leningrad, on the Leningrad Front or during the siege, it happened everywhere. It is enough to look at the Blue Division. They came to Leningrad, and were in Leningrad during the siege. They were from all countries, at least from many, anyway.

V. Putin, 18.01.2023. Source: http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/transcripts/70367

While it is true that not only Germans besieged Leningrad – they were assisted by the Finnish forces, one Italian Navy squadron and Spanish volunteers from the Blue Division – Putin makes it sound as if all Europe was fighting on the Leningrad Front against the USSR, which is of course a blatant exaggeration.

Later, at the gala concert in Volgograd, which was temporarily renamed to “Stalingrad” for the time of celebrations, his message was even more direct:

The Battle of Stalingrad justifiably went down in history as a turning point in the Great Patriotic War. In addition to defeating the largest Wehrmacht group and its satellites, the will of the entire Hitler coalition was broken. The European vassals and accomplices of Nazi Germany, many of which fought at Stalingrad, representing practically all countries of subjugated Europe, began feverishly looking for ways to flee, to evade responsibility and shift the blame onto their former masters.

V. Putin, 2.02.2023. Source: http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/transcripts/70434

Forget about the Allies. Forget about Lend-Lease, which provided the USSR with arms, machines, fuel and food. According to Putin, Russia fought against the whole Europe, or better the whole West. And it has always been like that:

Russia is a large country, if you look at the European dimension today; I mean in terms of population, in terms of territory, it is the largest country in the world. And someone has always fought against it. And some said: how boring it is to live in the world when no one is fighting against Russia. This is not a joke, but a statement made by certain politicians of the past from Western countries. It has always been so. (…) Let me repeat, it has always happened throughout our history.

V. Putin, 2.02. 2023. Source: http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/70435

To sum up, “Russia is at war with the West. Russia has always been at war with the West.” I wonder what George Orwell would have said if he had heard that someone in the 21st century follows his novel as a book for propaganda recipes.


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