You are in > People & Culture
People & Culture
The Enemy will not Enter the City of Lenin!
1941 was the year that signalled the opening not only of some of the most horrific episodes of World War Two but also the beginning of the eventual end for Nazism. As the war generation gradually decease, not too many more anniversaries will be witnessed by the living survivors. The danger is that as these memories disappear they will be replaced by competing accounts of the most self-serving variety. 1989 for some historians represented the ‘end of communism’ ushering in a period of performing the ideological gymnastics of moral equivalence between fascism and its arch-enemy communism.
There are exceptions of course. Anthony Beevor’s book ‘Stalingrad’ is a piece of superb military history, a compelling account of that city’s sacrifice. However most of the big sales of World War Two histories are, perhaps unsurprisingly, focused on Britain’s part in the war, almost to the exclusion of anyone else. Add the more recent Hollywoodisation of the D-Day landings in ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and the TV series ‘Band of Brothers’ and it would sometimes seem as if the second, Eastern, front hardly existed. And in English popular culture we have an additional factor. Is it the miserabilism of the Left to question why World War Two is the stuff of situation comedy? It is hard to imagine any French broadcaster would produce anything quite as shallow and offensive as ‘Allo Allo’ . And then the media wonder why some England football fans have the cheek to turn World War Two into a victory to chant about like any other. ‘Two World Wars and one World Cup’ anyone?
This combination of factors has served to almost entirely obscure the horrific losses the USSR suffered in securing the eventual defeat of Nazi Germany. The figures are so huge they are almost impossible to comprehend. No definitive figure will ever be established but it is generally accepted that Soviet losses were in the region of 23 million deaths, some 14% of the country’s population at the time. USA? Half a million, 0.3% . UK, half a million, 1% .
Anybody who has visited Russia, Belarus, the Baltic States, or the Ukraine since 1989 would have seen how not only is it an important part of these nations’ popular culture to bear witness to the losses they suffered but this process is angrily contested too. In the Ukraine memorials to the war are the unruly battleground between Ukrainian nationalists and pro-Russian elements. In Belarus the capital city Minsk remembers the role of so many of its citizens in the partisan units which inflicted heavy losses on the Nazi occupiers as a source of Beylorussian pride. In Russia the defeat of Germany is increasingly divorced from the history of anti-fascism and used rather to boost the revival of ideas of a Greater Russia in the region, and beyond.
In Estonia the contested memory of the war has reached such a state of ferocity that the one remaining memorial to those who lost their lives fighting the nazis was removed from the centre of Tallinn in the face of violent protests led by Russian-speaking Estonians. It is a surprise therefore to find such good sense on a inscription in the entrance to the city’s Museum of Occupation and Fight for Freedom: “The preservation of historical memories helps to strengthen the identity of both the people and the state. Regardless of what the past has brought, happiness or mourning, honour or shame, it merits being remembered. The past can’t be removed from memory.”
Marking the 70th anniversary of the opening of the Eastern Front against Nazism, Philosophy Football have produced a set of T-shirts. Designer and co-founder of the company Hugh Tisdale took inspiration from a flyer originally produced in the besieged city of Leningrad. Surrounded by the Nazis for almost two years the city never surrendered, their message of defiance now proudly displayed once again seventy years later, this time across a T-shirt: “All the people are with the City of Lenin, the Enemy will not Enter the City of Lenin!”
From 1941 the Communist Party in Britain campaigned tirelessly in support of the Eastern front against Nazism. It sought the broadest possible popular support, framed by the 1930s experience of battling the Blackshirts and raising Aid to Spain in its civil war against Franco in the face of the British Government’s shameful policy of non-intervention. Today it is only fitting to make those connections once again, not in celebration of war, but to honour the anti-fascist cause for which it was fought, then and forever.
"All the people are with the City of Lenin, the Enemy will not Enter the City of Lenin!" The T-shirt is available in sizes S-XXL from www.philosophyfootball.com