The Russian View: the U.S. and W.W. II

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Host Jennifer Ludden interviews Russian political scientist Yevgeniya Albats about the Russian view of this year's V-E Day celebrations. The date has had great traditional importance for Russians, who lost more than 20 million lives in the war against Nazi Germany. Albats says this year that many Muscovites are furious about being excluded from the festivities, because the city center is off limits to all but invited dignitaries.


To get a Russian view on the anniversary events, we called Yevgenia Albats. She's a professor of political science at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. I began our conversation by asking her about the comments President Bush made yesterday in Latvia. He called the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe after World War II `one of the greatest wrongs of history.' I asked Ms. Albats what ordinary Russians think of this.

Professor YEVGENIA ALBATS (Higher School of Economics): First of all, there is mixed information about what really happened in the Baltic republics in 1945. Not that many old Russians do know that many civilians, many ordinary Latvians, Estonians and Lithuanians, got into Siberia after Soviet soldiers, so to say, liberated them from Germans. Therefore, there are plenty of people here who are quite disturbed by what they see as the revision of history of the World War II and an attempt on the part of foreign powers to reduce the role of Russia, or the Soviet Union for that matter, in the outcome of the World War II.

LUDDEN: Well, how important is this anniversary, the 60 years since the end of the war, to Russian people?

Prof. ALBATS: I think that this is a very strange celebration that was in Moscow, since it's not really the celebration the way we got accustomed to it in the past years. Like, for instance, you know, I myself will go to the Tomb of Unknown Soldier to put down flowers in the previous years, or I will go to talk to veterans in front of the Bolshoi Theatre. However, now in the downtown, Moscow is pretty much off limits for all of us but those who have special passes and for the invited guests. And this is very humiliating, I think, for many Muscovites and especially for those elderlies who do remember and who did carry the burden of the World War II.

LUDDEN: So are people angry that Putin has...

Prof. ALBATS: Yes. Yes.

LUDDEN: this big celebration with all the world leaders?

Prof. ALBATS: Yes. It's amazing that people who are angry about Putin, they're from all walks of life and all ideologies, you know. Now we see that, you know, Communists, you know, and liberals--they're united now in condemning Putin for making the victory day into some sort of ...(unintelligible) celebration, which is off limits to everybody else.

LUDDEN: Why do you think Vladimir Putin did invite all these leaders? What was his intent? And do you think it's going to work?

Prof. ALBATS: You know, the basic idea is just to show to the people abroad--the Russians, too, you know--that Russia is still an imminent power capable to influence the world.

LUDDEN: Russia's wartime leader was Josef Stalin. We in the West remember him as a brutal dictator, who then imposed Communist rule in Eastern Europe after the war. I'm wondering how Russians today look back and remember Stalin.

Prof. ALBATS: You know, we in Russia do remember his as a dictator as well. At least my family would remember him in that capacity very well. My great-uncle was imprisoned and then shot to death in 1937. However, there are different moods in this country right now, and some people are trying--What they say?--to bring Stalin back, to portray him as a great leader of the country who's, you know--under whose leadership the Soviet Union won the war.

LUDDEN: Yevgenia Albats is the author of "The State Within a State: The KGB and its Hold on Russia Past, Present, and Future." She spoke with us from Moscow.

Thank you so much.

Prof. ALBATS: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

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