May 7, 2009,
On Great Patriotic War, Historical Truth and Our Memory. New Video on Dmitry Medvedev’s Blog.
PRESIDENT DMITRY MEDVEDEV: In each of our lives there are holidays and memorable dates that are of particular importance. And there are cases when the boundaries blur, when the personal becomes public, when the general is seen as very intimate, very personal. May 9, Victory Day, is a perfect example of such a celebration. This is our common holiday, a holiday for all of us, a holiday for every Russian family. Naturally we each have our own associations with this holiday. And as a rule this is because of our close relatives, our grandparents and great-grandparents who fought, who went through the crucible of war.
Both my grandfathers fought in the war. One of them, Afanasy Fedorovich Medvedev, fought at Malaya Zemlya [a famous battle in 1943 by a small contingent of the Soviet Naval Infantry to defend a city of Novorossiysk that lasted 225 days]. And when he reminisced about that time, tears always came to his eyes, because every time he was reliving the battle. It was a period in his life that was fraught with high drama. And my other grandfather, Veniamin Sergeyevich Shaposhnikov, also fought in the war. Fortunately as it turned out they both came back from the front. I still remember when I was a child talking with both of them about the Great Patriotic War. For me at that age it was fascinating to hear them talk about both the terrible things and the very ordinary ones that characterised their experiences in the war. In this sense they were an invaluable source of information. They were my link with the war, but of course all of us have loved ones who can serve as sources of such information.
I remember when as a child I first went to the Blockade of Leningrad Museum. And of course I was shocked by the avalanche of grief caused by that blockade and the enormous, unparalleled courage shown by the residents of our city. This moment will stay in my mind forever. The same is true of some of the heartbreaking exhibits that are always on display in this museum.
In January this year I spoke with Daniil Granin [a Russian writer, best known as the author of stories about Soviet intelligentsia] when I presented him our highest state award. He talked about the lessons of that tragic time. He said that those who survived were the ones who, with no thought for their own lives or their own health, went about saving other people. There is a great truth here, a very simple truth.
Every year Victory Day takes on a new meaning. And unfortunately it is not always of a celebratory kind. We have become increasingly confronted with what have to be called historical falsifications. Moreover – and I am sure many of you have noticed this – such attempts have become increasingly determined, malicious and aggressive. It would seem that as time flows inexorably onward, it distances us further and further from the war. Nevertheless the number of interpretations of this period, some of which are very controversial, continues to grow. Why is this happening? Of course, every subject can be reinterpreted over time, but perhaps in this case it is because there are fewer and fewer people who fought in the war, who saw it with their own eyes. And this vacuum, this gap – either through ignorance or often deliberately – is being filled by a new vision, new ways of representing the war.
And indeed we find ourselves in a situation where we need to defend the historical truth, and even to reiterate those facts that have up until very recently seemed totally obvious. It is difficult to have to do this, sometimes it is actually repugnant, I have to admit. But it needs to be done.
We must not close our eyes to the terrible truth of war. And, on the other hand, we will not allow anyone to impugn the great heroism of our people.
Today those of us who are 30, 40, 50, 60 years old are in effect contemporaries of the veterans of the Great Patriotic War. It is from them that we have heard stories about what happened, I just talked about it. And of course first and foremost we congratulate them on this sacred Victory Day. However, we are the only ones who can pass on this memory to our children, our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren. And while that memory lives, Victory Day will always be one of the greatest holidays of our people.
I would like to say a few words as well to those who are under twenty. I think Vasily Klyuchevsky [a Russian historian] was absolutely right when he said that history teaches us nothing but only punishes us for not learning its lessons. That’s why it is very important not just to be interested in history but to know it as well. Not so you can make a brilliant display of your knowledge with friends. You need to know it for your future and therefore for the future of our country. We must preserve our historical memory. Our shared memory.