Materials of the second film-webinar "Heroes of (Not) Our Time”
On February 28, 2019 the second film-webinar was held where the mini-series "Our mothers, our fathers" dedicated to the events of the Second World War was watched and discussed. The film-webinar was organized with the support of the Center for Biographical Research "AITIA".
The undergraduate and graduate students of the major “Cultural Studies” ("Culture of Germany", "Russian culture") at the Institute of Philosophy of the Saint-Petersburg State University, as well as students of other faculties took part in the discussion, also the special quests from Germany were invited – Lars Krause (Göttingen) and Sabina Fischotter (Hamburg, took part via Skype).
The text below is a full transcript of the discussion at the webinar, after stylistic edition and partly with translation from German.
Valeria Dudinets: We discussed the first impressions and the development of the characters. The younger brother (Friedhelm) – after the first episode I thought that he was dead, that he was killed by Russian soldiers. But he turned out to be alive, and this situation seems to be symbolic. The man, who died, was the man who we had seen in the beginning: a romantic with humanistic aspirations. In the second series he is already completely different, an experienced warrior, who is ready to die. He speaks about it directly to the other soldier, when they are left alone.
Sabina Fischotter: Yes.
Lyudmila Artamoshkina: This is really an important moment. We can just remember his own words: “The war changes people”.
This series has a very personal dimension for me. The first battle, where my father fought, was the Kursk battle. My father had been through the whole war as a messenger. The messenger is a part of the infantry (in Russia there is a saying: “dear mother infantry”). He goes ahead as the first and provides the communication. And, as my father said: “I crawled on my belly the whole war”. And we understand that who goes ahead takes the first hits. So for me the story told in the series has a very certain dimension. It is interesting for me, how this story is interpreted by the younger generation.
The image of the war shown in the series is unusual for us. And it is necessary for Russian audience, although it can be interpreted in many different ways.
Valeria Dudinets: This series is difficult to adapt to our circumstances. In our society events of the Great Patriotic War are much politicized and are used for propaganda.
Lyudmila Artamoshkina: Yes, it is true. But other problem can be more interesting – how the vision of the series imposes on your previous experiences, on Russian images of war. Did it help you to see something from the other perspective?
Lars Krause: At the beginning, it is important to say, that the series was created for one country, it is focused on this country, and it reflects its unique cultural self-consciousness, although it bears the imprint of two lost world wars. This is the problem, which is very clear reflected by the series. This series actually does not represent German. More likely it represents some longing, regret (anyway, I think so), but it regretfully overlooks original German values.
Sabina Fischotter: Is it so?
Lars Krause: The Germany as it had once been, how it was imagined, this German idea was never embodied. Thereby, the “good” German idea was not come true, mainly because of distorting through rationalistic tendency. This is the tragedy of the Second World War. It is about two tendencies of the Enlightenment, and about the fact, that its rationalistic tendency clearly prevailed. And it is one of the causes of the World War. So this series is for me more like a reflection on this theme than a representation of something truly “German”.
Alena Rezvukhina: How I understand, this series is only one-sided reflection of the German society, only negative tendencies, which prevailed. The Resistance is not reflected, which nevertheless existed. If we compare, how Poland and Germany are reflected in the series, Poland is reflected more complexly, more ambiguously. On the one hand, they are against Germans; on the other hand, they are against Jews. Germans have more or less one position, they are influenced by the ideas, which caused the war.
Lyudmila Artamoshkina: So it seems that your generation sees it this way that German protagonists are reflected from the negative side. But I have seen rather not the negative side, but more something human – the humanity of Germans.
Sabina Fischotter:: Yes.
Daria Krushinskaya: I could not agree. The main motive of the series – the war takes the worst out of people. And, respectively, everybody is reflected with the same gray colors, people are turned in war into monsters. It does not depend on the rationality of the Germans or on the other factors.
Lyudmila Artamoshkina: And the Russians are not reflected in the series, it is important. Their image is neutral.
Lars Krause: It is clearly the preferred position. This series was created with great caution. Germany is in the situation, when everybody in the world can point a finger at its past: “see, what you have done – two world wars!” Germany lost two world wars and is ashamed. The series is based on this issue. It is perfectly clear that it was made by the Germany which exists today. The German government is also deeply influenced by such feelings – they are week people. They are ashamed and blame the ideas which plunge Germany into catastrophes of the XX century, but at the same time they negate and are trying to eliminate other values which were important in the past. They rule the country which has not any “strengths”, only weaknesses. But people who do not appreciate their own values cannot appreciate values of others. It is dangerous and it already has some consequences. For example, the AfD party (the party of right wing extremists in Germany Alternative für Deutschland - remark).
Alena Rezvukhina: But is the whole series influenced by this caution? What about, for example, Polish protagonists, can we say, that they are reflected with a caution?
Sabina Fischotter: Polish audience which saw this series has been feeling insulted because their partisans were reflected, in their opinion, as some monsters-anti-Semites. They did not want to accept it.
I should say that I strongly disagree with the opinion of Lars that such movements as AfD are created because of the weakness of our parents. Such parties are at the moment created all over the world, it is a global trend.
Lars Krause: Yes, of cause, on the one hand, it is a global trend. But its connection with the inner weakness of people is still present. In the case of Germany it happens through its overwhelming politics, and AfD is trying to construct its image as the opposite to this politics. But any of the parties does not support true German values, neither AfD nor their opponents. It is usual way for Germans. The understanding of our true self, of our nature occurs under the maximal tension and pressure. Because this true self was deformed, “unhealthy”, which, for example, did not happened in Russia. As the result everything which is directly connected to the German nature or German culture should hidden and terminated. AfD is only a side effect of this process. The example of Poland and its reflection in the series demonstrates a significant trend, and namely, which conclusion should be made from the fact, that the image of Poles is better and more complex than the image of Germans? Political taboo for Polish historians to research the ambiguity of the Polish position in the Second World War – is a step in the wrong direction.
This absolutely does not mean that there was something good about Nazism. Germany bears great responsibility towards the world. I am only speaking about the fact that the history is incorrectly interpreted. For example, Russia has found a right decision in this case: Stalin proposed to locate nearby two types of soldier's burials – for Germans and for Soviet soldiers. It is the first step to a common future.
Sabina Fischotter: I think that the difference between Poland and Russia is caused by the fact that Russia did won. When they come they freed Poland. Because of that they threat us on the different way, because Russians can forgive if they are winners.
Lyudmila Artamoshkina: By this discussion the question how we speak about the war is of great importance. My generation does not speak about the war in the terms of Victory - it is modern political lexis. My generation and the generation of my father does not use such worlds as: “we defeated someone“, we speak “we freed somebody”. Today the perception and the lexis are changing and some incorrect slogans are appearing (“Thank my grandfather for the Victory”, “1941-1945: we can repeat” and so one – transcriptor’s note). Russia was a deliverer first of all for its own people. Songs which were well known, for example, “Alyosha” are connected with the thought: “freedom for us, for Russia, for world”. For us this is what the war was about. The key image was the image of the soldier who frees people. About the Victory speak generations which are separated by the time gape from the war events.
The perception of the war is also reflected and at the same time created by the war movies. For my generation such movies as “The Cranes Are Flying” (direct. by M.Kalatozov, 1957), “Ivan’s childhood” (direct. by A. Tarkovsky, 1962), “Fate of a Man” (direct. by S. Bondarchuk, 1959) were without any doubt of great importance.
Lars Krause: I have seen plenty of Russian documental films about the war, but I did not seen any feature films.
Lyudmila Artamoshkina: Germany started to create its own images of the war in the cinematography much later, it is understandable, so it is the reason they only so late come to us. But why in Germany where is so much reflection about the memory, people do not know Russian war films? This situation puzzles and shows that we passed through the second half of twentieth century without an attempt to understand each other.
Sabina Fischotter: By the literature the situation is better, at the Philological Faculty (Russian studies) we studied for example “Quietly Flows the Don”.
Lars Krause: I understand that such problem exists. I am living in Russia half a year, and it seems to me that I began to understand (at least partly) the Russian vision of the war, what do Russian people think of it, what feelings it causes. I also helped in the German Embassy in St. Petersburg by the creation of a documentary about the Siege of Leningrad, and I think this way I was able to get closer with the understanding of this tragedy. I collected books about survivors of the blockade, which were translated into German. My grandmother, a refugee from Königsberg, also left a memoir of her experience of the war. And translating memories of the war into each other's languages would be a great opportunity to exchange our images of war, our memories.
Lyudmila Artamoshkina: But for the beginning we can exchange also movies. What would you advise to the German audience?
Audience: As a film with the most accurate images of the war “The Dawns Here Are Quiet” can be named.
Daria Yumatova: And is there a movie based on the Vasil Bykov’s novel of “Sotnikov”?
Lyudmila Artamoshkina: Yes. This film is named “The Ascent” (direc. by Larisa Shepitko, 1976).
Valeria Dudinets: I would also, first of all, name the films of the Soviet time. Modern films are clearly commercialized. Such films do not aim to pass on our attitude to the war. They're too political.
Daria Krushinskaya: Not exactly about the war, but about the postwar time tells the Soviet film "Mirror for the Hero" (direc. V.L. Khotinenko, 1987). In the story, a man falls into the past, in the year of his birth, and sees how his parents, in fact, restore the country after the war. This is a good example of the perception of war through eyes of different generations, because the protagonist at the beginning does not understand deeds of his parents, until he sees it with his own eyes.
Nika Bezverkhova: I think it is very important for Russia to see and know such films, both Russian and German – not isolated from each other. When I was in 5th grade and said I wanted to learn German, my classmates asked something like: "Why? You want to be a Nazi?" Children sometimes do not separate Germans and Nazis, do not understand that it is not the same thing to be a German and a Nazi. Therefore, it is important to learn and know the history of those events.
Daria Yumatova: Yes, when I was learning German, my brother also said it was the language of the Nazis. He did not understand my desire to learn the language.
Sabina Fischotter: When I was in 1988 in Odessa, I was introduced to a family, and their child did not believe that I was German, because for him the German was the image of a monster.
Valeria Dudinets: I think not in all Russian families we can meet such a prejudice against the Germans. For example, no one in my family treated the Germans like that. Maybe this is due to the fact that we have mixed national roots, and that even in school, half of the children studied German.
Lyudmila Artamoshkina: Our generation had no such connection between a German and a Nazi. Even when we played "war", we divided into Russians and Nazis, not Germans. And then there is a mixture of these images. The perception of war by my father's generation was immediate, bodily, and therefore the distinction was clear. For example, this applies to children in the war – both Russian and German. Moreover, capturing the German dugouts, they even praised the organization, the German order.
The key pint in the series is that it gives a possibility to see a three-dimensional picture of the war. Politicization is not directly visible. Do you think this is really so or the series is still trying to adapt to the modern viewer?
Valeria Dudinets: The series does not go to extremes; we never see the actions of the SS and something like that. The series tries to stay neutral, does not idealize the Germans and does not show them as cruel killers (their cruelty is not demonstrative).
Lyudmila Artamoshkina: I agree – the series is soft on accents, there is no question of the participation of the Wehrmacht in the massacres and so on. In this sense, the series is cautious, but it's understandable – it's a painful topic for Germany. So for the series as the initial stage of talking about this topic, it's the right caution. In this regard, for the Russian audience it is somehow "easier": we know what happened. But for German families it may be now to painful to see and accept it.
Sabina Fischotter: I'm a little confused: what exactly we're not ready for?
Lyudmila Artamoshkina: I'll explain. There is one of our films - "Come and see" (direc. E. Klimov, 1985). And it captures the war that we have in memory. And I don't know if the German audience is ready for such images.
In series also such a phrase was said: "humanity on war is impossible." "Ivan's Childhood", "Fate of a Man" – are in some way an answer to this, a different view.
Here is another problem that worries me: we do not watch German films about the war, and the Germans do not watch and do not know our films.
Daria Krushinskaya: Regarding this series, when it was released, the Russian Ministry of foreign Affairs officially did not recommend it for viewing, because it can cause conflicting feelings. Perhaps our audience is not prepared?
Lyudmila Artamoshkina: I don't believe we're not ready. We are imposed that we are unable to understand this, unable to accept that, but it is not true. Young people in big cities, young people in the provinces - you have in a large part unified view, so it makes no sense to assume that someone will misunderstand the series. This series, the discussion around it, and the very situation of the discussion means that we intellectuals are not fulfilling our mission. But our future depends on such stories. It is time to read Hannah Arendt. Her main text is "Responsibility and Judgment". For intellectuals, the link between responsibility and judgment is fundamental. Another important book: “Private Man against the Millennial Reich” by Sebastian Hafner. These are extremely important texts for those who deal with German culture – and not only for them.