Deep memory during the Crimean crisis: References to the Great Patriotic War in Russian news translation

Anneleen Spiessens

In Russian media and statements by Kremlin officials, the current war in Ukraine is regularly imagined through the lens of World War II. Protection of ethnic kins in Crimea against their local “fascist” government is even invoked to justify the annexation of the peninsula in March 2014. A narrative analysis of a corpus consisting of 770 English and French newspaper articles and 39 translations demonstrates how the Russian news translation website InoSMI re-interprets Western reports on the Crimean crisis by triggering “deep memory” (Wertsch 2008a, 2008b) of the Great Patriotic War. Through selective appropriation, translation shifts and manipulation of visual material, the internet portal highlights particular aspects of the WW II narrative template that activate simplified schemata opposing Russian “patriots” and Ukrainian “fascists.” The paper thus underscores the role of news translation as ideological memory-work.

Publication history
Table of contents

On 21 February 2015, thousands of people gathered in Moscow to mark one year since the toppling of the former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych. The rally was organised by the “Anti-Maidan movement” that wanted to prevent a similar “fascist coup” in Russia. Their rhetoric strongly echoed statements of Russian president Vladimir Putin who, in his speech at the Duma on the day of the Crimean annexation, attributed the government takeover in Ukraine to “nationalists, neo-Nazis, Russophobes and anti-Semites,” backed by their Western allies. Although acknowledging “the right to peaceful protest” against corruption, inefficient state management and poverty – after all, pro-Russian protests were spreading over the Donbass at the time – Putin concluded that “we can all clearly see the intentions of these ideological heirs of Bandera, Hitler’s accomplice during World War II.”

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