Myth of Russia in French Culture

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This is the period when a new trend emerges in French literature – a desire to equate fascism and Stalinism; this trend persists in France even today.

The Iron Curtain seemed to cut the Soviet world off from the French for good. At the same time, it made the “evil empire” much less interesting for them. By and large, over the post-war years and up to the fall of the Iron Curtain not a single really “landmark” work on Russia was written in France. Russia was once again perceived as a dangerous rival, planning to take over not only France but all of Europe, as a country with all sorts of negative aspects to it, which could never conform to French values.

Certainly, winning the World War II did change the perception of Soviet Russia by the French. However, it was still hard for people to have a liking for the country that had won over fascism amongst all the stereotypes of the pre-war era. Before France’s humiliating defeat in the war everyone kept talking about the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact which they believed confirmed the idea of “sameness” of the two dictators and the two “big” ideologies of the 20th century.

The anti-Soviet ideology was needed, among other things, to cover up even more shameful Munich Agreement of 1938 (Prime Minister Daladier’s behaviour was considered cowardly and unscrupulous by the contemporaries). To this day, this fact has been ignored by the official history of France by all means possible, and the World War II military campaign itself is being twisted and falsified. To realize this, it’s enough to visit the Musée de l’Armée (Army Museum) in Hôtel des Invalides where Stalingrad is barely mentioned, even less is said about Moscow Battle, and Berlin is left out completely.

Portraying Russia as a modest accomplice fits perfectly into the policy of historical memory distortion: France must be seen as the victorious country of the World War II. Even today a young French everyman is convinced that the USA and France defeated fascist Germany and turns to Charles de Gaulle to prove it.

At the same time constant interest in the Soviet Union in French literature was undeniable. One of the most famous communicators of Russian literature, history and art in France was Henri Troyat, the author of multivolume works and novels on Russian history. His biographies of great Russian writers and politicians are especially popular. For a long time, his works were treated with caution in the Soviet Union and Troyat himself was blamed for exploiting the Russian theme. On the other hand, Russia owes Troyat at the very least for, even in the most difficult times, sparking among the French interest in Russia, the country which France later formed long-standing and productive ties with.

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