Myth of Russia in German Culture

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After the war a special attitude of the Germans toward the Russians was based on real experience. Writers, artists, and theater figures reported about educated officers from the Soviet occupation zone who not only knew the German culture well, but also loved it.

The politicians who came into contact with the Red Army officers were surprised by their openness, friendliness, and cordiality. Eyewitnesses talked about how ordinary Soviet soldiers loved children. This fact shocked the Germans who knew what the eastern winners had experienced and what they themselves had experienced. Even the prisoners of war who came back from the camps had sincere warm feelings for the Russians and recalled some kindhearted soldiers, civilians or doctors. At the same time, there were clichés that were allegedly confirmed by life and experience. They include the unpredictability of the Russians (“Ivans”, as they were called until the 1970s), their fluctuation between patient kindness and raging cruelty, brutality even. Along with the stories about stealing watches and other ill deeds performed by the American soldiers (who were as a matter of fact rather wealthy), there were jokes about the Russians’ inability to use the toilet. This confirms the Germans’ civilizational superiority. Moreover, stories about the mass rape of German women by the Soviet soldiers during the seizure of German territories on the eastern bank of the Elbe played an important role. Just like with the prisoners of war, an image of a cruel enemy was also being shaped here, whereas former German soldiers as well as propaganda preferred to keep silent about their own actions on the Soviet Union territory.

In the 1950s and partly in the 1960s, the image of the enemy was renewed. Russia is the Communists, the Soviets, and the Russians. Again there are new calls to rebuff Bolshevism (Abendland gegen den Bolschewismus) where we can hear clear echoes of the National Socialist period. The USSR is perceived once again as a huge military empire preparing an attack on Western Europe and ready to launch it given half a chance.

There was a famous poster of the 1950s displaying a huge repulsive and terrifying Soviet soldier with Mongoloid features. The text directed against the German Social Democracy goes as follows: “All ways of Marxism lead to Moscow!” A more direct call was contained in the 1952 poster issued by the pro-government People’s Union for peace and freedom. The poster depicted a Russian soldier grabbing a woman. It read: «Frau komm…» (come over here, woman) [3:225]. We can say that largely the identity of the Federal Republic of Germany at its early stages was shaped by a consistent adoption of the ideology of open hostility towards the USSR.

The hostility towards the USSR as the ideology built on known stereotypes of barbarism, savagery, and expansionist ambitions can be clearly seen in the publications of such respected periodicals as Stuttgarter Zeitung. When the Soviet ambassador S.K. Tsarapkin arrived in Germany in January 1969, the newspaper wrote that he had a powerful voice, big bony head and hands, bear-like face (gewaltige Stimme, Kopf und Hände grobknochig, bärbeißiges Gesicht), a facial expression as if he could overpower a bear bare-handed; to put it in a nutshell, he was bad news [3:226].

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