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Category: History

"Impact on the East" in the Soviet historical discourse


UDC 94 (474.5)

M.E. Meham



Article is devoted to the analysis of the concept "An impact on the East" in the Soviet historical discourse. Reference points of the concept on the basis of which its theoretical framework is under construction are allocated.

This article analyses the & #34; thrust toward the East" concept in the Soviet historical discourse. The author identifies the bases of this concept underlying its theoretical framework.

The subject of crusades to the Baltics is rather popular, and the field of its interpretations: very widely. Any given treatment depends, first of all, on a historical era in which it appears. One of such concepts arises in the 30th of the 20th century in the Soviet Union and "The impact on the East", or "Drang nach Osten" 1 is called.

In Soviet period well understood the importance of the past for formation of the present. The historical science was actively used by the Soviet ideological car for promotion, formation of outlook and formation of collective ideas of the past. Only those events which were important for modern Soviet reality were considered. The facts which were not corresponding to these installations indulged in oblivion. Historians not only selected certain data on the basis of which reconstructed history, but also considered them from positions of dogmas of "the Marxist-Leninist doctrine".

We do not set a task to expose views of the Soviet scientists. It is necessary to understand those conditions which influenced views of historians in the USSR, formed their methodological and historiographic approaches. It is also necessary to remember that this historical subjectivity is in many respects connected with that system of values, with those value reference points which dominated at that time.

The concept of "An impact on the East" — one of examples when the historical science was mobilized for service to the interests of the Soviet Union. The intense situation between fascist Germany and the USSR developed into information and ideological war which was waged including by historians of 1930 — the 1940th. In this war the Soviet researchers had to be responsible for ideological defense of the native land. A. Sveshnikov considers that "the speed of reaction became the important principle of scientific activity of historians" [14].

Medievalists very quickly found a subject which would open the hostile historical nature of the German militarism. In this regard a number of the works devoted to aggression of the German crusaders to the Baltics and on Rus2 was published. Not accidentally in the same time at movie theaters well-known was shown: the movie by Sergey Eisenstein "Alexander the Nevsky" about blood-thirsty knights of the Teutonic Order, "blood covered" the Russian zemlyu3. This

1 In Soviet period there were also other concepts of "Drang nach Osten". For example, the group of authors led by V.D. Korolyuk investigated the German foreign policy called "east policy" and the German empire which is carried out from the moment of education in 1871 until the end of World War I.
2 For example: N.P. Gratsiansky. The German aggression in the Baltics in the XIII—XV centuries / / the Historian Marxist. 1938. No. 6. Page 87 — 111; Against fascist falsification of history: sb. nauch. metro station; L., 1939.
3 In F. Schenk's work. "Alexander Nevsky in the Russian cultural memory: the Saint, the governor, the national hero (1263 — 2000)" is in detail analyzed symbolics in the movie "Alexander Nevsky".

Bulletin of the Russian state university of I. Kant. 2010. Issue 12. Page 78 — 84.


the movie in many respects also put the main stereotypes and ideas of German "Drang nach Osten" in cultural memory of the Soviet people.

Temporary disappearance of a subject of "impact" from research space was connected with the conclusion in 1939 of Molotov's pact — Ribbentropa [18, page 395]. Within two years of the critic of fascist Germany was under the secret ban. Same year the movie "Alexander Nevsky" was sent to the shelf. The panorama of historical reality changed once again [14].

From the beginning of the Great Patriotic War the concept of "An impact on the East" returns to "front line" of the Soviet mediyevistika again, but now at higher propaganda level. Interest of scientists is attracted by historical symbolical parallels. German "aggressors" in 1941, as well as 800 years ago, set "hordes" on the East, having artfully committed assaults on Russian lands without declaration of war. According to M.A. Zaborov, even "the rascally plan of attack on the Soviet Union Hitlerites called by the name of the German leader of the third crusade, the emperor Frederick I Barbarossa" [4, page 237].

It is no wonder that in the years of war in honor of Alexander Nevsky the award was founded — the Novgorod prince personified courage and courage.

During "cold" war of the USSR fights against "noxious" influence of the capitalist world, on the horizon new enemies appear. Medievalists update contents of the concept and concentrate on new objects of a research (for example, Papal curia, the Swedish and Danish crusaders). And though after the end of World War II the subject of "An impact on the East" becomes not so relevant, "Drang nach Osten" finds the niche, having for a long time been fixed in the Soviet historical discourse.

The concept of "Drang nach Osten" which arose in the 30th of the 20th century in the subsequent acquires new details. Historians create the myth which is strongly approved in cultural memory of the people. Also the fact that researchers pay attention to the same historic facts is indicative. Thanks to strict observance of a plot, key images of events which in everyday life are present at active memory are created and do not demand efforts for recall.

Reference points of the concept can be reduced by six highlights. These are the questions connected with the reasons and the purposes of crusades to the Southwest Baltics and to Russia with images of "enemy" and "", with gain methods, with concepts of the Nevsky fight and the Battle on the ice, with image of the Novgorod prince Alexander Nevsky.

Reasons and purposes. After a number of large failures in the Middle East the vector of aggression of crusaders at the beginning of the 13th century was displaced towards the European continent. Despite this, according to the Soviet historians, motives which forced knights to leave the houses and to go to distant campaigns, remain the same. It is occupation of lands and riches [7, page 694; 4, page 210], "robbery" [15, page 47], "a colonial yoke" for the occupied people [11, page 15].

According to scientists, knights since ancient times tried to podyachinit violently baltsky and Slavic tribes [5, page 88]. The series of invasions in the 13th century on the southeast coast of the Baltic Sea were only one of stages of their approach to the East [10, page 106] which "was a part of the system of the military and colonial movement of crusades" [5, page 88]. Besides, existence of colonies in this region allowed the Western European feudal lords to control the Baltic Sea and, respectively, trade that was one more source of their enrichment [10, page 107].

One of the ideas which is traced in works of the Soviet researchers, is as follows: occupation of Baltic lands was only a prelude to the solution of the main objective — expansion of crusaders on Russian lands. It also was that ultimate goal which was constantly pursued both knights feudal lords, and Papal curia with the German emperor [10, page 107; 17, page 170].

Image of "enemy". The idea of "enemy" in the concept of "An impact on the East" corresponds to initiators and participants of crusades to Russia and Southeast Baltic.

Most of authors of the pre-war period identify responsible for "bloody Drang naA Osten" on national sign; driving force here — the German knights feudal lords [3, page 147]. These "revelations of fascist obscurantism" [14], creation of a negative image of the enemy in a historical retrospective are connected with a propaganda task. The image "chained in iron" of the German crusader for years of war so took roots in historical literature that many historians of the next generations took this cliche for granted.

After the end of World War II the concept plot changes a little, other initiators of aggression on baltsky and Russian lands appear. Along with militarism" predatory

the German knights" [4, page 209] is investigated also a role of the Swedish and Danish knights in crusades to the Southeast Baltics. But if the Danish crusaders are interesting to medievalists only in the context of conquest by the Western European feudal lords of Northern Estonia, then the Swedish knights occupy much more important role in "An impact on the East". Swedes encroached not only on baltsky lands, but also on the Russian territories that transferred them at once to category of main "enemies". Besides, the Swedish crusaders were connected with one of the main concepts of "Drang naA Osten" — with the Nevsky fight.

Analyzing the reasons of "impact", the Soviet historians agree in opinions that among the main initiators of bloody "Drang naA Osten" there was a Catholic church headed by Popes. The papal curia actively participated in preparation of approach of crusaders, promoting and supporting "aggressive approach of the German, Swedish and Danish feudal lords" [7, page 14]. Besides, "the apostolic throne found a pretext for crusades: Slavs and Baltic tribes stagnate in paganism. But papacy under the slogans of Christianization hid the true intentions. Thirst of wealth, robbery and occupation of lands — here by what were guided the Western European clericals" [12, page 64].

Nationality and religion — not the only criteria by which initiators of "impact" were classified. According to the Marxist-Leninist doctrine, medievalists focus attention on the class nature of military campaigns, the feudal and colonial nature of policy of crusaders. Feudal lords and dealers act as main "enemies". The first went to the Southeast Baltics and to Russia to get to themselves new lands together with peasants who could be exploited [5, page 89; 12, page 5]; the second followed cheap goods and easy profit [5, page 89].

Image "of", or "friend". "" In the concept of "An impact on the East" — all this who confronts krestonosny aggression. In this regard for the Soviet historians "" are and Russian principalities, and the baltsky people. It is interesting that different Russian principalities act in this context as a single whole, i.e. as the uniform people which fought back approach of the Western European knights. The concept "uniform Russia" dominates over the concept "independent principalities". The Novgorod and Pskov republics are considered only in the context of joint fight, but not as the separate public entities which had own interests. According to V.T. Pashuto, in the Battle on the ice the Novgorodians are first of all the Russian people who "battle for a right cause, i.e. for the homeland" [9, page 77].

Also from a position "friend" the baltsky people which suffered from actions of "predatory knights" are considered by medievalists. Lithuanians, bodices, esta, prussa resisted "Drang naoh Osten" in this connection become "". But their fight against crusaders without support from Russia was doomed to a failure as, according to researchers, baltsky tribes "are not valid enough to fight back the enemy" [6, page 48]. The people of the Baltics are forced to look for the help at Russia which "was the only force able to resist to an impact of crusaders" [7, page 14].

Baltsky tribes in the concept of "impact" are "" also because the Southeast Baltics before arrival of crusaders had close ties with Russia which "promoted distribution in these lands of feudal culture and accelerated the social and economic relations". So, according to V.T. Pashuto, "the Russian domination in the Baltics was not followed by either military occupation of the subject territory, or mass colonization, or violent Christianization" [7, page 695].

Gain methods. Interest in this subject is not accidental. Focusing attention on features of methods of gain and using a number of a cliche, historians formed a negative image of crusaders.

A popular subject for medievalists — exclusive cruelty of crusaders [5, page 88]. The Soviet historians describe how the Western European knights during the military campaigns "massively exterminated the subdued population" [7, page 692], made "violence, robberies and arsons". If locals were not killed, then turned into slavery [3, page 147]. For the adoption of the domination the crusaders together with clericals "imposed Catholic belief which distribution was followed by terrible violence" [5, page 89]. All these actions led the people to extinction and assimilation [11, page 15].

Tactics of knights, according to scientists, consisted in application of perfidious receptions, such as contentions between local community and dissociation of the Russian princes [10, page 89, 111].

Nevsky fight and Battle on the ice. In 1240 the Swedish knights on coast of Neva were broken by the Novgorod militia. In two years, in the 1242nd, on ice of Lake Chudskoye already German

crusaders got beaten by the Novgorod team led by Alexander Yarosla-vich. These two battles became the central moments of the concept of "An impact on the East".

Historical sources of the 13th century practically report nothing about these fights [2, page 186], and from 80th of the 13th century various stereotypes around the Nevsky fight and the Battle on the ice begin to develop [2, page 183]. During the Soviet era the mythologization of these events actively proceeds.

In a historical discourse of the Soviet Union the formation of myths concerns, first of all, scale and consequences of the Nevsky fight and the Battle on the ice and also an image of the Novgorod prince Alexander Yaroslavich. Medievalists began to create stereotypic ideas of these events in pre-war time, but from the beginning of the Great Patriotic War this subject begins to be used actively for promotion and a raising of fighting spirit of the Soviet people.

As for the scale of the considered events, in the works V.T. Pashuto calls the Battle on the ice "until then unprecedented" [9, page 77] and "the largest fight of the early Middle Ages" [7, page 851]. For I.P. Shaskolsky the Nevsky fight is "one of the largest fights in the centuries-old history of our country" [16, page 15]. But, according to a right remark of I.N. Danilevsky, "in the 13th century there were too many such battles", and on their background the Nevsky fight and the Battle on the ice are allocated with nothing [2, page 187].

The main result of the Nevsky fight and the Battle on the ice is that after defeat of knights on ice of Lake Chudskoye "end" was for the first time put to "An impact on the East" [7, page 851]. That is these victories at the same time "saved the Russian people from overseas enslavement" [7, page 15] and "made mighty impact on strengthening of national liberation fight of Baltic nationalities" [5, page 104]. Defeat of the Western European feudal lords "at the same time was defeat of long-term policy of papacy", i.e. one of the main ideologists of crusades [8, page 304]. However the same historians give in the works a set of the facts which show that the impact of crusaders after the Nevsky fight and the Battle on the ice did not stop [2, page 196], and it gives rise to contradictions.

An image of the Novgorod prince — central in the concept "Drang ts Osten". In addition Alexander Nevsky — one of the main characters of the Soviet pantheon of heroes. Historians not accidentally addressed its figure. Alexander Yaroslavich is a large political figure of the 13th century, the commander who had successful experience in fight against Western European "aggressors". The resolute and talented military leader together with the Russian people sweeps away "hordes" of crusaders [9, page 67]. The Novgorod prince personifies the winner for whom "to preserve northwest border of Russia — a point of honor" [9, page 61].

On formation of data of the key, basic moments of the considered concept, undoubtedly, have impact and features of vocabulary used by scientists. Mainly it is created due to use of expressional and sharply negative characteristics of crusades in the Southeast Baltics and in Russia.

Medievalists call crusaders "robbers" [7, page 782], "enslavers" [1, page 284], "predators" [4, page 209] and "tyrants" [13, page 110] who by means of "fire and a sword" turned "prosperous countries to the desert" (K. Marx, tsit. on: [3, page 147]) also got "a feudal yoke" [10, page 116]. The German knights are called "dogs knights" and "scoundrels" — such characteristic of the Teutonic Order was entered into use by Karl Marx. A part of the reflections of the founder of Marxism which are snatched out from a context about crusades formed the basis of the Soviet historical discourse. "Thanks to Marx's authority these several offers were already considered as faultless, and the place of the publication did them kind of by sacral formulas" [18, page 285].

According to it baltsky tribes are "the oppressed people", "slaves" and together with the Russian people "victims" which "heroically" fight against an impact of crusaders.

Using such words as "aggression", "dogs knights", "heroic and, liberating fight", the Soviet scientists create images of "the enemy and the hero", "bad and good", "the — the stranger".

So, the concept "Drang ts Osten" represents the ideologized representation of the past which has considerable stability. The main goal of the concept "An impact on the East" is to show that the "artful" policy of the Western European feudal lords and papacy is doomed to a failure, and "heroic", "fair" liberating fight of baltsky tribes and the Russian people will gain a victory.


List of references

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18. Schenk F. Alexander Nevsky in the Russian cultural memory: Saint, governor, national hero (1263 — 2000). M, 2007.

About the author

Maxim Evgenyevich Meham — asp., the Russian state university of I. Kant, email:


Maxim Megem, PhD student, IKSUR, e-mail:

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