Russia's Hero Cities
From Postwar Ruins to the Soviet Heroarchy
Published by: Indiana University Press
World War II, known as the Great Patriotic War to Russians, ravaged the Soviet Union and traumatized those who survived. After the war, memory of this anguish was often publicly repressed under Stalin. But that all changed by the 1960s. Under Brezhnev, the idea of the Great Patriotic War was transformed into one of victory and celebration.
In Russia's Hero Cities, Ivo Mijnssen reveals how contradictory national recollections were revised into an idealized past that both served official needs and offered a narrative of heroism. This triumphant narrative was most evident in the creation of 13 Hero Cities, now located across Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. These cities, which were host to some of the fiercest and most famous battles, were named champions. Brezhnev's government officially recognized these cities with awards, financial contributions, and ritualized festivities. Their citizens also encountered the altered history at every corner—on manicured battlefields, in war memorials, and through stories at the kitchen table. Using a rich tapestry of archival material, oral history interviews, and newspaper articles, Mijnssen provides a thorough exploration of two cities in particular, Tula and Novorossiysk.
By exploring the significance of Hero Cities in Soviet identity and the enduring but conflicted importance they hold for Russians today, Russia's Hero Cities exposes how the Great Patriotic War no longer has the power to mask the deep rifts still present in Russian society.
Map of Hero Cities
Short Description of Hero Cities
1. Heroism across Generations
2. Creating an Idealized Past: The Soviet Heroarchy from Stalin to Brezhnev
3. Victory Square: The Place of Memory in Tula
4. Great Expectations: From Postwar Ruins to a Worthy Life
5. Novorossiysk as a Monumental Ensemble: Little Land and the Ideal of War
6. Brezhnev's Beloved Novorossiysk: From Wartime Glory to Window to the World
7. Impossible Continuity
Appendix: Archives and Interviews
With his focus on two late-comers to the Soviet pantheon of Hero Cities, Tula and Novorossiysk, Ivo Mijnssen has written a fascinating history of the cultural, moral, and economic dimensions of the Russian politics of the 'Great Patriotic War.' The narrative is punctuated with enlightening insights from wide-ranging interviews, archival documents, the popular press and an analysis of the memorials themselves. This is a fine addition to the literature on how Russians remember the war.~Norman M. Naimark
To understand mature Soviet society and contemporary Russia, one must understand the hero cult of World War II. Russia's Hero Cities provide a unique lens through which we spot the specific amalgam of the Soviet people's daily lives and identities in interaction with the ruling elite. One wonders why this outstanding book did not exist earlier!~Susanne Schattenberg