May 01, 2015

A War By Any Other Name

A War By Any Other Name

This year marks the seventieth anniversary of the end of the Великая отечественная война (Great Patriotic War), which continues to be remembered with a plethora of remarkable fiction, nonfiction, and films, both new and old. But before you immerse yourself in reminiscences or celebration this May, it might be helpful to brush up on Russian wartime lingo. Some of it has been forgotten, and some of it has become increasingly charged, both emotionally and politically.

The first tricky issue is what to even call the war. Великая отечественная война – abbreviated as ВОВ – actually only refers to the war that the Soviet Union fought, starting with the Nazi attack on June 22, 1941, and ending on May 9, 1945, when news of German capitulation reached the USSR. It is part of, but not the same as, Вторая мировая война (the Second World War), which began on September 1, 1939, and ended on September 2, 1945, when the Japanese signed the final documents of surrender.

Importantly, these names aren’t just “what each country calls the war,” but rather two almost separate wars. If your Dad or Granddad fought against the Japanese army in the Pacific, you can’t show solidarity with your Russian friends by saying: Он воевал в Великой отечественной (he fought in the Great Patriotic War). They might even take offense, as if you were laying claim to something that wasn’t yours.

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