Libmonster ID: BY-1595
Author(s) of the publication: Irina NOVIKOVA

by Irina NOVIKOVA, Dr. Sc. (Hist.), Dean of the Department of International Relations, St. Petersburg State University

At the end of 2013 the third international conference "The World War I, the Versailles System and Contemporaneity" was held at the Yekaterininsky Palace of the Tsarskoye Selo State Reserve Museum (St. Petersburg) attended by scientists from Russia, Ukraine, Germany, Turkey, Austria, Finland, Great Britain and others. This representative forum was sponsored by the RF Ministry of Culture, St. Petersburg State University and the RAS Institute of General History under the auspices of the Russian Military Historical Society and the Russian Humanitarian Scientific Foundation.

The World War I of 1914-1918 (or the Great War as it was called at that time) whose centenary is marked in 2014 is among the events which changed radically our planet. It not only surpassed the previous wars in the number of involved conflicting states, the size of combatant armies and means of warfare (flame-throwers, poison gases, etc.) but also caused colossal socioeconomic and political consequences, in particular, the collapse of four empires and "the epidemic of revolutions" in Europe.

Despite the fact that the first global military conflict of the 20th century confrontation of the Entente countries (coalition of Great Britain, France, Russia and others) with the Quadruple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, Bulgaria)--holds a prominent place in the world history, a lot of its aspects did not find due coverage

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in national scientific literature. For example, the role of our state in that war, whose troops held the positions in the territory from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea for almost four years thus contributing to successful military operations of the allies. It was not by chance that just this subject was chosen as a priority by the conference sponsors in St. Petersburg.

As was noted by the RF Minister of Culture Vladimir Medynsky in his complimentary cable to the conference participants "preservation of memory and restoration of

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justice are a clear position of the Russian government and public in respect of the World War I events. Today new museums and historical sites are opened, monuments and burial places are restored. A special program is adopted and implemented for construction of a new museum 'Russia in the Great War' in the Tsarskoye Selo State Reserve Museum.".

Three reports were submitted at a plenary meeting. Professor of the Ryazan State University Igor Grebenkin analyzed the moral atmosphere in different sections of Russian society on the threshold of a military confrontation of great powers. He put emphasis on viewpoints of the major public, political and state figures such as Pyotr Stolypin, Pyotr Durnovo, Pyotr Struve and Lev Tikhom-irov concerning possible entry of our country into war and noted that they treated such perspective with anxiety.

Yevgeny Sergeyev, Dr. Sc. (Hist.), from the RAS Institute of General History studied the dynamics of the Eastern (Russian) front situation in 1914-1918, which drew off almost a half of the Austro-German military forces. He stressed importance of the combat actions for achieving victory by the Entente countries. Besides, in his opinion the situation in that theater of military operations affected immensely the post-war settlement in Europe, in particular, the political and territorial changes that had taken place and also the historical destinies of our state. Denis Kozlov, Cand. Sc. (Hist.), deputy head of the Research Institute of Military History of the General Staff of RF Armed Forces (Moscow), reported on the role of the Russian Navy in defeat of the German military bloc. A special emphasis was put on aspects of a diverse and efficient cooperation between the Russian, French and British naval forces (exchange of official representatives, intelligence and technical information, conducting of operations to ensure combat actions of the allies, etc.). Besides he called the scientific community to work out jointly principles of assessment of results of the military conflict of 1914-1918 and, first of all, of criteria of contribution of a particular country to the victory over the common enemy.

The conference proceeded further within the framework of thematic sections. Professor of the St. Petersburg State University Vladimir Burkov spoke about the history of the Russian emblem, flag, anthem and decorations in the second decade of the 20th century which vividly reflected the social changes under way in the country.

In her report professor of the Lomonosov Moscow State University Irina Kuptsova, Dr. Sc. (Hist.), analyzed the attitude of representatives of the national artistic intelligentsia to "the great confrontation" of peoples. Some of them traced possible positive changes in the international status of Russia and unity of the society,

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while others, on the contrary, predicted pernicious consequences of the World War I for the country and its culture. She made a conclusion: such separation caused politization of creative community consciousness and transition of its majority to opposition to the power.

Several reports were devoted to Russia as one of the key members of the Entente (set up mainly in 1904-1907 as a counterbalance to strengthening of Germany) in the wartime. Every time when the enemy assumed the offensive in the west of Europe and the allied troops were threatened with defeat, the Russian army came to help and drew off substantial forces of the Quadruple Alliance. It enabled Great Britain and France to mobilize all resources to achieve victory over the enemy and the USA to develop defense industry, create a strong army and prepare for entry into war.

Pavel Vinogradov, Cand. Sc. (Hist.), associate professor of the Far Eastern Fire and Rescue Academy showed that Great Britain rendered assistance to Russia and became actually a monopoly creditor and a chief negotiator in placement of its military orders abroad. The fact is that the mobilization reserves created on the eve of the World War I in our country were insufficient for conducting the war. The accumulated reserves of weapons and ammunition were spent in the first 2-3 months of combat actions, which caused an acute crisis in supplying of the army.

Under the circumstances the tsarist government requested assistance of Great Britain, due to which our troops received an appreciable quantity of heavy artillery guns and ammunition and also cartridges for rifles and automatic arms. However, such assistance was not so quick and efficient as the wartime situation demanded because the allies considered the Eastern (Russian) front auxiliary and the Western (French) front the main one.

Professor of the St. Petersburg State University Irina Novikova, Dr. Sc. (Hist.), devoted her report to the transit trade which held a prominent place in the economic relations of our country and Great Britain. She emphasized such problems which were studied insufficiently in national historiography as organization of the allied supplies through the neutral Sweden and activity of the Russian-British joint-stock company Transito in this field.

The conference participants got interested in the report of Olga Khoroshilova, Cand. Sc. (Art Hist.), associate professor of the St. Petersburg State University of Technology and Design, which dealt with a little-known phenomenon of the World War I, i.e. special purpose cavalry detachments, which became a prototype of the Russian Spetsnaz. Such sabotage-reconnaissance groups existed from 1914 to 1918 and implemented most difficult tasks such as search and destruction of communication lines, blasting of a permanent way or a raid on the enemy rear facilities. Strong discipline and attention of officers to the needs of soldiers promoted their successful raids. The Russian command highly estimated activities of these units and considered them capable of influencing the course of operations as a whole.

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Mustafa Ozturk, associate professor of the Akdeniz University (Antalya, Turkey) analyzed the Russian and Osman sources on the history of the Battle of Saryka-mysh*. He put emphasis on the causes and effects of defeat of the Turkish troops in this battle and also on the personality of Enver Pasha, deputy commander-in-chief

* Battle of Sarykamysh (December of 1914-January of 1915)--a defense operation of the Russian Caucasian army against the Turkish troops in the region of Sarykamysh settlement (now Turkey).--Ed.

of the Ottoman Empire armed forces (member of the German military bloc). This general expressed neither doubts nor regret for defeat of his army regarding the events which had happened a standard of wartime life though he considered unification of forces of the Islamic peoples of Caucasia, Central Asia and Turkey as a pledge of victory of the Quadruple Alliance in the World War I.

Another section included specialists who studied the influence of the World War I on the national policy of the

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great powers and the popular movements under way in those countries. For example, professor of the Kazan Federal University Rustem Tsiunchuk, in particular, revealed the substance of the State Duma activity in respect of the so-called Polish, German, Jewish, Moslem and Ukrainian problems. He concluded that in 1914-1917 the state power referred all non-Russian peoples to the category of "aliens" thus aggravating the general conflict and crisis of the state system which accelerated the disintegration of the Russian Empire. This report had something in common with the report of Alexandra Bakhturina, Dr. Sc. (Hist.), professor of the Russian State Humanitarian University (Moscow) on promotion of "the Slavonic unity" which occupied a prominent place in the ideological activity of the tsarist government in the wartime but acquired a declarative character in the light of its foreign policy interests.

The second day of the conference was devoted to consequences of the global military conflict and the problems of creation of the Versailles-Washington system of international relations, a world order after the end of the World War I, whose foundations were laid by the Treaty of Versailles of the participating countries, the agreements of the Entente countries with the allies of Germany (1919) and between themselves (Washington Conference of 1921-1922).

Setting-up of the League of Nations was among the priorities discussed at the Paris Peace Conference by the allied victors of 1919-1920. This organization was set up with the only aim of disarmament, prevention of military actions, provision of common security and settling of disputes between countries through diplomatic channels. The idea of creation of such international organization belonged to President Woodrow Wilson, but in 1919 the US Senate did not ratify the Treaty of Versailles, of which the League of Nations Charter was a part.

But as Alexander Fomin, Cand. Sc. (Hist.), associate professor of the Moscow State University showed in his report, having abandoned the political obligations imposed by this document, Washington was keen nevertheless to participate in sharing the economic "fruits of the victory" of the World War I. By appealing to the open-door policy the USA achieved an equal access to the Middle East markets and sources of raw materials and a free hand for its educational, religious, charity and medical organizations and institutions.

It should be noted that the League of Nations (1919-1946) made an invaluable contribution to providing European security and, in particular, for the first time in history adopted an obligation not to use military methods of settling interstate conflicts. But its Charter had loopholes to warrant the aggressor's actions, lacked clearly-worded measures aimed to prevent a threat of attack, and in case of disagreements the members of this international organization reserved the right of freedom of action.

As a consequence, back in the 1920s, due to dissatisfaction with the results of the Treaty of Versailles, there

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originated revanchist sentiments in Germany and Italy (the former lost several provinces, and the latter did not receive the expected territories), which aggravated the existing contradictions inside the League of Nations. The next decade faced its crisis which revealed its inability to implement the tasks set by the Charter, in particular, to prevent the World War II of 1939-1945.

Alexandra Sagalova, Cand. Sc. (Hist.), associate professor of the North-Westem Institute of Management of the Russian Academy of National Economy and Public Service under the auspices of the RF President (St. Petersburg) analyzed books and articles by theoreticians of the British Labor Party who tried to find explanations of insolvency of the first global international organization. She divided these authors into two groups: "internationalists" believed that the League of Nations failed to do enough to achieve "worldwide unity", and "socialists" considered it incapable to introduce key changes in the international economic system.

Vladimir Fokin, Dr. Sc. (Hist.), professor of the St. Petersburg State University spoke about formation in the 1930s of the policy of appeasement, i.e. settlement of international disputes stirred up by the aggressor by handing over of secondary and insignificant (from the viewpoint of the British and French authors of this doctrine) positions to him. It is just such approach which initiated a change of the balance of forces in Europe, strengthening of Germany, coming to power of revan-chists headed by Adolf Hitler in 1933 and, as a result, breakdown of the Versailles system. Its crises, response to them of international social democracy and the antifascist strategy of the socialist movement were a subject of the report presented by Ruslan Kostyuk, Dr. Sc. (Hist.), professor of the St. Petersburg State University.

The interdisciplinary character of discussions held at the conference sessions in St. Petersburg allowed to throw light on many problems associated with understanding of the role of Russia in the first global military conflict of the 20th century thus filling a certain gap in national historiography. The conference was wound up with presentation of the first in Russia Museum of the Great War prepared by Georgi Vvedensky, a staff member of the Tsarskoye Selo State Reserve Museum.

The proceedings of the conference in which 120 Russian and foreign historians representing major universities and scientific centers took part proved to be very fruitful. Besides it drew attention of the public at large and mass media to the memorable date of the centennial of outbreak of the World War I. Its events are highly topical, and studies of them help learn necessary lessons and understand clearly problems of the present-day world.


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