Joint history book Russia-Austria vs. The struggle of historical interpretations


The second edition of the joint book project “Russia-Austria: Milestones in Common History” was presented in Moscow. This story in itself was not easy, nor was it easy to work on the book. But historians have done their job impartially, sine ira et studio, without anger and zeal.

They dealt with the most complicated and sensitive problems in the 500-year history together. According to the book authors, not every country in Europe can boast such a long relationship with Russia in which there has been everything: friendship and cooperation, but also hostility. However, the generously edited book with numerous photos and maps reflects the common view of leading historians of Russia and Austria on bilateral relations.

So underlined Andrei Fursenko, Adviser to the Russian President and co-chair of the recently founded “Sochi Dialogue” between the civil societies of Russia and Austria, with whose financial support this issue was undertaken: “Today, more than ever, we need common historical works that express different opinions , Because there is not always a desire to find a common position. Not a compromise in which everyone has to do without something and remains secretly dissatisfied with this concession. It’s about trying to find a mutually acceptable solution. In this case, both sides see themselves as winners. They really won because they found a common view. ”

                    Sputnik / Nikolaj Jolkin

Viktor Iščenko, co-secretary of the Austrian-Russian Historical Commission

Fursenko continued: “People have to understand each other. But in order to understand each other better, you have to know the story of each other and treat this story with respect. ”A special feature of this book is that the text of each chapter has been agreed between a Russian and an Austrian author. Viktor Iščenko, Co-Secretary of the Austrian-Russian Commission of Historians, said in this context: “It is the result of a certain consensus in that the positions in the interpretation of the most important events in Russian-Austrian history have been aligned against the background of European and world history. ”

“Recently, terms such as ‘history policy’, ‘memory-historical conflicts’ have appeared more and more in the media,” says the historian. “However, they are reduced to a minimum among Russian and Austrian historians.”

How difficult the whole job was Olga Pavlenko testify, Vice-Rector of the Russian State University of Humanities, from which several chapters originate, including on Austro-Russian relations in the 20th century. The release of Russian archives, especially the notorious Lubyanka KGB archive, was particularly helpful.

We worked on every sentence

She stated: “Only the archives have given us the opportunity to speak to each other from the position of truth, excluding ideological speculation, and to find a common position and a common scientific language. Virtually every sentence was balanced in hours of negotiations, including every graph and diagram. We literally refined every sentence. And what hot debates were when Wolfgang Mueller and I wrote about the First World War and the most difficult confrontation between Russia and Austria-Hungary! Together we wanted to find out what drove the countries to the First World War. ”

                    Sputnik / Nikolaj Jolkin

Andrei Fursenko, advisor to the Russian President and co-chair of the “Sochi Dialogue” (left) and Prof. Stefan Karner, co-chair of the Austrian-Russian Commission of Historians

Explained in the Sputnik conversation Prof. Stefan Karner, Founder and former head of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for War Consequences Research in Graz and co-chair of the Austrian-Russian Historical Commission, why the second edition had to be supplemented and corrected: “There were certain small questions that have now become clear that still need to be clarified could better define and describe, for example, the question of the Crimean War in 1854 or Eastern Ukraine and today’s Crimea. You could also use new economic figures, etc. The second Russian edition is the current status. ”

Are there still controversial questions in the common history?

There are always questions in history where historians disagree, judges Prof. Karner.

“In the Austria – Russia area, these problem areas are not very large and manageable. Of course we are pleased about that. From all good relationships, we can then choose which ones we take and which we unfortunately have to leave out due to the limited scope. The difficulty with us is that we cannot all be good relationships. ”

Of course, there are always problems, the scientist admits, for example Austria’s EU membership. “The country is pursuing the European Union’s foreign policy. And of course this is expressed in the book. At the same time it is expressed that Austria has a great interest in settling the situation in Eastern Ukraine and that Austria clearly expresses that this question can only be resolved with Russia. ”
During the book presentation, Prof. Karner talked about how it was important for historians to show not only the historical process, but also the intertwining of human destinies: “We think about prisoners of war: yours with us, ours with you, your slave laborers us or the war children with us as with you, etc. It is an interweaving of human stories, which each of us wanted to show in his chapter of the book, show that it is not only high politics that human destinies also bind us together. ”

The book sets milestones in the shared history. There are a total of 11 milestones. The entry of the Austrians into Moscow with Napoleon’s army, the Vienna Peace Congress, which marked the new European order, the Russian Tsar Alexander and the Austrian Chancellor Prince Metternich, problems of Pan-Slavism and the confrontation in the Balkans, the First World War and the bloody Battles in Galicia and Serbia, millions of fallen, wounded and prisoners of war, the collapse of both empires and then the Second World War.

Stefan Karner continues:

“Austrians as Wehrmacht soldiers. 135,000 Austrians were in Soviet POW camps. These are only the registered ones. And 90,000 Soviet soldiers rest in the Austrian soil. Each of them had their own destiny. The heroic monument of the Red Army on Schwarzenbergplatz in Vienna. And then everything related to the 1955 State Treaty. Also the meeting between Khrushchev and Kennedy in Vienna, which since 1961 has been the place where world problems have been discussed. It was the historically first meeting of the heads of state of the two superpowers. Then came 1968, important not only because of the Prague spring, but also because two weeks later the first gas flowed from Russia to the West. ”

The head of the historical documents department of the Russian Foreign Office, Nadezhda Barinova, said that “we actually have a common history. Whatever it is, good or bad, it is our common past. The task of historians, politicians and diplomats was to deal with this centuries of experience, to overcome the clichés and stereotypes that have developed in the collective memory of people. It had to be resolved through a consensus process, free of subjectivism and historical narrow-mindedness. ”

                    Sputnik / Nikolaj Jolkin

Nadezhda Barinova, head of the historical documents department of the Russian Foreign Office

There is no need, she adds, to warn of the danger posed by the turning of historical facts, the cyclical approach to history, and the use of historical science for political purposes. “But we always have to keep this in mind. The scientific honesty and awe-inspiring, careful treatment of the sources provided by the authors of this work constitute an undeniable advantage of this book. When speaking of responsible research, one has to mention the emphatically respectful atmosphere and the quest for mutual understanding that the team of authors developed. ”

The first edition of this work, written by historians from both countries, was published in German and Russian. The current second edition is currently only available in Russian, but will definitely be translated into German. This is not a textbook on history, but a teaching aid for Russian and Austrian high school teachers as well as for students of historical faculties at universities. It is also generally suitable for anyone who is interested in the history of relations between Russia and Austria since the 15th century, since it contains so many interesting, including unknown, facts.


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