An exhibition on the different perspectives on WWII and how it is taught in school textbooks in Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic and Russia. Prospekt Magazine went to the opening to interview the curator about the purposes and relevance of the exhibition
The ways in which history was taught to pupils and how different the same events are seen through the eyes of different nations are key topics covered at the exhibition currently on at the St Petersburg Academy of Postgraduate Pedagogical Education on Lomonosova Street. Looking at the outcome of WWII, one can imagine the different ways in which one can look at the war. Learning from history is a crucial task that can help prevent a repetition of past events, however, not everyone sees things like this. We spoke to Robert Lapypov, the curator of the Russian version of the Different Wars exhibition, to hear about what different interpretations of history have to teach us.
What can you tell us about the purposes of the exhibition?
In short, dialogue. It is about international dialogue, not only about the war or the nation, but about European history. Nowadays we’re in a difficult situation between nations—for example, with the sanctions—history is often used as the main argument for justification. Sometimes, it is used to highlight differences and obstacles in our European history. Our argument and the argument of our exhibition is different; we created a space for dialogue and interactions with one another.
Does this include different perspectives too?
Absolutely, that’s the most important thing when having a dialogue. There are many different interpretations and perspectives on history; it’s something completely normal.
And how about the official political situation here in St Petersburg? Is it a problem? Do they come to visit? What’s their response to the exhibition?
Yes, it is. Ten times they refused to provide space for this exhibition, including in other institutions. It’s been quite a turbulent journey to find this space. In the end, we simply got lucky. Ultimately, we also received help from the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Centre in Yekaterinburg, which advocated for us. This also ensured that the exhibition would remain open in this space; their reputation protects us here.
This is an international exhibition but the displays here are in Russian. What would you recommend for English speakers?
There is an English version of the exhibition available online and on display in other European cities—in Prague and Strasbourg—and earlier in Vilnius, Berlin and Poland. The English-language catalogue can also be found on the website of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum.
What do you expect the visitors to take away from the exhibition?
We try to evoke an interest in the topic of cultural memory and the memory of the war. Today, there is a conviction that we know a lot about the war, but this exhibition shows how little we actually know. We hope that people will start reading alternative sources of cultural memory, for example, the memoirs of survivors, and also consider different perspectives on the war to understand this topic better.
Is this an attempt to try to cope with the past?
Yes. It’s an exhibition about the present. It’s about what we remember, how we remember, as well as why and where we remember. It’s a place where we look at how we perceive others, other values, and see what connects us and what divides us.
While the exhibition may not be the most flashy one on show in the city, the importance of engaging with the topic is clear, now more than ever. It’s also an excellent opportunity to learn more about oneself and Russia with friends and associates who can speak Russian, Polish, Czech, Italian, Lithuanian, English and German.
Event: Different Wars. National School Textbooks On WWII
When: 13 February to 21 April
Where: St Petersburg Academy of Postgraduate Pedagogical Education, 11-13, Lomonosova Street, St Petersburg, 191002,