Picturing the Red Army's demobilisation: the visual image of demobilisation and the construction of official war memory
When Russians attempted to depict the demobilisation of the Red Army after the Great Patriotic War they almost always turned to the photographs of returning veterans taken in the summer of 1945. The powerful images taken of joyous veterans returning on trains festooned with flowers, slogans and portraits of Stalin have come to symbolise the whole process of demobilisation. The images of crowds of cheering women and children waving bouquets, celebrating the troops’ return played an important part in establishing the official narrative of post-war transition. Although these images quickly became ubiquitous, few veterans experienced demobilization as a joyous experience or a hero’s welcome.
This paper explores how a useable version of the demobilization experience, and the early steps towards an official collective memory of the war, were constructed through visual culture, and photographs in particular. It explores the ways in which these images were constructed, and the visual vocabularies they contained. Propagandists carefully orchestrated the experience of the first wave of demobilized veterans, and its visual depiction. Focusing on images largely drawn from Moscow and Leningrad, the paper explores the profound influence of these images on how demobilization was understood at the time and remembered subsequently. These images contributed to the official myth of a rapid and successful reintegration of Red Army veterans. In a second section, the paper explores how these images, and their visual languages, have been recycled in cinematic depictions, in commemorative posters, advertisements and memorials. The paper argues that the recent use of these images is far less subtle than the purposes to which they were put in the 1960s and 1970s.