Recently, a large-scale historical and documentary exhibition “Stalin – Churchill -- Roosevelt: the Common Struggle Against Fascism” has been opened for online visitors. It recounts the story of cooperation within the Grand Alliance -- the three major powers that made up the anti-Hitler coalition during World War II.
Georgy Kuchkov, the head of the Svyaz Epokh [Connection of Epochs] Foundation and a member of the Russian Historical Society board, told wek.ru about the implementation of the fundamental scientific and educational project.
wek.ru: Mr.Kuchkov, in 2020, your organization won the first contest of projects supported by the Presidential Grants Foundation in the preservation of history category. Could you tell us more about it?”
The Presidential Grants Foundation established the contest for supporting the projects of non-profit organizations. We submitted a proposal to hold a historical and documentary exhibition titled “Stalin -- Churchill -- Roosevelt: the Common Struggle Against Nazism” organized by the Federal Archival Agency in the cooperation with the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Russian Historical Society. Over two dozen archives and museums agreed to loan their exhibits.
The display consists of the correspondence between Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt on a wide range of issues related to military operations, the opening of the Second Front, the signing of alliance agreements as well as military, technical and food assistance under the Land-Lease Act, and the most important issues of postwar world order. Unique documents and photographs of meetings of the allies at the Tehran, Yalta and Potsdam conferences are of a great help in understanding the geopolitical aspects of the world community in the second half of the 20th century.
Many documents provided by the archives and libraries in Russia, Great Britain and the USA are exhibited for the first time. In addition, the exhibition reveals physical evidences of that time -- food aid coming from the U.S. to the Soviet Union under the Land-Lease Act, a telephone set from Stalin's office at the Tehran conference, and much more.
The exhibition’s visitors will get a chance to look at the familiar story from a new perspective.”
“This exhibition was to open in April offline, not online, but the current situation has mixed up all the plans."
“The opening of the exhibition was to be held on April 23, and from April 24 it would be open for the general public. Unfortunately, at present, the situation is difficult because of the COVID-2019 pandemic. However, all the installation works were completed as planned. Most of the exhibits have been received and already installed. A catalogue has been published in Russian and English.
The exhibition was presented on 24 April. Unfortunately, due to existing restrictions, the presentation was held online. Andrey Artizov, head of the Federal Archival Service, read out President Vladimir Putin’s address and told about the peculiarities of the exhibition. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Naryshkin, the president of the Russian Historical Society, sent their greetings to the opening ceremony.
Today, the exhibition is available on the website of the Federal Archival Agency (Rosarchive) and the website of the Archives of Russia organization: http://alliance.rusarchives.ru. Everyone can visit these websites and enjoy the exhibits. However, after lifting of the restrictions, the formal opening will certainly take place in the Exhibition Hall of Federal Archives, and the display will be opened for free to everyone.”
wek.ru: It is not by chance that the initiators of the project referred to the events of the past and the invaluable experience of international cooperation and negotiations of the leading world powers during World War II.
“Of course, it was not by chance. As President Putin said, during the war, the invaluable experience of genuine allied relations was accumulated. For example, in terms of negotiations. They are one of the most challenging diplomatic instruments but without them peaceful coexistence is simply impossible. The absence of compromise that will take into account the interests of all of the parties concerned ultimately leads to a crisis. At that time, Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt proved that a common cause required an ability to negotiate.
They were very different people if you take their background, ideological views and even by their traits of character. What did it take an extremely distrusting person like Stalin, for example, to find common grounds with Churchill who had previously called for the destruction of Soviet Russia?! If we look at the situation from Churchill's viewpoint, the USSR had been recently a stronghold of Bolshevism [the communist form of government adopted in Russia following the Bolshevik revolution of 1917,] an ideology that posed threat to the existence of the British Empire. He complained in his memoirs that the Soviet Union had supported workers' strikes in Britain trying to undermine its stability. And then he had to go to Moscow and to negotiate the terms of joint struggle against Nazism.
The situation with Roosevelt was even more complicated. At that time, the U.S. adhered to the principle of non-interference in European affairs. Therefore, the Roosevelt Administration had to overcome the resistance not only of the elites but also ordinary Americans. As we know now, it was worth doing. Perhaps, Roosevelt saw things in a more realistic light. He succeeded in building positive relationships with both Stalin and Churchill. Subsequently, the latter even was afraid that he would be left out of the process of negotiations, and that his partners would reach an agreement behind his back.
However, his concerns were well-founded. In particular, Stalin and Roosevelt tried to negotiate a bilateral meeting in Alaska but that plan remained only on paper.
The current global situation is not simple. Daily news reports show that the negotiation process on many world problems has mired. This applies to migration issues, international military crises, and the situation around the coronavirus pandemic. In this regard, it is important to understand that everything should be based on careful thoughts and political realism.”
What unique documents are presented at the exhibition? Is it possible to get familiarized with it at least online today?
“The main emphasis has been made on the materials of the official correspondence of the Big Three. The correspondence is well known to experts but we have a unique chance to present real documents. Namely, the ones that were on Stalin’s table and which he worked with and appended instructions on. This opportunity lifts the veil of secrecy over the diplomatic relations during the Second World War.
In my opinion, the so-called Percentages agreement between Stalin and Churchill is of particular interest. It was provided by the UK National Archives. At first glance, a scrap of paper filled with small handwriting is a very insignificant thing, as it looks more like a list of products or a recipe for an uncomplicated dish. But it was in accordance with this document that the whole system of relations in Eastern Europe was to be built. The “naughty document”, as Churchill described it, contains his proposals on the division of spheres of influence in the territory: the USSR was to get Romania and Bulgaria into the zone of its influence, and the allies were to have Greece. Hungary and Yugoslavia were to be divided 50:50. There is a big tick on the document — a sign of approval by Stalin. Subsequently, the proportions would be changed, and that document would remain a draft.
At the end of the war, relationships of the allies were not simple. There were mutual fears and mistrust. In particular, the documents related to the Berne Incident proved it. By 1945, Germany was no longer able to wage war on two fronts. The Germans tried to negotiate the surrender of their forces in Northern Italy with the Americans. Soviet representatives were not invited to the negotiations in the Swiss capital. Stalin was outraged by that fact. He wrote to Roosevelt that it was unacceptable. In response, the American President assured Stalin that no capitulation was being discussed. After that, negotiations were stopped, and the conflict was settled.
As I said before, you can get acquainted with the documents and photos of the exhibition on the website of Archives of Russia: http://alliance.rusarchives.ru.
We hope that soon everyone will get a chance to visit the exhibition offline in the Exhibition Hall of Federal Archives.”