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Open Access Publications from the University of California

“The Language of the Sword”: Alexksandr Bek, The Writers Union and Baurdzhan Momysh-uly in Battle for the memory of Volokolamskoe shosse


The Great Patriotic War served as a defining moment for the Soviet Union, changing the locus of legitimacy for both regime and individual and also the way that this multi-ethnic state defined itself. The following paper examines the conflict between two men who constructed narratives of this war, first collaboratively, then separately. Both aspired to create an authoritative, authentic version of events. One of these men, Aleksander Bek was a professional writer of Russified Danish origin. The other, Baurdzhan Momysh-uly, was a soldier and a Kazakh, representing a recently modernized, yet “backward” ethnic minority. Their story provides a window into the changing meaning of what it meant to be a Soviet person as well as the battle over who had the rights to tell the story of the war.

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