It is hard but not impossible, especially if the memories of World War II are manufactured. In August, Myanmar and Russia did just that when their defence ministers unveiled a statue in Moscow’s Patriot Park called Allies Of Myanmar Warriors commemorating the Battle of Mandalay in early 1945.
At the unveiling ceremony, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said it was important to “preserve and protect the truth of genuine history” – that Burma and the Soviet Union had cooperated to defeat fascism (a word currently in vogue in the Kremlin as it has accused the Ukrainian leadership of being Nazis). One of the statue’s soldiers is depicted holding a Soviet-made rifle.
In reality, Moscow provided no military assistance to Burma during the war.
A more fertile ground for Moscow’s memory diplomacy in Southeast Asia is the Cold War, for it was during the era of superpower confrontation that the Soviet Union provided support to nationalist movements across the region.
The massive amounts of military and economic assistance the Kremlin sent to Vietnam and Laos during the Cold War remain the foundation of both countries’ relations with Russia.
Whenever senior Vietnamese leaders meet their Russian counterparts they invariably invoke, as Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh did recently, the “wholehearted support” Moscow provided to Vietnam in its “struggle for national liberation and reunification”.
In 2022, a statue dedicated to Soviet pilots killed training Laotian pilots in the 1970s was unveiled in Vientiane. Russia’s ambassador to Laos declared “the memory of the feat of the Soviet pilots will remain in the memory of the peoples of both countries”.
In Indonesia, arms transfers from the Soviet Union in the early 1960s helped the Sukarno regime face down the Dutch and absorb Papua.
What little aid Russia gives to Southeast Asia today is often used to keep the memory of Soviet assistance alive, such as the renovation of the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital in Phnom Penh.
In the case of Thailand, which was on America’s side during the Cold War, Moscow’s memory diplomacy harkens back to the late 19th century, when the royal families of Imperial Russia and the Kingdom of Siam cultivated close personal ties. In both Russian and Thai narratives, Tsar Nicholas II reputedly helped prevent Siam from being colonised by Britain and France, a historical vignette the Russians are always keen to play up.
Source: Channel News Asia