- Soviet Women on the Frontline in the Second World War by Roger D. Markwick, Euridice Charon Cardona
This factually rich and superbly researched work is an important contribution to the field of the social history of World War II. The authors present a broad panorama of experiences related to the participation of Soviet women in combat during the war. Major strengths of this work are its analysis of Soviet state policy toward women and its insightful account of their private experiences.
It is almost impossible to talk about the book of Roger D. Markwick and Euridice Charon Cardona without mentioning Anna Krylova’s recent contribution to the scholarship on Soviet women and war. 1 The two books have very similar titles, deal with the same themes, and sometimes with the same sources. Krylova was the first to show that the Soviet progressive gender policy of the 1930s created a new generation of Soviet women who were educated in paramilitary schools. This prepared them for participation in combat on equal footing with men. [End Page 441] Krylova shows that Soviet women saw no internal conflict between being a woman and being a soldier.
Krylova’s investigation is based on interviews, published diaries, and memoirs of Soviet female veterans. She reconstructs the discourse that these women advanced (or interiorized) to articulate their physical, mental, and intellectual readiness to serve in the Soviet army. This generation of Soviet women, just like men, saw it as their duty to be soldiers and fight on the battlefield. Krylova also points out that in the postwar period the Soviet state tended to exclude women veterans from the dominant narrative of World War II.
Krylova’s Soviet Women was in many ways a pioneering study, but it had some important weaknesses, starting with its unclear definition of “Soviet women.” To present their discursive and living reality, Krylova uses sources published during the Soviet era, but she never addressees the issue of state censorship. Krylova’s heroines are mostly educated girls from the urban areas of the European part of Russia, who received their degrees mostly in Moscow and Leningrad, which does not reflect the realities of women’s emancipation in the USSR. It seems that Krylova does not consider women from Soviet Uzbekistan or Azerbaijan as Soviet women. How many of them took part in the war and in what capacities? Did cultural and regional differences matter? While claiming that women joined the army under the influence of progressive Soviet educational policy, Krylova deemphasizes other factors such as patriotism, despair, or a desire to avenge the deaths of those close to them. Krylova also fails to consider women in the partisan forces. Had she included women-partisans as combatants, the geographical and political framework of her study would have been broader. This move would probably require a broader definition of a “Soviet woman.” After all, in almost every Nazi-occupied country in East Central Europe, and especially in the Balkans, partisan movements tended to include women, and these women, as well as men, had no exposure to Soviet education and background. How were they different from “Soviet women”-partisans?
Thus, the strongest part of Krylova’s work is her reconstruction of the process of construction and exteriorization of the official Soviet discourse on women in combat. She also contributes to the field of gender studies by showing that femininity and combat are not mutually exclusive.
Markwick and Cardona follow in Krylova’s steps not only in terms of publishing their Soviet Women on the Frontline soon after Krylova’s Soviet Women in Combat , but also in terms [End Page 442] of sharing Krylova’s approach to defining Soviet women. Markwick and Cardona do not question their identity – it is a given, and they disregard the complex heterogeneous multiethnic nature of the USSR where different subjects may have demonstrated different approaches to women’s emancipation. Like Krylova, Markwick and Cardona take for granted the existence of the cohort of young, educated, and emancipated...