An amazing new car was recently unveiled at an auto show in Shanghai. It is called the Gelly, but just one glance makes it obvious that it is a copy of a Rolls Royce. This much is obvious to anyone with eyes and an even rudimentary knowledge of cars. And the Chinese didn’t even bother trying to deny it. They are marketing this piece of plagiarism under the slogan “Reinventing a classic.”
I noticed the word “reinventing,” and thought of it again when I learned about President Dmitry Medvedev’s order on the creation of a “presidential commission against efforts to falsify history to harm the interests of Russia.”
Russia, the saying goes, is a country with an unpredictable past. In fact, it is harder to predict our past than it is to foresee the future. It is a fun-house mirror that it would seem impossible to twist further. Could it be that the new commission will be in charge of straightening out twisted reflections?
Like any similar enterprise, this one also has a false bottom. What history are we talking about? Are we discussing the entire millennia? Will we be protecting Vladimir Monomakh or Ivan the Terrible from falsification? How about Rasputin or the chemist Yevgeny Biron?
Of course not. In fact, they won’t be defending Khrushchev or Brezhnev either. When we talk about the “falsification of history,” we have in mind just a narrow slice of history – the period of Stalin’s rule. The period that holds repressions and war, collectivization and the occupation of the Baltic states, the massacre at Katyn…
And about all these events and about this period in general there have already been more than enough lies. At some point, lies about this time simply replaced history itself.
History became what wasn’t – or, rather, how it wasn’t.Like A Diseased Tree
The struggle against these genuine falsifications began less than 25 years ago, and this work was never brought to a satisfactory conclusion. Of course, in history it is never possible to place the final period, but one can place the accents in the proper places so that people cannot be confused about fundamental concepts like good and evil and how one is to be distinguished from the other.
A healthy tree cannot sprout from diseased roots. Our roots are our history, and they are rotten.
We live like a diseased tree. After all, a healthy tree cannot sprout from diseased roots. Our roots are our history, and they are rotten. They are rotten not because our history is bad. There is no such thing as bad history, just a poor understanding of history, a poor understanding of history as it actually was. This is the essence of the rot that is poisoning our tree and making it grow all twisted and crooked.
We need to find out how and why we lost millions of people during the war. We don’t even know how many millions we lost.
We need to talk about the “effective manager,” Stalin, who buried millions of his countrymen, occupied the Baltic peoples, and gunned down the Polish officers.
We need to remove the corpse from Red Square, because the heart of our motherland is not the place for the founder of a lawless regime.
Such truths do not blacken our history. In fact, they make it somehow greater because only by properly evaluating the colossal scale of the losses and mistakes of the war can we properly evaluate the greatness of our victory. Then we will understand that the war is not a bunch of popular films or the “reinvention of a classic” in the form of a colorized version of “Seventeen Moments of Spring.”
We will understand the price in blood and the price in inhumane labor that was paid to build the Dnieper Hydroelectric Station and other monuments of industrialization, to cultivate the virgin lands, and to launch our Gagarins into space.Who Will Sit On The Commission?
But this is not why the Medvedev commission was created. All that remains of Gagarin in our history is his smile. All we know of the Dnieper Hydroelectric Station is a curtain of water falling gracefully through the spillways. And all we know about the war is a bunch of white-toothed heroes speaking in 21st-century slang and burying Germans by the dozens. And Stalin is just pacing around his office, muttering some order to Marshall Zhukov in a Caucasian accent with a pipe clenched in his teeth.
I can’t imagine who will sit on this new commission. Who are these geniuses, these people with 100-percent knowledge, these people who carry inside them the final instance of truth? Rather, I can imagine them all too well: “historians” from the Federal Security Service, the Foreign Intelligence Service, the Defense Ministry.
Does this mean that our entire history is the history of the military and the secret services? Does it mean that Monomakh, Ivan the Terrible, the chemist Biron, and the madman Rasputin do not interest them? Maybe it would be more honest to rename it the Commission to Protect the Honor, Virtue, and Good Name of the Generalissimo.
I think the most important thing is the final bit of the official name of the Medvedev commission – the part about “harming the interests of Russia.” There is no such thing as history that harms interests. Only lies can harm interests. The lies that several generations of our people have been raised on -- people who, as a result, have lost any moral touchstones. And these are the lies that are now going to be defended and “reinvented.”
One final conclusion. If there is such a thing as “falsification that harms the interests of Russia,” then it stands to reason there must be “falsification that promotes the interests of Russia.” And that’s what our new commission will be doing.
I say in all seriousness – our president has issued a terrifying order.Anton Orekh is a journalist with Ekho Moskvy. The views expressed in this commentary, which originally appeared on the website “Yezhednevny zhurnal” are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL.