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Russian History In The Dock

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The Russian Front is a terrific blog for history buffs. And with Russian (and Soviet) history very much in the news these days, I thought it was worth a fresh look.

I wasn't disappointed.

In a series of succinct and spot-on posts about Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's newly created "Commission to Counteract Attempts at Falsifying History to Damage the Interests of Russia," frontovki member DStone raises all the right issues and asks all the right questions.

The commission's composition, for example, is the first thing that should raise eyebrows:

"It’s dominated by state functionaries, and scholars are conspicuous by their minimal presence...This balance between scholars and chinovniki leaves little doubt about what the Commission will set out to do."

Indeed, of the 28 members on the commission, DStone notes that there are only three people who can really be called historians (two researchers and an archivist). The other 25 members are bureaucrats and politicians.

The blog also takes Medvedev to task for his lack of specifics:

"Medvedev most notably says not a word about what exact falsifications of history he’s objecting to. I can come up with some candidates, as could anyone who’s been following post-Soviet politics. Let’s say, for example, he’s troubled by Victor Suvorov’s allegations that Stalin was preparing an invasion of Western Europe, only to find himself beaten to the punch by Hitler in 1941."

And if the Kremlin leader really wants everybody to have an accurate historical record, DStone has a novel idea:

"I’m not a particular adherent of Suvorov’s school, but what I think is most relevant here is that the key to resolving the truth or falsehood of Suvorov’s accusations lies almost literally in Medvedev’s hands. The holy-of-holies of Russian archives is the 'Presidential Archive.' If Medvedev doesn’t like what historians say, he could throw open the archives tomorrow. If he doesn’t want to open those archives because of what might come to light, then we’re no longer talking about falsifiers."

Indeed, the commission's chair, Kremlin Chief of Staff Sergei Naryshkin, also happens to head the agency in charge of declassifying archived materials!

Finally, the blog notes Medvedev's alarming use of Stalin-era language:

"Medvedev’s language is sadly reminiscent of Soviet-era history journals and their regular attacks on 'bourgeois falsifiers.' Medvedev has stripped the 'bourgeois' off the label, but the tone is rather similar. In 1931, Stalin dismissed historians as 'archive rats,' and we’ve generally taken pride in that label. Though Medvedev is no Stalinist, he’s pandering to similar sentiments."

In a recent column in "The Moscow Times," opposition politician and former State Duma deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov takes this Stalinist meme a step farther in discussing the possible motives for the commission:

"The siloviki have long dreamed of having a clause in the Criminal Code that would allow them to arrest and imprison critics of the regime for their ideas and statements. This is exactly what was done during Josef Stalin's rule. He created the 58th clause of the Criminal Code on 'counterrevolutionary activity,' which guaranteed that anyone found guilty of 'agitation and propaganda' against the Soviet authorities would be sent straight to the gulag.

Leonid Brezhnev continued this tradition during his 18 years in power. He created the 70th and 190th clauses of the Criminal Code concerning 'anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda' and 'slanderous fabrications that discredited the Soviet system.' These clauses served as the formal basis to sentence Vladimir Bukovsky, Pyotr Grigorenko, Valeria Novodvorskaya, Zhores Medvedev, Andrei Almarik and many others to years in confinement in psychiatric institutions.

In the shadows of this harrowing legacy, Medvedev has created the commission on historical falsification. He paid particular attention to the problem of "revising the results of World War II." Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov went even further, calling for criminal prosecution for anyone 'repudiating the results of World War II.' Mironov has targeted those who question the bravery of the Red Army and Soviet people during World War II. If his proposal becomes law, a Russian or foreigner who doubts the 'genius' of Stalin as commander-in-chief during World War II or questions whether the people in the Warsaw Pact nations really 'obtained their freedom' could be sent to prison for three to five years."

Ryzhkov points out that "the irony in this farce is that the worst falsifiers of history by far have been Russian and Soviet authorities," adding that Medvedev's commission "creates a direct threat to historians and ordinary citizens trying to research the history of the war objectively."

And that would appear to be the point of the whole exercise.

-- Brian Whitmore

About This Blog

The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or


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