In yet another horrifying attempt to rewrite and sanitize Russian history, the KGB is now seeking a do-over on the Hitler-Stalin pact that stabbed the West in the back. Soon, for Russians, no such thing will ever have occurred. Paul Goble reports:
The Federal Security Service (FSB) is working with Russian historians trained in Soviet times to rehabilitate the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, not only by selectively releasing hitherto classified documents but also by directly appealing to the Duma to overturn the denunciation of that pact by the Soviet Congress of Peoples’ Deputies in 1989.
On April 22, the FSB hosted a roundtable on “Problems of the Publication of Sources about the Great Fatherland War. Criticism of Attempts at the Falsification of History.” Immediately after the meeting, the FSB put out an anodyne press release about the session, but now more details about what took place are coming to light. Colonel Sergei Ignatenko, the head of the FSB’s Center for Public Affairs, told the meeting, which included archivists, historians and representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church, that the FSB wants to release any document it has “if this does not involve a state secret.” The reason for that, he said, is the increasing tendency by Russian and foreign historians, novelists, and filmmakers to “falsify” the history of the second world war and the Soviet Union’s role in it. “That which we see on movie screens today,” he continued, “is to a great extent falsification in a pure form.”
“With rare exceptions,” there are no serious historical investigations of this subject. One reason for that is the efforts of “our Western opponents” who “distribute money” in order to denigrate Russia, its people and its history. But yet another is the impact of the market economy on domestic filmmakers and writers. Ignatenko said that when he asked Russian filmmakers why they were distorting the history of the war, he said that they responded by saying that they were doing so “in order to increase ratings.” They do not think, he said, how harmful this is, but only “about ratings and high pay.”
“We beyond any doubt must be responsible for what we bring to the masses,” the FSB colonel said.
Another speaker, Vasiliy Khristoforov, the chief of the registration administration and archives of the FSB, said that many have written that archives, after having been opened in the early 1990s, were now being closed, but “this is not so and any investigator has the opportunity to work in Russian archives.” But it was a third speaker at the meeting who provided the clearest indication of why the session occurred and what both Soviet-trained historians and the Russian security service hope to achieve in this area. Oleg Rzheshevskiy, a senior scholar at the Academy of Sciences Institute of General History and the president of the Russian Association of Historians of the Second World War, called for the Russian parliament to overturn the 1989 condemnation of the so-called “secret protocol” of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. “When this protocol was condemned,” he said, “did anyone think about the fact that this agreement was concluded in the interests of security? Because no one raised the question about the circumstances in which it was concluded,” circumstances which gave the USSR “no other way out.” Consequently, he continued, “if the parliament of Russia will reverse this decision,” that step alone will permit a more effective struggle with the falsifiers of history.” Because then it will be seen that Stalin’s decision in this case was “perhaps the only possible decision” that a responsible leader could have taken. (In an aside, Rzheshevskiy said that he “does not have official data, however it is precisely known that in Chechnya alone at the time [of the second world war] there were 18,000 armed fighters who struggled against the Red Army,” actions that would have led to “a Civil War” if they had not been deported as Stalin later did.)
Rzheshevskiy concluded his remarks to the FSB meeting by acknowledging that “our history is very complicated but at the same time we must always remember that the USSR defeated fascism,” a contribution that he suggested puts everything else that happened in those times in the proper perspective.
Now, in an essay posted on the Grani.ru portal, Moscow historian and commentator Irina Pavlova has put this meeting and Rzheshevskiy’s remarks in context. She argues that it constituted the long-awaited “revenge” of Soviet-era historians on those who spoke the truth about Stalin in the late 1980s and early 1990s. And tragically, in the current political climate, there is every reason for them to think that “victory will be theirs.” These historians “preserve all the posts in Russian historical science and they also control the preparation of new cadres” in history. Consequently, they are likely to cast their shadow far into the future. These historians have as their credo the programmatic document adopted at the time of a 1997 meeting of the association of historians that Rzheshevskiy heads. They argued then that “history is a political science” and that in writing it, historians must “always think about the interests of their state and be concerned about the healthy though of the [rising] generations.”
In her current article, Pavlova cites what she said at the time about that attitude: “The processes which are taking place in post-Soviet historical scholarship are connected with the general political processes in the country,” processes which are defeating efforts to tell the truth about the past. And what is especially unfortunate, she wrote at that time, is that Western historians are helping these survivals of the Soviet past. “Western historians not only formally continue to maintain ties with pro-communists historians but even support them conceptually,” leaving Russian historians “of the democratic direction” out in the cold. Some of them for reasons of career or otherwise are thus forced to make their peace with their earlier opponents, Pavlova writes today. One example of that is to be found in the evolution of perhaps the greatest Russian specialist on the history of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact itself, Tatyana Bushuyeva.
In the November 1994 issue of “Noviy mir,” Bushuyeva produced the first honest account in the Russian media of the pact and how it opened the way for World War II. Indeed, Pavlova writes, that article was for historians what the publication of Solzhenitsyn’s “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” in 1962 was for the Russian intelligentsia more generally. But now, Bushuyeva not only appeared at this FSB meeting but said that “in the 1990s there appeared attempts at the falsification of history, including by means of the invention of facts, the fabrication of documents, and so on.” For herself, Pavlova said, “this sounded like the [notorious] repentance of Dmitry Dudko.” Nonetheless, the Grani.ru writer ended on a hopeful note. “The current powers that be,” she said, can give directions and the historians who serve them can write about the Second World War however they like. They can lie as much as they want, praising Stalin and his policies to the skies, and slandering again as much as possible those” who don’t agree. “But the truth about the war, which at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s began to emerge out from under the rubble, can’t be pushed back. It lives. And the greater the effort to impose the pro-Stalinist conception on society, the more people will be drawn [not to it but] to the truth.”