Ryzhkov on Russia’s History Fascism

Bookmark and Share

Former Duma deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov, writing in the Moscow Times:

The Kremlin opened a new front against its “internal and external enemies” on May 19, when President Dmitry Medvedev created a presidential commission “for counteracting attempts to falsify history to the detriment of Russia’s interests.” The 28-member commission includes Kremlin-friendly conservatives such as State Duma deputies and United Russia members Konstantin Zatulin and Sergei Markov as well as representatives from the Federal Security Service and the Interior Ministry. The commission also has representatives from the Defense Ministry, which has posted on its web site an article titled “Fabrications and Falsifications of the Role of the Soviet Union at the Beginning of World War II” that argues that the real reason the war began was because of “Poland’s refusal to fulfill German demands … [which were] very reasonable.”

The real purpose of the commission has less to do with history than it does with increasing the authorities’ power and control during a highly instable period caused by the economic crisis.

By attempting to impose its own “correct” interpretation of Russia’s complex and tragic past, the Kremlin is taking another major step toward violating Articles 13 and 29 of the Constitution, which guarantee protection against political persecution. The big winners in this initiative are the siloviki, who have long sought a legal pretext for persecuting and suppressing the opposition.

A couple of years ago, the siloviki pushed a series of broadly worded laws through the Duma to “fight extremism” that can be interpreted anyway they want. As a result, the aggressive, pro-Kremlin Nashi movement is allocated prime space in the center of Moscow to carry out demonstrations against the opposition and other “enemies of the state,” while peaceful demonstrations by pensioners and human rights organizations are prohibited because the government considers them “extremists.” The FSB, clearly taking a page from the KGB’s 5th Division, infamous for repressing and jailing Soviet dissidents, has created a special division to watch and control opposition groups.

But these powers are not sufficient for the siloviki to win its battle against the opposition. The problem is the new anti-extremism laws require that the accused be guilty of a concrete action, and it has proven difficult to lock people up for peaceful protests in defense of free speech or free elections. 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 — not for their actions, but for their ideas and statements.

This is exactly what was done in the “glorious” years under Josef Stalin. 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.

At the same time, authorities have not released historical documents that could shed light on the real — albeit painful and incriminating at times — truth of Russian and Soviet history, including World War II. In fact, the head of Medvedev’s commission on historical falsification, presidential Chief of Staff Sergei Naryshkin, also heads the agency charged with declassifying archived materials. New textbooks for schools are being prepared that describe Stalin as an “effective manager.”

This creates a direct threat to historians and ordinary citizens trying to research the history of the war objectively. Despite the difficulties in getting archived materials, imagine what might happen to a leading Russian historian who wrote a book about Stalin’s mistakes and crimes during the war. He could easily be charged with “revising the results of World War II” and sentenced to prison.

The irony in this farce is that the worst falsifiers of history by far have been Russian and Soviet authorities. The Romanovs rewrote the history regarding the interregnum Time of Troubles from 1598 to 1613 to cast themselves in a better light. The Bolsheviks justified the October Revolution, the Red Terror and years of dictatorship by relying on Marxist dialectical materialism. The main Bolshevik historian, Mikhail Pokrovsky, coined the phrase, “History is always politics viewed backwards.” Stalin justified his Great Terror by writing it off as an “aggravated phase of the class struggle” and whitewashed over his own mistakes made prior to and during the war. During Leonid Brezhnev’s years, history books were revised to depict a relatively small military operation in 1943 that Brezhnev participated in at Cape Myskhako, near Novorossiisk, as a turning point in the war. Brezhnev turned this battle into a sensationalized autobiography titled “Malaya Zemlya,” which later became the butt of many jokes against the geriatric, self-absorbed leader.

Now, the Kremlin leaders are reviving the Stalinist cult in order to justify their own violations of human rights. They believe that a “firm hand” is necessary to deal effectively with the Russian character and the country’s huge territorial expanse. The power vertical, we are told, is the most effective form of government for Russia, considering its “unique historical and cultural tradition.”

Moreover, the Kremlin interprets criticism of Stalin’s crimes as an attack on its own authoritarianism. This is not surprising considering that today’s leaders have made use of many weapons from Stalin’s arsenal by creating a police state and the myth that Russia is encircled by enemies, including a fifth column implanted inside the country.

It is highly symbolic that the freshly painted portrait of Stalin’s chief prosecutor-cum-henchman, Andrei Vyshinsky, who also served as foreign minister from 1949 to 1953, adorns the corridors of the Foreign Ministry. Vyshinsky summed up the struggle against Stalin’s enemies in an “academic article” in 1937, writing, “Their plots were exposed and the conspirators were seized and ruthlessly crushed.” A fitting battle cry for all of the siloviki in their efforts to fortify the power vertical even more.

26 responses to “Ryzhkov on Russia’s History Fascism

  1. An insight into Medvedev, judging him by his actions rather than his words, in a post on the excellent Paul Goble’s site:


  2. I guess if my nation was responsible for such unspeakable artrocities, I’d want to rewrite my history books too.

    Red Army troops raped even Russian women as they freed them from camps

    By Daniel Johnson
    Last Updated: 1:21PM GMT 25 Jan 2002

    THE Red Army’s orgy of rape in the dying days of Nazi Germany was conducted on a much greater scale than previously suspected, according to a new book by the military historian Anthony Beevor.

    [click the link to read the rest]


  3. Les, judging by the name you must be Polish or Ukrainian. Well, if you are Ukrainian, your nation brutally killed and raped tens of thousands of innocent Jews in the period 1648-1653 (the Chmielnicki rebellion). And if you are Polish, your nation did the same to Ukrainian rebels in the same period. There were also mass murders and rapes in Ukraine and Poland in early 20th century, especially during the civil war of 1918-1921 and Soviet-Polish war of 1920.
    This is not to justify Russian rapists. Just about every nation has an ugly skeleton in its closet. The trick is to come clean about the gory and sordid past and to confront it head-on.

    • Well, has Russia “come clean about the gory and sordid past?” Has she confronted “it head-on?” The only thing I know was a very reluctant admission that they did massacre thousands of Polish officers in Katyn. That was conceded, as I recall, by either Gorbachev or by Yeltsin; if it was up to the current regime, I am not so sure if they would admit or continue to deny this, just as Stalin did

    • Well Kaktuss, the Jews were perceived to be Polish servants. And frankly many were (tax collectors etc). For quite same reason (“Turkish servants”) the Jews were massacred in the Greek War of Independence.

      But notice the “we cool now” relationship between the two countries nowadays, when Poland no long aspires to dominate them and instead wants to be just a partner.

      • “During Leonid Brezhnev’s years, history books were revised to depict a relatively small military operation in 1943 that Brezhnev participated in at Cape Myskhako, near Novorossiisk, as a turning point in the war.”

        I wonder how many medals he gave himself for this later.

  4. @ Kaktuss,

    As a Pole I completely agree with you, though there is an important difference: Poland and Ukraine today are trying to examine and address those aspects of our history which are less savory, both through public means (like Poland’s Instytut Pamięci Narodowej/Institute of National Memory, a government research institute dedicated to uncovering and publicizing war crimes and human rights violations in Poland, including those committed by Poles) and through private means; historians and other professionals have published numerous works in recent years on those closet skeletons you mentioned, and even towns have gotten in the act like Lviv, which hosted reconciliation meetings between Polish and Ukrainian vets of the 20th century troubles. This is in fact the mark of modern Western nations, that they allow their social scientists to explore all aspects of the country’s past without censorship or threats of imprisonment for “doubting the national honor”. I live in the U.S. now and I constantly see new books coming out presenting views of American history that American governments and nationalists would probably wish never published, but nobody can stop them here. There are active public debates on these books, as there should be, but evidence stands as evidence. American school children learn about the evils of the Indian Wars, slavery, or the Ku Klux Klan; about corrupt politics in their government like Tammany Hall or Watergate. They debate T. Roosevelt’s imperialism, or whether Truman should have dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. In Poland, we too are learning to do the same, and it is a nationally cleansing, cathartic process.

    Such is not the case with Russia; the government and its supporters to practice censorship of Russia’s past, both officially (through laws like the one Court Jester Dmitry Medvedev is promulgating) and unofficially through physical threats and intimidation, and on occasion, outright murder. And Russia has more than the normal number of skeletons hiding in its closets; for whatever misdeeds the Poles or Ukrainians have ever committed, they utterly pale in comparison to those the Russians have inflicted on themselves — an estimated 15-20 million dead in the 20th century alone, not including those deaths from World War II! All things are not equal, Kaktuss, and Russia is only holding back its own development by white-washing its history to try to glorify the current criminals in power.

    • Hi Tomek:

      Well stated, there is not much to add. One thing I would like to add though is that those undoubtedly horrible excesses that Kaktuss mentioned had happened three and a half centuries ago. It’s one thing to talk about the events of 1648, and quite another about those occurred within the living memory of the current generation.

      I do not idealize Ukraine or Poland. Of course, we know about Ukrainian and Polish pogroms which happened as recent as 1940’s, but I don’t know of any decree promulgated by the current Ukrainian or Polish government threatening to jail those who mention, discuss or condemn this.

      I guess Russia is the only one country that has never committed any wrong, and maybe that’s why is so sensitive when those crimes or wrongs are mentioned, assessed, or discussed, particularly when in the negative light

  5. That first sentence in the second paragraph should read: “Such is not the case with Russia; the government and its supporters *do* practice censorship…”

    Sorry. Poor typist.

  6. “The commission also has representatives from the Defense Ministry, which has posted on its web site an article titled “Fabrications and Falsifications of the Role of the Soviet Union at the Beginning of World War II” that argues that the real reason the war began was because of “Poland’s refusal to fulfill German demands … [which were] very reasonable.””

    Yeah, pretty reasonable. Those Polish imperialist warmangers and their refusal to join the German-Soviet alliance for peace.

  7. Every nation glorifies its history (well almost every, in the West current trend is to bash your own history). In Germany you can get imprisoned for denying the “historical truth” as well, you can in my country (Czech Republic) get imprisoned for that as well. Nothing new. Russians are actually pretty backwards, when it comes to that! But it seems they are westernizing, although Germany nor Czech Republic are actually that western countries yet (thank God!).

    Anti-extremist laws? Nothing new either, introduced in many European years ago. But who cares, when such laws are introduced in the rest of Europe, right? No matter what Russia does, it’s always some universe-threatening conspiracy.

    But honestly, I don’t really get, why so many Russians glorify that Georgian Jozif Stalin, he’s responsible for more dead Russians than the Axis armies. I mean what the hell? Why would I glorify some foreigner, who ruined my nation? Yeah sure, his state was able to do the impossible (defeat the Dritte Reich), but is this reason good enough to glorify him? I actually think that it was actually the will of the Russian people, what crushed the Axis.

    It’s a little bit like those Czech nazis, who glorify Reinhard Heydrich (one of the Nazi protectors of Bohemia and Moravia). Although according to current Czech laws, those, who glorify him (and not just him), break the law and usually get imprisoned.

    • “Anti-extremist laws? Nothing new either, introduced in many European years ago.”

      You’ve got to check the Russian definition of “extremism”.


      • Anti-extremism in my country equals anything that goes against the state’s ideology, doctrine and regime (i.e. anti-system thought, activism etc…).

        Ah, my least favourite Washington Post… Anyways, poor Pyotr Gagarin. It sucks being accused of extremism, I know what it is like… But you think it’s not happening in Germany? The Czech Republic? Hungary? Slovakia? Someone being accused of extremism is our daily bread in the Czech Republic. Throw an egg at the Socialist Party’s leader, you’re a nazi (happened a few days ago here). Try to say you dislike the EU, then you’re definitely a nazi-communist-fascist and ought to be imprisoned or have your life ruined any other way.

        But don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind all this. That’s what the State does. It’s not right, it’s not wrong.

        • “Try to say you dislike the EU, then you’re definitely a nazi-communist-fascist and ought to be imprisoned or have your life ruined any other way.”

          Actually, there are even quite popular political parties bases on their anti-EU stance. No one is calling this “extremism” and prosecutes/persecutes people for criticism of the EU. Even the current Slovak leader is very anti-EU for example, his life quite not “ruined”. And in Ireland they voted against the EU and no one rounded up the people behind this campaign.

          There’s no European OMON robot police to beat up old people peacefully protesting rigged elections. If someone would decide to leave, the European Federal Army won’t bomb them and flatten their capital city (well, Chechnya actually didn not even *join* the Russian Federation until 2003).

          Another article on the Russian definition of “extremism”:


          And this law in practice:



          • Slovak leader is a socialist => he loves the EU. But otherwise Fico (Slovak’s prime minister) is a nice guy, he’s a statist after all, I like him for that. He’s not even scared to nationalize people’s property in the name of the common good (currently common good = finishing Slovak highways).

            Also like I said, Russian definition of extremism is pretty much the same as the definition of extremism in many other countries. My country serves as a nice example. Some protesters threw eggs at the Social Democrats’ leader, the minister of home affairs called those people “nazis” (in other words “extremist”). If something like that happened in Russia, I bet you’d be all furious about it and blah blah blah, we both know all the clichés, right?

            My president is very anti-EU, pro-American, pro-Russian and a die-hard capitalist. Well, the EU attacks him constantly. I can only add: never oppose the stronger.

            By the way, when it comes to Ireland I’m quite sure, there will be another referendum on the Lisbon treaty, if the Irish say “no” once again, there will be another referendum and so on and on and on… We know the EU well, don’t we?

            • Yeh, Czech and not Slovak.


              @”EU attacks him constantly”

              When the “pretty much the same” EU goons has beaten him up, sentenced him to prison or even attempted to assassinate him? I’m talking about such stuff and you give me what, a guy who was allowed with no problem to become the president again? Come on, you’re not serious. In Russia simply criticism of the governemnt = “extremism”. It’s about the lack of spee speech. Imagine, a hypothetical scenario: you write something critical of the government in a paper (or website or a book) and then they come for you.

              In the Soviet times being a dissident was qualified (and treated) as a “mental illness”, now it’s qualified and treated as “extremism” (besides the recent return of the political psychiarty anyway).

              And one more thing – those designated “extremists” can be also “legally” murdered even abroad:


              So, if you “slander” Putvedev, they may now “legally” send someone to the country where you live to kill you (if only you annoyed Putvedev enough). Just like that.

          • Hi Robert,

            Thank you for the link:

            In addition to the prison sentences, the two were banned from working as journalists for another year, the verdict said.

  8. Kaktuss, what is the source of your information about the Khmelnystky rebellion?

    In Ukraine today, fully a third of the wealthiest people in the billionaire/centimillionaire category are – Jewish. Does the name Victor Pinchuk ring a bell? He pals around with Bill Clinton. (And displays hideously bad art in his art center, but that’s another story.) And there are Jewish people in Ukraine holding high posts in government.

    In contrast, in Russia today, Berezovsky, a Jew, had to flee to Londongrad. Khodorkovksy, a Jew, was put in jail.

    Unfortunately, some of the Jews are crime figures – Simon Mogilievich, who hid out in Maskva for a while, until Putvedev decided that it was “inconvenient” to keep him around, and he was arrested. He is also wanted by the FBI.

    As pointed out by others, you can easily find the history of Europe’s sordid past – torture and alcoholism in England, when women sold babies for gin; the guillotine in France; the Spanish Inquisition; the abuses of the Catholic Church; and so on.

    France had 3 estates at one time, each having one vote: the Catholic clergy, nobility, and the rest of the people.

    The clergy and the nobility were not taxed. The people shouldered the burden of taxation. Any time the people tried to exercise their 1 vote, the other 2 estates vetoed the people.

    It’s what led to the French Revolution. The French Revolution had its own horrors.

    Europe has come to terms with its past.

    Try to find information in Russia. It’s the same as during the sovok union – the archives are closed, and “official” information is put forth.

    Not the rooskies are putting forth the propaganda, a hint of which is seen above, that the EU is really the Fourth Reich, and that roosha has to defend itself against the Fourth Reich.

    Hence, the characterization of the EU as some type of dictatorial entity.

    At the same time, maskva has tried to resurrect the notion of itself as the “third Rome,” and anything else it can think of to justify empire building.

    • Elmer,

      For the casualties of the Chmielnicki revolt, try this:

      Even if the low estimate quoted in the article is correct, Ukrainians still managed to kill 18-20 thousand Jews out of the total of 40 thou – a full half or about that. Even the Nazis were not that thorough!
      As to powerful Jews in today’s Ukraine, you will agree upon some reflection that this has no bearing on what happened in 1648. And there are powerful Jews in today’s Russia, too – have you heard about Roman Abramovich?
      There were also horrific pogroms in the Ukraine in 1918-1920 that killed up to 80,000.
      And Poland is the only place in Europe where a full-scale pogrom occurred AFTER the Holocaust – in 1946:

    • To be fair, I should mention that 1918-20 pogroms in the Ukraine were perpetrated not only by Ukrainians but also by Russians and Poles. The three sides were also killing each other with a gusto.

      • Kaktuss, there is a basic problem with the premise of your argument about the Chmielnicki Uprising, which is that the peoples you are labeling as Ukrainians in 1648 would be very surprised to learn they were considered as such. Ukrainian ethnic identity is a fairly new phenomenon, and while modern Ukrainians look to the Chmielnicki years as the event that got the ball rolling on Ukrainian nationality, Ukraine at the time was filled with a host of many different ethnic groups — the Cossack Seches used Ruthenian as a lingua franca because their members included Ruthenians (from all over former Rus), Poles, Turks, Balkan Slavs, various Steppe peoples, Tartars, etc. What is today southern Ukraine was peopled mostly with Turks and various Turkic left-overs from the Steppe centuries. Only with Russian penetration of southern Ukraine and Crimea in the 18th and 19th centuries would Slavs begin settling along the eastern Dniestr, for instance. Galicia and what is today western Ukraine had a mix of (White, Black, Red, etc.) Ruthenian villages with heavy doses of Polish villages, Slovaks, many Jewish settlements, and in the southern-more areas Hungarians and Romanians. What defined the Cossack uprising of 1648 was not ethnicity but class and religion; it was the Rzeczpospolita’s *szlachta*/aristocracy who were trying to feudalize Polish Ukraine, which also included using Catholic Jesuits, and this provoked resistance from primarily Orthodox Christians in Ukraine who for some strange reason didn’t want to become serfs. Many of the aristocrats were themselves Polonized Ruthenians, and some of the peasants who joined the Cossacks in rebelling against the Rzeczpospolita’s feudalism were Polish peasants living in Galicia. It would be a long time before all these mass of peoples would coalesce into the modern Ukrainian people. O, and by the way, the Russian Orthodox Church, which very worked very hard to suppress the native Ukrainian Orthodox Church that Metropolitan Kosiv had declared in Kyiv in 1649, very strongly encouraged the massacres of Jews in Polish Ukrainian cities. It seems the Kremlin viewed the Jews, Germans and other non-Slavs living in the more cosmopolitan Ukrainian towns to be the agents and residue of Polish rule, to be extinguished.

        As you’ve already noted, the massacres taking place in 1918-21 Ukraine were committed by nearly all parties, ranging from both the frequently-invading Bolshevik Russian and White Russian forces to the “Hetmanate” forces to the Germans to yes, pre-1920 Poles as well.

        As for Kielce, you are again wrong. Kielce was actually only the largest of several pogroms that shook post-war Poland, and a great shame indeed. Of course, pogroms were unusual in Polish history; you’ll recall that until the Russian occupation in the 18th century, Poland was for centuries a haven for Jewish refugees from religious violence elsewhere in Europe. And indeed, Jews returning home from liberated camps were frequently turned away or even forced violently to forgo their pre-war homes just about everywhere in post-war Europe, even in the West. I’ve read of cases of towns in France and Italy refusing to allow their former Jewish neighbors to return too. Of course, that doesn’t erase Poland’s shame in this regard, and as I’ve pointed out elsewhere on this site, the government-funded Instytut Pamięci Narodowej/Institute of National Memory (website – http://www.ipn.gov.pl/portal/pl/) studies such historical events and encourages public discussion and debate about them. Remember when the historian Jan Gross published the book a few years ago about atrocities committed by Poles against Jews in the village of Jedwabne during the war? At first, the popular press in Poland reacted angrily and negatively but the IPN got several scholars involved and after a couple years they publically concluded that Gross was right, and they published a series of their studies proving his points. The president of Poland at the time, Kwasniewski, issued a formal apology on behalf of Poland for these events. That’s what happens in a democracy; open exploration of history, even the painful parts, with public discussion (without state censorship). I wonder if Russia will ever evolve to such a point someday.

        But that all aside, my original point was that you’re wrong: Kielce was not the last pogrom in Europe by far. No, Sir, not by a long shot. You may recall two different phenomena, the first being that Stalin often installed Jewish puppets in his Eastern European puppet states so that they could never become popular locally and would always be dependent on Stalin for their power; men like Rákosi in Hungary, Bierut in Poland, Pauker in Romania, etc. Well, ol’ Iosif Vassarionovich had second thoughts — and let’s face it, he was slowly losing his mind by the late 1940s anyway — so Stalin initiated what can only be called a massacre from about 1948 onwards, killing off many of these loyal Jewish communists in staged show trials all across Eastern Europe, and you may recall that by early 1953, just before he died, Stalin had come to suspect his own (Jewish) doctors and was set to have them killed right about when he himself croaked. The post-Stalinist leadership finished the job quietly, albeit less bloodily, by removing any remaining Jewish communists in the empire throughout the mid-1950s. Granted, Kielce was a mob action, but the “Anti-Zionist” hysteria that swept 1948-53 USSR was far bloodier and, as usual, state-organized and directed. In English, I would suggest reading Robert Conquest on this in particular.

        • Tomek, the Russian word pogrom means large-scale mob violence; in this sense, Kielce 1946 was the last event of its kind in Europe (although there were lesser outbreaks in Poland and elsewhere). This is not to say that Stalin’s official persecution of Jews was less bloody or less heinous; just that it was a different phenomenon.

          And I applaud the efforts of the Polish government and public to come to terms with this aspect of the country’s past (just as in the 1970s and 1980s I admired – quietly, lest the KGB gets wind of it – the heroic struggle of Polish students and dockers against Moscow-installed Communist dictatorship). This means Poland has a future. However, I am not aware about anything like this happening in Ukraine (maybe you or other commenters will enlighten me). At any rate, the city of Proskurov, renamed after the butcher Chmielnicki in Soviet times, has not received its name back. And although monuments to Lenin are (mostly) gone, no one contemplates removing those to Chmielnicki.

        • Oh, and although Poland indeed was for centuries a safe haven for Jews, that ended in 1648. Ironically, Russian takeover in the 18th century made life safer for them – not because Tsarist government loved Jews, but because it did not tolerate any revolts or mob actions. Of course, that ended too when the Tsar started losing control and when his secret police decided to use anti-Semitism against the growing revolutionary movement.

  9. Kremlin secrecy extends to Holodomor archives
    18 June, 20:23 | Vladimir Ryzhkov, Special to Kyiv Post

    Vladimir Ryzhkov writes that the Russian government has to open its archives if it truly is interested in fighting falsification of history.

    The only way to fight a real battle against the falsification of history – something that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has made a priority after creating a special commission to handle this issue – is to keep government archives as open as possible for historians.

    Unfortunately, the Russian government is doing the exact opposite. This secrecy deprives historians access to the most sensitive and important historical documents. Among other things, this is also a violation of the Constitution.

    Medvedev’s commission “for counteracting attempts to falsify history to the detriment of Russia’s interests” is headed by presidential chief of staff Sergei Naryshkin, who will control which documents remain classified and which ones are opened to the public. There are many reasons to be concerned that the documents most essential to an open and honest study and discussion of Russian and Soviet history will remain locked up.

    Former President Boris Yeltsin had a much more liberal policy toward releasing government archives. On July 7, 1993, he signed a law governing Russia’s archives that remained in force until 2004. The law stipulated that documents containing state secrets should be declassified and made available to the public in no more than 30 years. Documents containing sensitive information of a personal nature had to be released in 75 years or less.

    But under Vladimir Putin’s presidency, a new law was passed in 2004 that imposed far greater restrictions on access to state archives. The 30-year limit disappeared completely. Although Article 25 of the new law states that all documents should be made available to the public, the final decision as to which documents contain state secrets and are held under restricted access is made by the very same commission on state secrets headed by Naryshkin. This means that the public’s constitutional right to have access to archival documents will be rendered meaningless. What’s more, since Article 25 contains no time limits for declassifying documents, the government can keep “inconvenient” or incriminating documents that it considers to be “to the detriment of Russia’s interests” classified forever.

    Strangely enough, Russia’s so-called “state secrets” are most vigorously guarded when they relate to Stalin-era documents, which remain the most highly classified. For example, historian Mark Solonin of Samara was recently denied access to the Foreign Ministry’s archives following a request to study documents connected with Soviet-Czechoslovakian relations on the eve of the Munich Agreement in 1938, even though more than 70 years have passed since those events took place.

    Most of the documents connected with the 1940 execution of more than 20,000 Polish officers at Katyn, which was carried out by the NKVD [predecessor to KGB] under direct orders from Stalin, also remain locked away. After Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and Yeltsin officially acknowledged the massacre and released many related documents from government archives, then-President Putin decided to do an about-face. The chief military prosecutor recently closed the investigation into the tragedy, and even the decision to halt criminal proceedings was deemed classified. The Kremlin’s decision to sweep the matter under the carpet raises the question whether Russia really wants to break with Stalin’s bloody past or whether it has a sick attachment to it.

    Also classified – or simply lost or destroyed – are documents from Stalin’s Politburo of 1939 related to the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the partitioning of Poland, the annexation of the Baltic states and the Soviet invasion of Finland.

    Documents pertaining to political killings abroad carried out by Soviet secret service agents are still classified, even if decades have passed since the killings took place.

    The government continues to deny access to materials documenting the behavior of Soviet forces in Europe in 1945. This automatically provokes speculation that the scale of the looting, violence and rape carried out by Soviet soldiers and officers was greater than we have been led to believe.

    Also off-limits are documents connected with the mass deportation of Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian citizens on the eve of the outbreak of World War II in 1941 and the expropriation of their property.

    Still classified are huge stacks of documents on the Soviet gulags and NKVD crimes. Yeltsin’s decree of June 23, 1992, calling for the full declassification of materials documenting the violation of human rights – and particularly those involving political repression — remains unfulfilled.

    It is absurd that documents regarding the famine deaths of millions of people in 1932 and 1933 in southern Russia and Ukraine are still classified. Interestingly enough, Russia never tires of accusing Ukraine of falsifying history when Kyiv claims that the Holodomor, or famine, was an act of Soviet (read: Russian) genocide against the Ukrainian people. Moscow maintains that Stalin’s policy of seizing food supplies was directed against all the agricultural regions of the Soviet Union – mainly Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan – regardless of ethnicity. If that is the case, why doesn’t the Kremlin immediately declassify those documents and expose Stalin’s decisions? In this way, the Kremlin warriors for historical truth could pull the rug out from under Ukraine’s allegedly “brazen attempt to falsify history.”

    As a result of all the crimes committed by the Soviet government, tens of millions of innocent citizens were killed or falsely imprisoned. Historians estimate that the number of victims in the Stalin era alone approaches 60 million people; the exact figure is difficult to pin down, and restricting archives will make it even harder to get to the truth. Most shocking is that Stalin came in third place in the “Name of Russia” nationwide television contest held in November for the most notable personalities in Russian history. Moreover, new history textbooks, scheduled to be released in the fall semester, contain a description of Stalin as being an “effective manager.” The creeping rehabilitation of Stalin has been under way for the past eight years, and restricting archives will help keep this process going strong.

    The Soviet regime went to great lengths to conceal its heinous crimes from the public. Why would today’s Russia, which boasts a democratic Constitution and which has officially condemned the mass killings and imprisonment during the Soviet period, guard the secrets of the failed, bankrupt totalitarian state so diligently? Perhaps because Russia’s ruling elite view the Soviet model as being worthy of imitation? If so, we may soon see the mustachioed, grinning face of Stalin hanging in bureaucrats’ offices all across the country – side by side with Putin’s portrait.

    Vladimir Ryzhkov, a State Duma deputy from 1993 to 2007, hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio. This column was originally published in the Moscow Times (www.moscowtimes.ru) on June 9 and is reprinted with the author’s permission. Ryzhkov’s website is http://www.ryzkov.ru.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s