Russian pundit Yevgeny Kiselyov, writing in the Moscow Times:
I would be fascinated to know if Westerners can fully appreciate the political significance behind President Dmitry Medvedev’s decision to create a special commission “for counteracting attempts to falsify history to the detriment of Russia’s interests.” Most foreigners would probably say, “This is very strange. Doesn’t Russia have more pressing problems it needs to tackle, such as the managing the crisis, modernizing the country’s political and economic institutions or battling corruption?”
Had the year been 1950, when the Soviet Union was making colossal efforts to recover from the aftermath of World War II, foreigners would have been equally perplexed that Josef Stalin chose that moment to initiate a huge public debate on the Marxist approach to linguistics.
Two decades before that, Stalin rewrote the history of the Bolshevik Revolution, the Red Terror and civil war. In this spirit, “A Short History of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks)” was published under Stalin’s orders to make sure that all Soviets understood the “historical record” correctly — that Stalin was the one and only successor to Lenin.
In 1934, Stalin’s childhood friend and top Kremlin bureaucrat Avel Yenukidze published the book “The Underground Print Shop in the Caucasus.” It was interpreted as having diminished Stalin’s contributions to the printing press and to Bolshevism in general. As a result, Stalin did not spare his old friend. Yenukidze was arrested and executed as an “enemy of the people.” The crime: writing about his revolutionary youth without the necessary respect owed to Stalin.
Similarly, it was anyone’s guess why Stalin prohibited the sequel to the film “Ivan Grozny” by the famous director Sergei Eisenstein or why Pravda lambasted a new opera by Dmitry Shostakovich. Soviet intelligentsia were left scratching their heads trying to figure out why Mikhail Zoshchenko’s short stories and Anna Akhmatova’s poems were subject to such harsh criticism in literary magazine reviews.
The worst “falsifier” of history, of course, has been the Kremlin, and it is difficult not to draw a parallel between Medvedev’s decision to combat the falsification of history and similar steps taken during Stalin’s rule.
As soon as Medvedev uttered the words “attempts to falsify history to the detriment of Russia’s interests,” it was clear what he really meant: The state would crack down on any attempts to objectively examine the more unpleasant — and incriminating — aspects of Russian and Soviet history. This includes a candid, historical discussion of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of nonaggression between the Soviet Union and Hitler’s Germany — and, by extension, Stalin’s passive and active role in helping Hitler start World War II. Likewise, questioning the Soviet Union’s annexation of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia would be highly discouraged, as would raising the issue of how the Kremlin created and supported repressive puppet regimes all across Eastern Europe after rolling back Nazi forces at the end of World War II.
It is highly symbolic and ironic that “The Gulag Archipelago,” written by Nobel laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn, was denounced by the Soviet regime as “a gross falsification of history.” This was because the novel exposed crimes that bankrupted the foundation of the Soviet system. The book thoroughly documented that mass repression began under Lenin, that terror was premeditated, systemic and systematic and that the country created and fostered a giant impersonal bureaucratic machine for the moral and physical destruction of human beings.
“The Gulag Archipelago” changed the world’s attitude toward the Soviet Union. If there were people who previously viewed Soviet communism through rose-tinted glasses, “The Gulag Archipelago” exposed the harrowing truth about the government’s heinous crimes. Published in the West in 1973, Solzhenitsyn’s great “falsification of history” proved to be the beginning of the end for the Soviet Union.
Medvedev’s plan for keeping the historical record “accurate” coincides with the introduction of a bill “opposing the rehabilitation of Nazism, Nazi criminals and their accomplices on the territory of the independent states, former republics of the Soviet Union.” A prison term of three to five years is the recommended sentence for Russian and foreign offenders alike.
For example, anyone who condemns the Allies for handing over to the Soviet authorities in 1945 about 2 million “victims of Yalta” could be labeled as a “criminal.” According to the secret agreement between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union that was confirmed at the 1945 Yalta conference, the Allies agreed to forcefully repatriate all Soviet citizens who had fallen into German hands before they were freed by the Allied advance. These victims included Russian Cossacks, prisoners of war, forced laborers, emigres and anti-Communists who had fought for Germany against Stalin. Hundreds of thousands of these people were executed upon their “repatriation” to the Soviet Union or sent to the gulag.
Similarly, authorities could bring criminal charges against any historian who questions the whether the British and U.S. bombing of Dresden in February 1945 was justified.
Even while declaring battle against “falsifying history,” today’s authorities turn a blind eye to history textbooks that describe Stalin as an “effective manager” and portray the mass repression of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s as the only way Stalin could overcome the country’s colossal economic and security challenges.
Meanwhile, prime-time, state-controlled television is filled with historically garbled pseudo-documentaries. For example, one depicted the Berlin Crisis of 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis as being almost the greatest triumphs of Nikita Khrushchev’s foreign policy because the United States feared — which is to say, “respected,” according to Russian psychology — the Soviet Union as an equal superpower. Other “documentaries” portray the years under Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and President Boris Yeltsin as being exclusively dominated by crises, disintegration and the loss of society’s orientation and values. In general, then-President Vladimir Putin set the stage for this politically driven historical bias when he referred to the collapse of the Soviet Union as the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.”
Regarding questions of history, it seems that Medvedev is dutifully following in Putin’s footsteps. And this once again demonstrates who is really calling the shots in the country.