Putin continues feverishly rewriting Russian history

The Times of London reports:

Now you see him, now you don’t. Stalin was a past master at the art of airbrushing. In one classic set of photographs, there Stalin is with his secret police chief, Nikolai Yezhov — and in the next photo, there Yezhov isn’t (he was executed in 1940, with his boss’s approval). And now, in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, the airbrushing of history seems to be all the rage again.

If you look hard enough — and we travelled for 5,000 miles around the former Soviet Union — you can find old Soviet airbrushing in concrete. Not far from the railway station in Volgograd, formerly Stalingrad, are three giant faces on the frieze of a building: Marx, Engels, and Lenin. Next to them is a strange shadow, a memory of a fourth face no longer there. Stalin’s visage was chiselled off, sometime after Nikita Khrushchev’s “secret speech” of 1956, in which he denounced Stalin to a closed session of the party congress.

But that is in the sticks, where folk are behind the times. In Kursk underground station in Moscow, a frieze saluting Stalin was removed after the “secret speech”. This summer, after an absence of half a century, it mysteriously reappeared. Stalin is back, his name high above the heads of Muscovites heading down into the underground, with a line from the old Stalinist Soviet anthem: “Stalin brought us up and inspired us to carry out heroic deeds.” Russia seems to be not de-Stalinising but re-Stalinising.

In Russian schools, something even more troubling appears to be happening. They call it “positive history” and the man behind it is Putin. In 2007, the former secret police chief told a conference of Russian educationists that the country needed a more patriotic history. Putin condemned teachers for having “porridge in their heads”, attacked some history textbook authors for taking foreign money — “naturally they are dancing the polka ordered by those who pay them” — and announced that new history textbooks were on their way. Within weeks, a new law was passed giving the state powers to approve and to disallow history textbooks for schools.

What does Igor Dolutsky, the author of a history textbook that has been dropped by the Kremlin, make of “positive history”? “It’s an appalling idea which hinders proper teaching in schools. School history should not create patriots, it should teach children to think. Putin’s task is to rule a state edging towards totalitarianism.”

Aleksandr Filippov is the Positive History Man. He has a long, mournful face and the air of a defrocked Orthodox priest. His voice is sorrowful but the message is upbeat: “It is wrong to write a textbook that will fill the children who learn from it with horror and disgust about their past and their people. A generally positive tone for the teaching of history will build optimism and self-assurance in the growing young generation and make them feel as if they are part of their country’s bright future. A history in which there is good and bad, things to be proud of and things that are regrettable. But the general tone for a school textbook should still be positive.”

It is when you analyse the Kremlinapproved “positive history” book in detail that the clock chimes 13. In March 1933 a fearless reporter and fluent Russian speaker, Gareth Jones, evaded the Moscow censors and went to the Soviet Ukraine and southern Russia, from where he reported that “millions are dying in the villages”. The “Great Famine” deaths were caused by Stalin’s forced collectivisation, grain seizures and mass deportations of peasant farmers. Malcolm Muggeridge declared it a man-made famine and Arthur Koestler wrote of seeing “horrible infants with enormous, wobbling heads, stick-like limbs, swollen, pointed bellies . . .”

Back in Moscow, the Great Famine was denied by Stalin’s stooge on The New York Times, Walter Duranty. Two years later, Jones was shot dead in China, some say by Stalin’s secret police, the NKVD.

One estimate is that four million died in Ukraine and southern Russia during the Great Famine, another puts the figure at ten million. No one counted. The unnecessary deaths of millions were airbrushed from history. So how does the 2009 “positive history” textbook cover this? It dedicates 83 pages to Stalin’s industrialisation — and one paragraph to the famine. The scales are loaded one way, to the benefit of Stalin’s reputation.

The Soviet Union smashed Nazi Germany during the Second World War — the greatest achievement of its people. But that war started in 1939, not 1941, when Hitler’s forces invaded the Soviet Union. In August 1939, Hitler’s Foreign Minister, Ribbentrop, met Stalin in Moscow and signed the Nazi-Soviet Pact — “the midnight of the century”. For almost two years, the British attempt to blockade the Nazis in the Atlantic was overcome by Soviet trains shipping raw materials to Germany. In the first four months of 1941 alone, Stalin sent Hitler a quarter of a million tons of petrol and three quarters of a million tons of grain.

And how does the “positive history” textbook handle the Soviet appeasement of Nazi Germany? It doesn’t. Filippov says: “Stalin didn’t help Hitler. He traded and both countries benefited from this trade.”

I asked him where in his book does it explain that, while Stalin was trading with Hitler, Britain was fighting Hitler? Does it mention the Battle of Britain? The Battle of the Atlantic?

Filippov: “As for the fact that Germany fought with England, of course it is mentioned. But the book does not mention the Battle of the Atlantic. You think that at all costs we have to write that between 1939 and 1941 there was trade between the Soviet Union and Germany? Am I right?”

Sweeney: “Yes I bloody do! It matters very much that Stalin helped Hitler while we were fighting Hitler.”

On page 424 of his book, Filippov writes: “the anti-Fascist coalition was rather a strange one during the whole of the Second World War. The people of one of its members — the Soviet Union — spilt blood on its battlefields. The other members of the coalition (Great Britain and especially the US) limited themselves mainly to supplying arms, materials and provisions to the USSR until a decisive turning point was reached during the war. At the end of the war they tried to benefit from the fruits of the general victory and did not even have any scruples about holding separate (unilateral) talks with the enemy.”

Britain and America did not hold separate or unilateral peace talks with the Nazis. That is simply untrue.

The author goes on to make an extraordinary claim. He cites two speeches made in 1941 by Harry Truman, then a senator, and Winston Churchill, and summarises Western policy in 1941: “All these plans were essentially a continuation of the appeasement policy that the Western powers started in the prewar years.”

My family history helps me here. My late father was a ship’s engineer in the Merchant Navy during the Battle of the Atlantic. His impression of hearing a depth-charge go off when the destroyers were hunting subs — “BOOM!” — was a great turn in the pub. Roy Billen, the father of my friend, the Times writer Andrew Billen, was in the RAF dropping bombs on Germany. In 1941 many of their friends died fighting Hitler. Yet now we learn that they were appeasing the Nazis.

On what happened during the Second World War, Russia’s new governmentapproved history book tells lies.

But the “positive history” version of Stalin’s Terror is truly frightening. From 1925 to 1953, millions of people were killed on Stalin’s command — which is why Trotsky called him “the gravedigger of the revolution”. Some were shot, some were tortured and died, some perished of hunger and cold in the gulag. No one knows how many died because objective historians have found it difficult if not impossible to gain access to the secret police archives, but the estimates of Terror victims killed range from three million to more than 20 million.

How does the “positive history” book cover this? It quotes one number for people killed — specifically, those condemned to death: 786,000.

Sweeney: “Where does it say in your book that millions died in Stalin’s Terror?”

Filippov: “Let’s have a look. Here is the bit about the repressions, and it is spread over three pages.”

Sweeney: “So 786,000 were condemned to death. Where does it say that millions died? It’s not there, is it?”

Filippov appeared to search for a reference, in vain.

The historian Orlando Figes, whose book The Whisperers gives a terrifying insight into what life under Stalin was like, says that “positive history” is part of Putin’s “historical mythology, combining the Soviet myths (stripped of their communist packaging) with statist elements from the Russian Empire before 1917”. All of it pushes Putin’s “sovereign democracy” — strong state power.

Last year the authorities raided the St Petersburg offices of Memorial, a charity that helps relatives of the victims of state terror, then and now.

We flew to Archangel in northern Russia. The city used to be a hub for the gulag — a place to which Stalin’s victims were sent before being dispatched to a living death in the frozen wastes. Stalin’s bureaucracy of terror logged everything: sentences, dates of deportation to specific camps, death certificates.

Relatives of the dead and the missing, especially Poles and German prisoners of war, have been helped by the Russian history professor Mikhail Suprun and Aleksandr Dudarev, the historian in charge of the NKVD archive, to trace what happened to their family members. In September, Suprun and Dudarev were arrested by the FSB — the new name for the NKVD. The professor’s data were confiscated and both men are being investigated for an alleged breach of privacy. Neither could talk to us.

But a Russian-Polish amateur historian, Aldina Egorova — the kind of woman who, in Britain, would pop up on Who Do You Think You Are? — told me she was worried that the archive would be permanently closed. She had been helping Poles to find out exactly where their loved ones froze to death. Her voice faltered and she hesitated when she recalled the police interrogating her about her work. This happened not in 1941 but in September 2009 — three months ago.

14 responses to “Putin continues feverishly rewriting Russian history

  1. This is one of the best articles that I have read in a while. It mentions Gareth Jones, Malcolm Muggeridge, Arthur Koestler, the infamous Walter Duranty, etc.

    I am sure that we will see many kremlinoids, shortly.

  2. Good article.

  3. Yes an excellent and factual article.

  4. @Back in Moscow, the Great Famine was denied by Stalin’s stooge on The New York Times, Walter Duranty.

    After more than six months of study and deliberation, the Pulitzer Prize Board has decided it will not revoke the foreign reporting prize awarded in 1932 to Walter Duranty of The New York Times.

    • “Almost single-handedly did Duranty aid and abet one of the world’s most prolific mass murderers, knowing all the while that was going on but refraining from saying precisely what he knew to be true. He had swallowed the ends-justifies-the-means-argument hook, line and sinker. When Stalin’s atrocities were brought to light, Duranty loved to repeat ‘you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.’ Those few “eggs” were the heads of men, women and children, and those “few” were merely tens of millions.”
      Mark Y. Herring – Review of S. J. Taylor’s Stalin’s Apologist: Walter Duranty, the New York Times Man in Moscow, “Contra Mundum” No. 15


      The New York Times, New York, March 31, 1933

      MOSCOW, March 30—In the middle of the diplomatic duel between Great Britain and the Soviet Union over the accused British engineers there appears from a British source a big scare story in the American press about famine in the Soviet Union, with “thousands already dead and millions menaced by death and starvation.”

      Its author is Gareth Jones, who is a former secretary to David Lloyd George and who recently spent three weeks in the Soviet Union and reached the conclusion that the country was “on the verge of a terrific smash,” as he told the writer.

      Mr. Jones is a man of a keen and active mind, and he has taken the trouble to learn Russian, which he speaks with considerable fluency, but the writer thought Mr. Jones’s judgment was somewhat hasty and asked him on what it was based. It appeared that he had made a forty-mile walk through villages in the neighborhood of Kharkov and had found conditions sad.

      But—to put it brutally—you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs, and the Bolshevist leaders are just as indifferent to the casualties that may be involved in their drive toward socializaton as any General during the World War who ordered a costly attack in order to show his superiors that he and his division possessed the proper soldierly spirit. In fact, the Bolsheviki are more indifferent because they are animated by fanatical conviction.

      Since I talked to Mr. Jones I have made exhaustive inquiries about this alleged famine situation. I have inquired in Soviet commissariats and in foreign embassies with their network of consuls, and I have tabulated information from Britons working as specialists and from my personal connections, Russian and foreign.

      There is a serious shortage food shortage throughout the country, with occasional cases of well-managed State or collective farms. The big cities and the army are adequately supplied with food.

      In short, conditions are definitely bad in certain sections— the Ukraine, North Caucasus and Lower Volga. The rest of the country is on short rations but nothing worse. These conditions are bad, but there is no famine.

  5. Gareth Jones’ diaries are currently on display at Cambridge University.

    Here is a good link with articles and information.


  6. This is an excellent article, but depressing. There will never be truth in Russia, only blind patriots.

  7. YouTube – Holodomor Report from Gareth Jones‏

  8. “the anti-Fascist coalition was rather a strange one during the whole of the Second World War. The people of one of its members — the Soviet Union — spilt blood on its battlefields. The other members of the coalition (Great Britain and especially the US) limited themselves mainly to supplying arms, materials and provisions to the USSR until a decisive turning point was reached during the war. At the end of the war they tried to benefit from the fruits of the general victory and did not even have any scruples about holding separate (unilateral) talks with the enemy.”

    I really do not know how the interviewer could remain calm after reading this. I would crucify author of this text without hesitation.

    Soviets had informations in late 1941 that Japanese prepare strike against Americans. Proofs of these plans were so undisputed they convinced Stalin (quite an achievement) to move his forces from the Far East, deployed there for the case of Japan invasion (after all, there was a brief conflict over Mongolia in 1939), for the defense of Moscow at the most critical time. Soviets had those informations and did not warn their allies that already supplied them with weaponry, that already bombed German factories, that fought Germans sooner than Soviets from Norway to Africa, that held large German forces in the occupied Europe and so on. Really, I have to agree here with the author – it was very strange anti-Nazi coalition. Later, when Americans already fought Japanese through entire Pacific, they still had enough strength to provide their allies with weapons and men. Soviets never did the same. It was British-American operation that ended Rommel’s campaign in the Africa. It was British and American forces that invaded Italy in 1943 and opened second front, not to mention another front year later.

    Russians spilt blood on the battlefield, they had largest casualties during the war. But there is casualty and casualty. Western generals and political leaders valued life of their people and did not sent them to stupid operations with no chance of breakthrough or gain. Soviets did not care about their subordinates, that is what makes Soviet casualties during WWII so high. Germans fought the very same war, with the same fierceness and cruelty and their generals were still able to keep the death toll much lower than Soviets, the “Victors”. At the very end of the war, Marshals of the USSR Zhukov and Konev competed with each other who will first raise a flag over Reichstag and result? Two of the most elite, guard tank armies were buried in Berlin that was only held by old, women and kids without heavy weaponry…

    Russians spilt blood on the battlefield and only one responsible for this is Russians themselves. If their leaders cared a bit about own people. If they did not divide Europe with Hitler, there would be no invasion of Soviet Union, Hitler would not started operations in Western Europe with Soviets in his back and reversely, invasion of USSR with France and Britain in his back…

    Sorry for lot of grammar errors..

  9. Against the Sale of Mistrals to Russia:


    Please sign and tell your friends!

  10. Sir Winston Churchill to Joseph Stalin:
    “… Have the stresses of the war been as bad to you personally as carrying through the policy of the Collective Farms?”

    “Oh, no, the Collective Farm policy was a terrible struggle… Ten million [he said, holding up his hands]. It was fearful. Four years it lasted. It was absolutely necessary…”

    Winston Churchill, Memoirs of the Second World War. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1959 p. 633


    “…A famine that came about without drought and without war.”

    Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago


    “This was the first instance of a peacetime genocide in history. It took the extraordinary form of an artificial famine deliberately created by the ruling powers. The savage combination of words for the designation of a crime – an artificial deliberately planned famine – is still incredible to many people throughout the world, but indicates the uniqueness of the tragedy of 1933, which is unparalleled, for a time of peace, in the number of victims it claimed.’

    Wasyl Hryshko – Survivor The Ukrainian Holocaust, 1933


    “Moscow employed the famine as a political weapon against the Ukrainians in the years 1932-1933. The famine was in its entirety artificially induced and organized.”

    F. M. Pigido – (an economist who lived and worked in Ukraine during the Famine of 1932-1933) Investigation of Communist Takeover and Occupation of the Non-Russian Nations of the U.S.S.R p. 35


    “I can’t give an exact figure because no one was keeping count. All we knew was that people were dying in enormous numbers. ”

    Nikita Khrushchev, Khrushchev Remembers


    “Farmers present by themselves the basic force of the national movement. Without farmers there can be no strong national movement. This is what we mean when we say that the nationalist question is, actually, the farmers’ question.”

    Joseph Stalin, Marxist and the National-Colonial Question


    “Famine was quite deliberately employed as an instrument of national policy, as the last means of breaking the resistance of the peasantry to the new system where they are divorced from personal ownership of the land and obligated to work on the conditions which the state may demand from them… This famine may fairly be called political because it was not the result of any overwhelming natural catastrophe or such complete exhaustions of the country’s resources in foreign and civil wars…”

    William Henry Chamberlin – (Correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor), Russia’s Iron Age p.82


    “… [Our reporting] served Moscow’s purpose of smearing the facts out of recognition and declaring a situation which, had we reported simply and clearly, might have worked up enough public opinion abroad to force remedial measures. And every correspondent each in his own measure, was guilty of collaborating in this monstrous hoax on the world.”

    Eugene Lyons – (Moscow United Press correspondent from 1928 to 1934) Assignment in Utopia pp. 572-573


    “… On one side, millions of starving peasants, their bodies often swollen from lack of food; on the other, soldiers, members of the GPU carrying out the instructions of the dictatorship of the proletariat. They had gone over the country like a swarm of locusts and taken away everything edible; they had shot or exiled thousands of peasants, sometimes whole villages; they had reduced some of the most fertile land in the world to a melancholy desert.”

    Malcolm Muggeridge – British foreign correspondent, “War on the Peasants”, Fortnightly Review, 1 May, 1933


    ” I saw ravages of the famine of 1932-1933 in Ukraine – hordes of families in rags begging at the railway stations, the women lifting up to the compartment windows their starving brats, which, with drumstick limbs, big cadaverous heads and puffed bellies, looked like embryos out of alcohol bottles.”

    Arthur Koestler, The God That Failed p. 68


    “The child of a Ukrainian kulak deliberately starved to death by the Stalinist regime is worth no less than a Jewish child in the Warsaw ghetto starved to death by the Nazi regime.”

    Courtois, Stéphane. Le livre noir du communisme: Crimes, terreur et répression.


    “And the peasant children! Have you ever seen the newspaper photographs of the children in the German camps? They were just like that, their heads like heavy balls on thin little necks, like storks, and one could see each bone of their arms and legs protruding from beneath the skin, how bones joined, and the entire skeleton was stretched over with skin that was like yellow gauze. And the children’s faces were aged, tormented, just as if they were seventy years old. And by the spring they no longer had faces at all. Instead, they had bird-like heads with beaks, or frog heads – thin, wide lips – some of them resembled fish, mouths open. Not human faces!”

    Vasily Grossman Forever Flowing pp. 156- 157


    “Anger lashed my mind as I drove back to the village. Butter sent abroad in the midst of the famine! In London, Berlin, Paris I could see … people eating butter stamped with a Soviet trade mark. Driving through the fields, I did not hear the lovely Ukrainian songs so dear to my heart. These people have forgotten how to sing! I could only hear the groans of the dying, and the lip-smacking of the fat foreigners enjoying our butter…”

    Victor Kravchenko – Former Soviet trade official and defector, I Chose Freedom


    ” Huge events like the Ukraine famine of 1933, involving the deaths of millions of people, have actually escaped the attention of the majority of English russophiles.”

    George Orwell – Commenting on the British attitude towards the Russians


    “Yet it is well to remember, as Robert Conquest’s powerful book obliges us to do, that the forced collectivization of agriculture decreed by the Soviet master and his party likely cost the lives of more people than perished in all countries as a result of the First World War.”

    Prof. Michael Marrus – Review of Robert Conquest’s The Harvest of Sorrow : Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine. Globe and Mail December 20, 1986

    “Imagine the Titanic sinking every day for thirteen years! Such were the losses from the 1933 Famine Genocide in Soviet Ukraine.” [based on the minimum seven million.]
    Melanie Bobrowski interviewed on CITY TV, Toronto, Oct. 4, 1998


  11. Putin has his own Walter Duranty he’s called Peter Lavelle and works for rancid Russia Today. I have observed him over a 3 year period. Never in my life have I listened to such a treacherous man, this US born citizen has been working in Russia for over 20 years and boy you can tell it, this creep attacks his own land at every opportunity the same land that nurtured and educated him. I would liken him to a despicable character from British history Lord Haw Haw a British citizen who broadcast Nazi propaganda from Berlin into British homes throughout WW2. (After the war we hung him).

    Lavelle was literally bouncing up and down in his chair with excitement when Russia launched its aggression on Georgia. He gleefully predicted that the down turn would not affect Russia, his actual words and I quote “Russia will be a bystander” he stated this would spell the end of US economic dominance thicko Lavelle said the US was embarking on another 1920s/30s great depression, one that it would never recover from. This creep did not say this with sorrow as one would expect when talking about a persons homeland, but with great joy and breathless anticipation. Well thicko Lavelle two years down the line lets look at the facts in the great depression the US economy fell 50% in this recent down turn 4-5% the great US of A is as strong as ever (thank god) and as for your beloved Russian totalitarian state in 12 months the economy effectively fell 16%.So who’s the bystander now you “nit wit”. It is Lavelle’s adopted home that is in terminal decline, when the collapse finally comes like all rats Lavelle will probably abandon the Russian sinking ship, and run back to the US. Let’s hope he gets the welcome he deserves.

  12. Pingback: Story and history | Public Strategist

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