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Russian history 2.0: Kremlin wants to 'correct' the record.

A proposed law could make comparing Soviet rule with that of the Nazis a crime. Intellectuals fear a manipulation of Russia’s past.

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Another sore point has been Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko's public praise for the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, which fought a CIA-backed guerrilla war against the USSR for nearly a decade following the end of World War II, as well as official Ukrainian efforts to get world governments to classify as an act of "genocide" the mass famine caused by farm collectivization in the early 1930s, which killed millions of Soviet peasants and is known in Ukraine as the "Holodomor."

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In his recently launched blog, Mr. Medvedev recently complained that "such attempts [to revise history] are becoming more hostile, more evil, and more aggressive.... We find ourselves in a situation in which we have to defend the historical truth and once again prove facts that not long ago seemed most clear. But it is necessary to do."

War history a touchy subject

A public opinion survey conducted last month by the state-run VTsIOM agency found that almost two-thirds of Russians agree that attempts to "deny the Soviet victory in the Great Patriotic War" should be outlawed, referring to the Russian term for World War II. Many older Russian historians appear to agree that the panel, and its brief of fighting revisionism, is a good thing.

"We had to do this long ago," says General Makhmut Gareyev, a war hero and president of the official Academy of Military Sciences in Moscow. "One cannot tolerate historical falsifications, particularly of World War II. Once the state organs make their decision, some things will possibly be corrected in the near future."

Roy Medvedev, a dissident historian from the Soviet period, told the independent Ekho Moskvi radio station that the commission is not an objectionable idea in principle – if it sticks to reviewing history and opening up archive access. But he added, "I have strongly protested against any measures for criminal prosecution for falsification because this would be a restoration of Soviet practices.... It will be very bad if publishing various kinds of theories and research ends up being banned."

In search of a stable past

Russia's own national identity has been in flux since the collapse of the USSR, along with its ideology and multi-ethnic empire. The early post-Soviet years were marked by excoriating self-criticism and widespread public demoralization. Vladimir Putin came to power nearly a decade ago amid a patriotic backlash, which aimed to banish that pervasive sense of national humiliation by restoring pride in Russia and recognizing the positive achievements of the Soviet years.

Some ultranationalist thinkers, such as Alexander Dugin, who heads the influential International Eurasian Movement, suggest that the creation of a national myth that will unite Russians is a worthy goal.

"We should fix some limits to freedom of speech in order to establish a national consensus and preserve it for future generations," Mr. Dugin says. "To have a myth that provides a stable point of reference for society is necessary to define our historical path. That's not false."

But critics have long complained that the downside of the Putin-era "feel good" approach to Russian history includes a tendency to minimize a multitude of past crimes, including mass murders carried out by Joseph Stalin's NKVD security service.

"I don't even think [the commission] is legal. Our Constitution forbids the establishment of a state ideology and mandates ideological pluralism in Russia," says Vladimir Ryzhkov, a former independent Duma deputy. "You can debate history, but it shouldn't be imposed by those who happen to be in power. For centuries, our history has been written and rewritten by czars and commissars. So, this new commission can only raise doubt and protest."