00:46 Sep. 29, 2016
Ukrainian historian and diplomat Dmytro Ishchenko on instrumentalization of Russian history by Putin's regime and his predecessors
Exactly 77 years ago, on the 28th of September, 1939, Moscow hosted a meeting that, among other events accommodated there, may claim a notable place in the long history of political villainy. Encouraged by Joseph Stalin's watchful gaze, Vyacheslav Molotov and Joachim von Ribbentrop, the foreign ministers of the USSR and the Third Reich, signed the so-called Soviet-German Frontier Treaty. This document was a supplementary protocol amending the infamous Pact, under which the same officials had put their signatures some four and a half weeks earlier. The new agreement addressed several details that needed to be settled in the matter of Poland's division between the two occupying forces. Any ‘Polish agitation' or other attempts of restoring the Second Republic were to be suppressed on either side of the new border.
Vyacheslav Molotov signs the Soviet-German Frontier Treaty on the 28th of September, 1939. Stalin and von Ribbentrop are standing behind him (Source: Wikipedia)
The map attached to the Soviet-German Frontier Treaty on the 28th of September, 1939. It was signed by Stalin and von Ribbentrop (Source: Wikipedia)
The whole Soviet-Nazi scheming at the gloomy dawn of the Second World War is something one would hardly view in a positive light. However, the official historiography of today's Russia (with a vivid support of Russia's juridical apparatus) insistently suggests just that. Motivated by the Kremlin's historical policies, the citizens of the Russian Federation are to be taking the unambiguously warm look at the Soviet invasion of Poland, as well as at Moscow's friendly dealings with Hitler in dividing ‘the spheres of influence'.
A Polish caricature satirizing the Soviet-Nazi Pact. Published in the newspaper ‘Mucha' in Warsaw on the 8th of September, 1939 (Source: Wikipedia)
It seems that historians of today's Russia are left with only one option to characterize the sources of this type – they are to be branded as ‘propagandist distortion of facts'. Any other interpretation, especially with critical remarks regarding the USSR, may cost them dearly.
This approach was modestly inspired by president Putin himself, who, in early 2013, ordered the development of a unified program for teaching history. The process evolved under the supervision of Sergey Naryshkin, Chairman of the State Duma and former head of president Medvedev's administration. He and Vladimir Putin, as rumour has it, have been closely associated since their days as young KGB officers. Between 2009 and 2012, Naryshkin captained one very peculiar state body called ‘the Presidential Commission of the Russian Federation to Counter Attempts to Falsify History to the Detriment of Russia's Interests'. The president's decree that gave birth to this institution defined its formal goal as ‘defending Russia' against ‘those who would deny Soviet contribution to the victory in World War Two'.
In 2012, the Commission was dissolved and Putin's old colleague went on to chair the Russian Historical Society – the ‘revived' organization, which Emperor Alexander II founded in 1866. The aforementioned institution coordinated those complex bureaucratic and legal moves that produced the so-called Single Historical and Cultural Standard. The latter has already become the tool to ensure that history is taught in ‘the right manner' throughout the vast provinces of the Kremlin's empire.
Alexander II of Russia (1818-1881), the founder of modern historical policies in Russia (Source: Wikipedia)
In 1866, Alexander approved the charter of the Imperial Russian Historical Society. Its purpose, according to the Emperor, was ‘to contribute fully to the development of education in Russian national history.
Last week, on the 22nd of September, Putin appointed his faithful comrade as Director of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service. In view of the expected merger of all Russian secret and security agencies into a single KGB-like force, Naryshkin is seen as the primary candidate for the post of its future chief. It seems extremely likely that the aggressive ‘defence of Russian interests' in the realm of history will remain one of his priorities for both external and domestic dimensions. Very soon, we may witness numerous and specifically trained Russian historians laying siege to the centres of public discourses in Europe and the lands far beyond it.
Sergey Naryshkin (Source: Wikipedia)
The new head of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service was responsible for the development of the Single Historical and Cultural Standard applied in teaching the history of Russia.
Inside Russia, the rejuvenated KGB monster will most definitely control the ways Russian, East European and Eurasian past is represented. National or state-bound identities and the legitimizing practices of power rest upon the idea of ‘common history'. For the present-day regime in Moscow, the uncontested authority in shaping the historical consciousness of all its subjects is a matter of political survival. Criminal charges against those Russians who dared to disagree with the Kremlin's dogmas are to prevent any historical debates or ‘misconceptions'.
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The whole process reminds of one satirical text published at the beginning of the 1860s in Saint Petersburg's most prominent literary magazine ‘Sovremennik' (The Contemporary). The text's author was Kozma Prutkov – the fictional writer invented by count Aleksey Tolstoy (1817-1875) and a few other intellectuals. Mocking the then social and political tendencies in the Russian Empire, they presented Prutkov's ‘Project for the Introduction of Uniformity of Thought in Russia'. The harmful divergence of views, according to this ‘document', was to be tamed by the official publishing body. Its materials, reprinted by all other newspapers and magazines, would inform the populace of the ‘correct opinion' – that of the authorities.
Kozma Prutkov. Portrait by Lev Lagorio, c.1853 (Source: Wikipedia)
The Soviet regime diligently followed this path and the Russian Federation is doing exactly the same – especially when its functionaries explain history to the masses of common citizens.