Vienna, November 28 – A document purportedly showing that Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin had a change of heart about Soviet anti-religious policy and ended attacks on the Russian Orthodox Church in 1939 is a complete forgery, according to a historian at the Institute of Russian History at the Russian Academy of Sciences.
That document and the directive it ostensibly replaced were first published in 1999, Igor’ Kurlyandskiy writes in an article entitled “The Protocols of the Church Elders,” but a close examination of their style and content reveals both to be frauds (http://www.politjournal.ru/preview.php?action=Articles&dirid=50&tek=7705&issue=209).
Sometimes they have been used by those who hope to boost Stalin’s reputation, but more often and to this day – one was posted on the www.pravaya.ru site yesterday, to give but one example -- they are invoked by those who hope to form an alliance between Russian Communists and authoritarian elements in the Orthodox Church.
And because they have appeared so often and have been challenged so infrequently, Kurlyandskiy notes, they are now even used by otherwise reputable scholars in several monographs and at least one doctoral dissertation on Soviet anti-religious policy before and during World War II.
What makes Kurlyandskiy’s conclusion so important, therefore, is that it reduces the chances for such historical revisionism or for such an alliance of these former opponents. What makes them so impressive is that he works at an institute known for its nationalism and he shows the documents to be false on the basis of internal evidence.
The key “document,” which the Moscow scholar shows to be a forgery, is usually referred to be its title, “Excepts from Protocol No. 88 of the Session of the Politburo of the Central Community of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks” of November 11, 1939.
This protocol purportedly vacates a “Directive of Comrade Ulyanov (Lenin) from May 1, 1919, in which the founder of the Soviet state supposedly called for the arrest and execution of all priests and other religious figures as soon as possible. The 1939 protocol also reverses all orders to the Soviet police agencies to that effect.
And often in recent publications, appended to this November 1939 document is a note from Lavrentiy Beriya, Stalin’s notorious secret police chief, dated December 22, 1939, reporting to his boss on the release, consistent with the November 11 document, of some 24,000 priests and hierarchs from prison and the camps.
By presenting these documents together, by blaming the lack of the usual archival apparatus about them on their extreme sensitivity, and by offering what appears to be a coherent story, those making use of these materials have succeeded in winning a large audience for their point of view..
But in the space of a single article online, Kurlyandskiy makes short work of these “documents.” And the errors that he points to are so blatant that it is amazing that so many Russians have been taken in. Apparently, he implies, they believed in these documents because they were predisposed to want to do so.
Among the defects in and about these documents that Kurlyandskiy points to are the misuse of terms, the absence of records of any such decrees, the use of a number—which includes the “mark of the beast” – that was never employed, and the reference to “Comrade Ulyanov (Lenin),” a style no Soviet author ever used.
Moreover, he notes, not only are there no cases of “secret” party or government documents in pre-1953 Soviet times vacating earlier such orders or any at all repealing documents Lenin had signed, but the orders that these forgeries contain are inconsistent with what the Soviet government actually did either in 1919 or in 1939.
Thus, Kurlyandskiy concludes, “all the published materials” he has examined on this question “are forgeries, crudely falsified by unknown political provocateurs at the end of the 1990s and disseminated” by those who hoped to use them in pursuit of their goal.”
That goal, he said, was “the formation and rooting in public consciousness of the myth about a shift in the position of Stalin toward the Church and the Orthodox faith even before the war, and the creation of positive images of the ‘Orthodox” Stalin and the ‘patriotic’ Stalinist leadership.”
Kurlyandskiy has made their task a little more difficult, although it is likely that his expose will not end their attempts to realize it.