Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Medvedev Historical Falsification Commission ‘Harmful’ or ‘Useless,’ Memorial Expert Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, May 20 – Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s commission to block “ the falsification of history at the expense of the interests of Russia’ will either be harmful to Medvedev’s reputation and Russia’s prospects for reform or prove useless as an operational body, even if it says a very great deal about the habit of mind of its authors.
“The struggle against the falsifications of history,” Memorial’s Arseny Roginsky argues, “is not an affair of the state,” and consequently, “the activity of the new commission will be useless or harmful” because “we all know very well how [the Russian] state struggles with falsifications” (
“Truth,” he continues, “is achieved not by the resolution of a state commission, even the highest created by decree of the president but is defined in free discussion among professionals or simply among people, among societies and peoples in various countries if this involves the definition of one and the same event.”
But clearly few in Russia expect this new body to produce that kind of truth. Indeed, the titles of some of articles about Medvedev’s action make that entirely clear: “A New Fascism” (, “A State Built on Lies” (, and “A Commission against History” (
And while the very outrageousness of the idea of this commission has attracted the most attention – one can only imagine how Moscow’s defenders would react if any other government were to do the same – less attention has been paid to three more mundane aspects of this example of bureaucratic authoritarianism, which in the end may prove more important.
First, it is important to be clear about what this commission is mandated to do. It is not supposed to be a continuously operating body; instead, it is called upon to meet only twice a year. And it is not asked to define truth but rather to point to falsifications of it and not even to all of those but only the ones that “harm” Russia’s image.
Second, its 28 members, led by Presidential Administration head Sergey Naryshkin, include few scholars but a large number of political figures with backgrounds in intelligence or the force structures and with reputations of committed nationalists, often of the most extreme kind, an indication that they will not be the ones making the decisions about “falsifications.
And third, the practical consequences of the commission, at least as currently established, seem likely to be small and perhaps even counterproductive. On the one hand, the power of the Internet means that whatever the commission says, other points of view are likely to be available to those who are interested.’
On the other – and this is likely to be far more important – any comments by the commission about “falsifiers” is likely to attract more attention to their works than they might otherwise gain. That is what happened in Soviet times when the Communist party ideologists attacked “bourgeois falsifiers,” and this commission may do the same for a new generation.
But in addition to these observations, which reflect a narrow reading of what the commission is about, the new body, or more precisely the order calling it into existence, provides instructive guidance as to the general direction in which Russia unfortunately appears to be moving at the present time
As Latynina writes in “Yezhednevny zhurnal” today, prior to yesterday’s announcement, “it would have been difficult to imagine” that “Our Liberal Hope, Mr. Medvedev, would sign a paper about the establishment of [what she calls] the establishment of [an Orwellian] Ministry of Truth” (
Moreover, this announcement has a long prehistory, not only from Soviet times but from the presidency of Vladimir Putin, who, as Aleksandr Karyev points out today on, has long been obsessed with defining a particular approach to history that serves his needs if not those of the country (
And that view, Karyev continues, reflects “the pseudo-ideological vector” along which Russia has been moving in recent times, one “directed not toward the future but toward the past,” an effective acknowledgement of the intellectual and political bankruptcy of the current Russian regime.
Given the uncertainties over whether this commission will “really function” or simply prove to be one more ideological flash in the pan, it is probably premature to conclude that the decree creating it is “an act bearing an openly totalitarian character as human rights activist Lev Ponomaryev put it today (
But it is certainly fair to conclude as Yuliya Latynina does that Medvedev’s action represents “a new variety of fascism,” of a set of ideas which propagandizes “the exclusiveness of one’s own nation” and of its right to dominate others, however they may be defined from one moment to the next.
And she is certainly right that commissions like the one Medvedev has just created reflect a habit of mind and “an ideology of hatred to an open society, an ideology of struggle with ‘internal enemies,’” like that described by Orwell in “1984.” And that is something that in today’s Russia is “becoming ever more horrifying,” even if this new body never meets.

No comments: