Catriona Bass: Russia’s History Wars: Access to the Truth Restricted -- Again

Roundup: Talking About History

Catriona Bass is a writer specialising in Russia and Tibet.

‘The truth is with us! We will be victorious!’ Few people outside Russia will have picked up on the fact that Vladimir Putin chose to end his speech to the ‘United Russia’ Congress on 27 November with an echo of Stalin and Molotov’s famous challenge to Germany at the start of the Second World War.

In the week before the parliamentary elections, St Petersburg felt like a city of smoke and mirrors. Good news was everywhere. The TV announced that the city has the highest standard of living in Russia (not far below Zurich and Vienna). On the pavements, stencilled in big white letters by unknown activists ran the slogan: Peter is our city, Zenit is our team, Putin is our president.

On 29 November, at the opening of an interactive exhibition for schools on childhood in the 1930s (for which has won an award), children were being invited to fly with the Soviet Hero Chkalov over the Arctic, put out a fire in the great Kirov tank Factory in Leningrad and help to bandage the wounded in the Spanish Civil War. ‘Children don’t know the history of our country,’ the curator told me.

I asked her about representing the darker side of 1930s childhood, which was nowhere to be seen. She directed me to a pair of headphones in the next room, behind the door: a five-minute memoir of Margarita Rudzit who lost her ability to speak for a year, after her father was taken away and shot in 1937. The tragic side of the 1930s has not been left out of the exhibition and any child who happens upon that set of headphones among the dozen others, would get a very different view of Soviet life. I heard the curator mention Margarita Rudzit as she talked to a journalist, but when I scanned the papers the next day, only the happy children’s history had made the press....

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