Vladimir Ryzhkov: The Kremlin's War on History

Roundup: Talking About History

[Vladimir Ryzhkov, a State Duma deputy from 1993 to 2007, hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy.]

The Kremlin opened a new front against its "internal and external enemies" on May 19, when President Dmitry Medvedev created a presidential commission "for counteracting attempts to falsify history to the detriment of Russia's interests." The 28-member commission includes Kremlin-friendly conservatives such as State Duma deputies and United Russia members Konstantin Zatulin and Sergei Markov as well as representatives from the Federal Security Service and the Interior Ministry. The commission also has representatives from the Defense Ministry, which has posted on its web site an article titled "Fabrications and Falsifications of the Role of the Soviet Union at the Beginning of World War II" that argues that the real reason the war began was because of "Poland's refusal to fulfill German demands ... Germany's demands were very reasonable."

But the real purpose of the commission has less to do with history than it does with increasing the authorities' power and control during a highly instable period caused by the economic crisis.

By attempting to impose its own "correct" interpretation of Russia's complex and tragic past, the Kremlin is taking another major step toward violating Articles 13 and 29 of the Constitution, which guarantee protection against political persecution. The big winners in this initiative are the siloviki, who have long sought a legal pretext for persecuting and suppressing the opposition.

A couple of years ago, the siloviki pushed a series of broadly worded laws through the Duma to "fight extremism" that can be interpreted anyway they want. As a result, the aggressive, pro-Kremlin Nashi movement is allocated prime space in the center of Moscow to carry out demonstrations against the opposition and other "enemies of the state," while peaceful demonstrations by pensioners and human rights organizations are prohibited because the government considers them "extremists." The FSB -- clearly taking a page from the KGB's 5th Division, infamous for repressing and jailing Soviet dissidents -- has created a special division to watch and control opposition groups.

But these powers are not sufficient for the siloviki to win its battle against the opposition. The problem is the new anti-extremism laws require that the accused be guilty of a concrete action, and it has proven difficult to lock people up for peaceful protests in defense of free speech or human rights. The siloviki have long dreamed of having a clause in the Criminal Code that would allow them to arrest and imprison critics of the regime for their ideas and statements. This is exactly what was done during Josef Stalin's rule. He created the 58th clause of the Criminal Code on "counterrevolutionary activity," which guaranteed that anyone found guilty of "agitation and propaganda" against the Soviet authorities would be sent straight to the gulag.

Leonid Brezhnev continued this tradition during his 18 years in power. He created the 70th and 190th clauses of the Criminal Code concerning "anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda" and "slanderous fabrications that discredited the Soviet system." These clauses served as the formal basis to sentence Vladimir Bukovsky, Pyotr Grigorenko, Valeria Novodvorskaya, Zhores Medvedev, Andrei Almarik and many others to years in confinement in psychiatric institutions.

In the shadows of this harrowing legacy, Medvedev has created the commission on historical falsification. He paid particular attention to the problem of "revising the results of World War II." Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov went even further, calling for criminal prosecution for anyone "repudiating the results of World War II." Mironov has targeted those who question the bravery of the Red Army and Soviet people during World War II. If his proposal becomes law, a Russian or foreigner who doubts the "genius" of Stalin as commander-in-chief during World War II or questions whether the people in the Warsaw Pact nations really "obtained their freedom" could be sent to prison for three to five years.

At the same time, authorities have not released historical documents that could shed light on the real -- albeit at times painful and incriminating -- truth of Russian and Soviet history, including World War II. In fact, the head of Medvedev's commission on historical falsification, presidential Chief of Staff Sergei Naryshkin, also heads the agency charged with declassifying archived materials. Meanwhile, new textbooks for schools are being prepared that describe Stalin as an "effective manager."..

comments powered by Disqus