May 12 2009
Russian President Dmitrii Medvedev’s video blog includes for May 7 his comments on Victory Day, the Great Fatherland War, and the falsifiers of history. He calls on Russians to defend the memory of the war, and to defend it against the malicious falsifiers who attempt to impugn its meaning.
Generally speaking, it’s a bad thing when historians wrestle with politicians. As the saying goes, “Never get in a mud fight with a pig. You both get dirty, and the pig likes it.” But professional pride requires me to point out a couple of things.
First, Medvedev most notably says not a word about what exact falsifications of history he’s objecting to. I can come up with some candidates, as could anyone who’s been following post-Soviet politics. Let’s say, for example, he’s troubled by Victor Suvorov’s allegations that Stalin was preparing an invasion of Western Europe, only to find himself beaten to the punch by Hitler in 1941.
I’m not a particular adherent of Suvorov’s school, but what I think is most relevant here is that the key to resolving the truth or falsehood of Suvorov’s accusations lies almost literally in Medvedev’s hands. The holy-of-holies of Russian archives is the “Presidential Archive.” If Medvedev doesn’t like what historians say, he could throw open the archives tomorrow. If he doesn’t want to open those archives because of what might come to light, then we’re no longer talking about falsifiers.
Second, Medvedev’s language is sadly reminiscent of Soviet-era history journals and their regular attacks on “bourgeois falsifiers.” Medvedev has stripped the “bourgeois” off the label, but the tone is rather similar. In 1931, Stalin dismissed historians as “archive rats,” and we’ve generally taken pride in that label. Though Medvedev is no Stalinist, he’s pandering to similar sentiments.