May 12 2009

Dmitrii Medvedev on the Great Fatherland War

Published by DStone at 9:48 am under Contemporary, Great Patriotic War, Historiography

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.

8 responses so far

8 Responses to “Dmitrii Medvedev on the Great Fatherland War”

  1. Olegon 21 May 2009 at 6:19 am

    Excuses about “closed” archives are getting old, in particlarly now. Of course, some of them are closed. But, check the order of #181 of the Russian Ministry of Defence (about 2 years ago). ALL documents in military archives from 1941-1945 are now open…

  2. Dave Stoneon 21 May 2009 at 8:31 pm

    Oleg–

    Thanks for the reminder on the MoD. I’d make two comments.

    First, given my experience in Russian archives, I’d want confirmation from someone who’s actually been to Podolsk about full access to finding aids and documents.

    Second, while full access to World War II materials in the hands of MoD would be a fine thing, that would not change the importance of the materials under Medvedev’s control in the Presidential Archive.

    I stand by my original point: if Medvedev is genuinely worried about falsification, the best way to combat that is with full access for all researchers to the source materials, and in particular to the Presidential Archive.

  3. Olegon 25 May 2009 at 10:00 pm

    according to comments of some russian military historians in the internet (e.g., livejournal), they are able to get documents previously closed.

    not sure if you post this comment but, the whole initial post is a little funny:

    1) “the key to resolving the truth or falsehood of Suvorov’s accusations…” – are you really serious? Suvorov is a joke… anybody who is interested in russian military history does not take him seriously…

    2) anyway, demanding opening all state archives is kind of ridiculous… show me any state/government who does it…

  4. Dave Stoneon 26 May 2009 at 5:02 am

    Two points, two responses.

    First, on Suvorov–I’ll post something soon with my full thoughts on Suvorov. I’m certainly not a whole-hearted supporter, but I do think he raises points worth discussing. The reason they’re worth discussing is that there are still big gaps in our knowledge about Soviet policy 1939-1941.

    Second, you’re certainly correct that all governments keep secrets. But it’s specifically Medvedev’s government that has complained about historical falsification and set up a Ministry of Truth composed almost entirely of chinovniki to fight falsification. If Medvedev is so concerned that historians tell the truth about the Soviet Union in World War II, then he should give them the resources to find the truth instead of commissioning bureaucrats to decide what that truth needs to be.

  5. Olegon 31 May 2009 at 4:51 pm

    I will be looking forward to your comments on Suvorov, but frankly speaking I do not expect to hear anything new or interesting…

  6. Airminded · History Carnival 77on 01 Jun 2009 at 5:38 am

    [...] and history always seem to end up colliding. Why can’t they just learn to get along? Contesting the Great Patriotic War. Black confederates 1. Black confederates 2. In the name of god, go! Or not. The Italian left is [...]

  7. Asehpeon 03 Jun 2009 at 9:15 am

    I think Suvorov did a lot of speculation — but then again I have to agree with Dave above: the right way to fight against any “fantastic speculations” parading as truth is to open access to as many documents as possible.

    Of course, the whole problem is that Medvedev’s initiative does not seem to be aimed at supporting the truth. It looks more like yet another ‘the whole world is against us!’ initiative — as if someone, somewhere, was going to deny that Russia won the war against Nazi Germany… Increase xenophobia to get internal unity. The oldest trick in the book.

  8. Olegon 03 Jun 2009 at 5:14 pm

    “I think Suvorov did a lot of speculation — but then again I have to agree with Dave above: the right way to fight against any “fantastic speculations” parading as truth is to open access to as many documents as possible.”

    i would say “fantastic speculation” are not from the lack of the documents – but from the lack of knowledge! in particular, from Suvorov and some other authors…

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