May 15 2010

Alert the media? Not so much.

UPDATE: The pummeling continues. At an LSE blog, Artemy Kalinovsky reiterates the problems with Stroilov and Berlinsky’s overblown claims. He adds an additional point: what will the reaction of Russian archivists be to people bragging of sneaking documents out of Russia? Most likely, banning scanners, closing off collections, treating foreign scholars with even more suspicion.
UPDATE: Ron Radosh, whose anti-communist credentials are not exactly open to question, does a thorough demolition job on Berlinsky, Bukovsky, and Stroilov. Ouch. Hat tip to Tom Nichols for the pointer.
Claire Berlinsky, writing in the City Journal, has asked why more people aren’t paying attention to revelations from the Soviet archives. She presents two individuals who smuggled documents out of the Soviet Union. One of them, Vladimir Bukovsky, has at least posted his documents online so that people can see for themselves what kind of material he’s got available.

The other person Berlinsky mentions, Pavel Stroilov, hasn’t put any of his material on the web, at least as far as I’ve been able to find. But as Berlinsky presents his claims, he’s got lots of terrific and untapped documents, like Georgii Shakhnazarov’s Politburo minutes and Anatolii Cherniaev’s diaries. Here’s the problem: a 700-page book in Russian has been published, based on those Politburo minutes from Shakhnazarov and others. Cherniaev’s diaries were published in the journal Novaia i noveishchaia istoriia, and are even available in English. They aren’t exactly tough to find–type “Cherniaev diaries” into google and see what pops up.

So at least some of the hot, secret material Berlinsky says Stroilov possesses is neither hot nor secret, and representing it as hot and secret is misleading. It’s tough to know whether Berlinsky or Stroilov is responsible. Berlinsky herself admits she doesn’t know any Russian.

The next big problem is that in many cases, Stroilov is pushing on an open door, and Berlinsky seems simply unaware of what scholars have known for quite some time. For example, Stroilov’s documents on German reunification (as presented in late 2009) show that Margaret Thatcher didn’t want to see it happen. Of course, that’s the same conclusion established by more or less all the scholars who’ve worked on the subject, including most notably Philip Zelikow and the hardly obscure Condoleezza Rice, who showed quite conclusively in 1997 in Germany Unified and Europe Transformed that France and Britain opposed German unification and only strong efforts by Helmut Kohl and George Bush the elder made it happen. Helmut Kohl himself in his memoirs, published four years before Stroilov’s big unveiling, said exactly the same thing.

Berlinsky says Stroilov’s documents describe “most shockingly” that Francois Mitterand wanted a socialist Germany under French and Soviet domination. Since Mitterand was a socialist, and French politicians since de Gaulle have wanted to see Germany under French domination, I don’t see how this qualifies as shocking.

Last, it’s clear that Berlinsky is writing with a particular political agenda–to discredit the European left, question European unification, and cast doubt on the continental European social model while at the same time pummeling the dead horse of Communism. I don’t have any problem with that. My problem comes when pursuing that political aim results in doing violence to historical perspective. One example: Berlinsky finds it scandalous that Joaquin Almunia, current member of the European Commission, was strongly opposed to Ukrainian independence. Know who else was opposed to Ukrainian independence? George Bush the elder.

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