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Streetwise Professor

May 30, 2009

Stephen Blank on the Ministry of Truth

Filed under: Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 9:49 pm

Stephen Blank’s take on Medvedev’s historical commission is spot on, and worth quoting in full:

Unfortunately Medvedev is likely to achieve nothing positive by this move, except to confirm that Russia is regressing toward Soviet and Stalinist practices. While it understandably irritates Moscow that such charges as cited above are made against it, it has nobody to blame but itself. Since the Russian government has resolutely blocked archival research and refused to admit or show any sign of regret for past Soviet crimes (or for its own), it is hardly surprising that others have attacked it. Moscow could learn form the West, where the practice of history is open and where even revisionists have their day in court. However, if Moscow wants to produce history of the type associated with David Irving, it will only isolate itself and its people ever further from the truth and from the modern world. The government is now telling teachers and publishers what to teach and write in history textbooks that offer a sanitized version of Stalin, not to mention of Vladimir Lenin, who was no less a monster. So it can hardly complain when president Yushchenko calls the famine of 1932 to 33 a genocidal one.

If Medvedev wanted to foster genuine debate he would not have criminalized the teaching and writing of history or set up this neo-Stalinist committee, with stalwarts of the worst kind of statist Russian nationalism like Narochintskaya et al. on it. Instead, he would have left the matter to historians like those in the West who have long ago shot out the nonsense that gets published, like Viktor Suvorov’s books.   And if such works still get published, the debate goes on.  

But since the regime has staked its legitimacy on continuing and glorifying the Soviet empire and all its crimes, it obviously feels that it has no choice but to return to the past. Indeed we might say that in Russia, those who wish to revise the past end up reliving it. As long as such charades continue Moscow will have nobody to blame but itself for such nationalist phenomena, and will always be thought of as a rogue state in Europe. Here it could learn from Germany and from Japan’s failure to acknowledge its crimes. Germany is more or less trusted today and certainly not feared—not the kind of attitude other states display toward Japan or Russia. Is that the future Medvedev et al. want for Russia?

I have little to add, except to emphasize that the best way to establish the truth is to open the archives, and to let the research process–adversarial, controversial–take its course.  

Or are, as S/O suggests, Russians so fragile that they can’t handle the truth, or the disputatious process by which it is established?

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12 Comments »

  1. Ministry of Truth…even revisionists have their day in court…David Irving… lololol you crack me up.

    You missed your calling in life, SWP – satire.

    Anyway, I’m just going to reference my translation of the (in)famous “neo-Stalinist tome” – http://www.sublimeoblivion.com/2009/05/28/translation-stalinist-textbook/ – and leave it that, together with a quote from one of my readers:

    “THIS is that infamous chapter I’ve been hearing about? You’ve got to be kidding! The Russophobes have seriously, officially gone crazy. There’s really only one thing I would take exception with (the statement about the aftermath of September 11). Overall, I don’t find it to be horrendously bad or historically inaccurate. Sure, the author, in my opinion, could have emphasized how many people died under Stalin a tad more, but I certainly would not call this a glorification of Stalin. It’s more trying to present facts and have the reader make up his or her own mind, at least from what I can see.”

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — May 30, 2009 @ 10:17 pm

  2. S/O. Thank you. But I can only claim credit for the title. The other satirical tours de force are Stephen Blank’s. Send your encomia to him.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — May 30, 2009 @ 10:32 pm

  3. So if a Russophile suggests Russia is a nation of silly little babies who can’t handle the truth, that’s just reality, but if a Russophobe says it, they are crazy racists?

    I must admit I have difficulty wrapping my feeble little brain around that one.

    Even harder to figure out how proving a textbook doesn’t “glorify” Stalin shows it doesn’t “sanitize” him or how the translation of an avowed Russophilic psychopath can claim reliability.

    But the hardest one is this one: How can any person who actually cares at all about Russia possibly defend a neo-Soviet view of history? That’s so hard it’s easy — they can’t. Only a person who truly despises Russia can attempt such a thing — and this piece of filth is even laughing while he’s doing it.

    Russia must have raped his mother for him to hate the place that badly.

    Comment by La Russophobe — May 31, 2009 @ 10:51 am

  4. So if a Russophile suggests Russia is a nation of silly little babies who can’t handle the truth, that’s just reality, but if a Russophobe says it, they are crazy racists?

    I must admit I have difficulty wrapping my feeble little brain around that one.

    Even harder to figure out how proving a textbook doesn’t “glorify” Stalin shows it doesn’t “sanitize” him or how the translation of an avowed Russophilic psychopath can claim reliability.

    But the hardest one is this one: How can any person who actually cares at all about Russia possibly defend a neo-Soviet view of history? That’s so hard it’s easy — they can’t. Only a person who truly despises Russia can attempt such a thing — and this piece of filth is even laughing while he’s doing it.

    Russia must have raped his mother or something, for him to hate the place that badly.

    Comment by La Russophobe — May 31, 2009 @ 10:52 am

  5. @LR,

    I disagree. It is the West that can’t handle Russia’s truth.

    And how can the translation of an avowed Russophobic psychopath claim reliability re- the Nemtsov papers, various Novaja Gazeta articles, etc?

    But there’s an easy way to check. I throw a link to the original Russian text in my aforementioned post. Select a few random paragraphs, and compare them with how I’ve translated them. That is an easy check of reliability.

    Furthermore, why should I even falsify the translation – if the real translation is its own best defense?

    And what I was laughting at was the SWP / Blank point on Russia’s Ministry of Truth attitude re-history, when even Western revisionists have their day in court – in Irving’s case, quite literally (and in jail too) for challenging the state’s version of history, in the West. It was just extremely ironic, and what’s more the irony was even unintentional – which is what made it so extremely funny (as well as shedding more light on Western hypocrisy).

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — May 31, 2009 @ 4:01 pm

  6. Please, Irving was tried and convicted as a Holocaust denier in Austria which is no reflection of the historically honored British/American/Australian free speech tradition. The guy is an idiot that should have been left in the court of public opinion to ignore/vilify him in which almost all of the Anglosphere press agreed. But, then, you were going to ignore that weren’t you?

    Nice try, but, hey, a fact and ethically challenged Putin “pilot fish” weasel like yourself has to come up with something.

    Comment by penny — May 31, 2009 @ 6:10 pm

  7. Please, even the Anglo-Saxon* tradition of free speech is long dead under the twin assault of “anti-terrorism” and “hate crime” laws.

    The UK now puts people in jail for writing poems and downloading controversial literary material, and society couldn’t care less.

    As for the US, just because it doesn’t make the MSM’s headlines doesn’t mean it ain’t happening.

    Of course, I have a rather agnostic attitude towards this, since I see incipient authoritarianism as an ordinary response to increasing social stress – and expect the process to accelerate in the coming decades of rising energy shortages. It’s an acknowledgement of a global reality. What I don’t see is the need to single out Russia for condemnation.

    * Austria is usually considered to be in the “West”.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — May 31, 2009 @ 7:26 pm

  8. S/O,

    “Long live(?) the small difference” or putting it like this:

    In Austria it was about whether a person has a right to claim a muss-murderer NOT being one.
    In Russia, it’s about whether a person has a right to claim a muss-murderer BEING one.

    Comment by Dixi — June 1, 2009 @ 6:49 am

  9. Well in that case Dixi, even Filippov (or Putin) himself would be imprisoned:

    Last paragraph of textbook:
    “But Stalin’s rule had another side. His successes – and they are acknowledged by many of the Leader’s opponents – were achieved through the ruthless exploitation of the population. During Stalin’s rule the country went through several waves of large-scale repressions. The initiator and theorist behind this ‘heightened class struggle’ was Stalin himself. Entire social classes like the landed peasantry, the urban petit-bourgeoisie, the priesthood and the old intelligentsia were liquidated. Furthermore, on occasion many people completely loyal to power suffered from the harsh laws. It is not even worth going into the safety of life during the Stalin years. Quality of life remained low, especially in the villages. All this did not promote the strengthening of the country’s moral climate.”

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — June 1, 2009 @ 10:41 am

  10. S.O., you just never learn do you, you get nailed cherry picking Irving’s heavily criticized conviction in Austria, a country mind you that has a Nazi past that it is sensitive about, as the general state of free speech in the Anglosphere and next your return with more silly cherry picked garbage.

    What you forgot to mention in your first link was that the little terrorist poet was acquited on appeal, the law was also much vaguer at her conviction:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/2145506/Lyrical-Terrorist-Samina-Malik-cleared-on-appeal.html

    Not that she was a very nice person, at the very least she is a committed terrorist sympathizer who wrote threatening statements such as “The desire within me increases every day to go for martyrdom.”

    I thought you had taken you toys, you’ve threated to many times in the past when things haven’t gone well for you here, and departed to a more receptive playgound.

    I hope “Green Communism” gets vetted better for your sake before the editors receive it and they fact check it down to only the introduction, oops, the dedication remaining.

    Comment by penny — June 1, 2009 @ 12:24 pm

  11. Concerning the brief comment about Narochnitskaya, there’s room to not share all of her views.

    At the same time, there’s good reason to believe that political likes of Kasparov and Ryzhkov aren’t Russia’s best option.

    Putin-Medvedev run somewhere between these two groupings, in a way that has been in sync with the overall Russian consensus.

    Comment by Cutie Pie — June 2, 2009 @ 7:37 pm

  12. S/O,

    “Well in that case Dixi, even Filippov (or Putin) himself would be imprisoned”

    Hardly, there are mitigating circumstances…second last paragraph of textbook:

    “ In conclusion, it’s obvious why views on Stalin’s historical role are so contradictory. On the one side, he is regarded as the most successful Soviet leader9. It was during his rule that the country expanded its territory, reaching the borders of the former Russian Empire (and sometimes exceeding them), achieved Victory in the greatest of wars – the Great Patriotic War, accomplished expanded its territory, reaching the borders of the former Russian Empire (and sometimes exceeding them), achieved Victory in the greatest of wars – the Great Patriotic War, accomplished industrialization of the economy and brought forth a cultural revolution, as a result of which the percentage of people with higher education soared and the country acquired the world’s best education system. The USSR entered the league of advanced states in the sphere of scientific progress and eliminated almost all unemployment. and brought forth a cultural revolution, as a result of which the percentage of people with higher education soared and the country acquired the world’s best education system. The USSR entered the league of advanced states in the sphere of scientific progress and eliminated almost all unemployment.”

    So, the list of “successes” would sound hilarious if it were not paved with corpses: “expanding territory”, “reaching the borders of the former Russian Empire” (apparently, the millions of human victims of this expansion does not count (most of these non-Russians even though the Russians paid their death toll too). What about Chechens, Crimean Tartars, Kalmyks, Ukrainians, Finns in Soviet Karelia and several other non-Russian nationalities? And the rest of the list is nothing but “good old” Soviet stuff: “industrialization of the economy ” (i.e. mass production of weapons while the entire consumer sector remained totally – especially qualitatively – underdeveloped, that is, increases in production of steel, cement and the electric power never converted to good-quality consumption items during the whole Soviet era of 70 years), “a cultural revolution ” (indeed, Socialistic Realism and Stalinist architecture – two standing culmination points of the entire human kind!). “the world’s best education system” (especially, among modern Economics, I guess?). “The USSR entered the league of advanced states in the sphere of scientific progress” (well how many Soviet Scientists acquired, say, the Nobel prize for their scientific work? And how this Soviet type of “scientific progress” was reflected in the every day life and standard of living of ordinary Soviet citizens?). “eliminated almost all unemployment” (In the U.S. south there were “almost no unemployment” either during the slave economy and they didn’t even need the unemployment program called Gulag…).

    All in all, the main point is that even Hitler’s “successes” could be listed in the same vein (expansion (chic!), fight against unemployment, industrial and scientific development). Any of us could think what kind of hullabaloo there would follow if in the German school books there would be taken up a similar “more balanced” approach vis-à-vis the “achievements” of the Nazi regime! First always a list of Hitler’s “successes” and then a minimum list of woeful (but, in the hindsight thinking about the country’s “development” (almost) necessary) excesses.

    Finally, of course, this Russian text book referred above was written before establishing Medvedev’s “pravda” commission and before the Duma proposing for a new harsher legislation on the controlling the interpretation of the past. So, my bet is that in the new volumes the current second last paragraph will become the last one.

    Comment by Dixi — June 3, 2009 @ 4:27 am

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