On the “Commission for Counteraction”
Memorial’s statement on the new Commission for Countering Attempts to Falsify History to the Detriment of Russia’s Interests, and on what kind of falsification harms the interests of all of us
Ploughing through all the grammatical agreements in the name of the newly formed structure (“Commission under the President of the Russian Federation for Countering Attempts to Falsify History to the Detriment of Russia’s Interests”) one can assume that we are dealing with the following: some forces are making efforts to falsify history, these effects harm the interests of Russia and a Commission has been created in order to counter the said efforts. The importance for the State of this Commission is stressed by its makeup – there is the FSB [Federal Security Service] and the Foreign Intelligence Service, the Security Council, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the Ministry of Justice, and even the Head of the General Headquarters of the Russian Army, while its Chair is to be the Head of the President’s Administration Sergei Naryshkin. At the same time the number of professional historians among the 28 official members could be counted on the fingers of one hand. And this is no accident.
In general terms any historical falsifications, whoever’s national history they concern, and whatever side they’re directed at, bring harm to all humanity – citizens of France and Poland, the USA and Finland, Russia and any other country. The attempt to highlight among such falsification a particular category of scams “harming Russia’s interests” would seem to us, to put it mildly, strange. However this is not the only point.
Today’s efforts to falsify the country’s history are indeed not uncommon. The Stalinist falsifications about a “fifth column” and “military-fascist conspiracy” in 1937 continue to be pushed. Books are circulated through the entire country where, contrary to generally known facts, it is claimed that the NKVD was not implicated in Katyń - the murder of Polish prisoners of war in 1940. Some modern Russian political figures, paying no heed to documents which have long been published, underestimate, or worst of all, try to justify the State Terror of the Stalin period. Similar trends can be seen even in secondary school textbooks.
Do such flagrant historical falsifications harm Russia? Undoubtedly, they do. They deprive the people of the Russian Federation of its unique and tragic past, undermine the foundations of national identity, destroy the link between generations, blur any moral guiding lines for the young, lead to friction and conflict in relations with our neighbours and undermine respect for Russia abroad.
We do not support trying to resolve the problem of falsification of history via legislative bans. We believe that falsifiers should be fought in the first instance within the framework of open and free scientific discussion (include international) and all parties in disagreement should have the opportunity to present their arguments to the wider public. Society can and is entitled to just as freely and openly discuss the understanding and assessment of historical facts, both those well-known, and those once again uncovered, and their possible interpretation.
The State should merely ensure the opportunity for such discussions through wide and swift declassification of the huge masses of historical documents, through making access to historical documentation easy, as well as by subsidizing archives, historical studies and publications. And it must under no circumstances interfere with their content. Ensuring free access to historical sources and their wide publication provide the best means of countering falsifiers. And no special new commissions are needed for this at all. It is enough to activate and improve the efficiency of the commission dealing with the declassification of the State archives which that same Sergei Naryshkin, incidentally, heads. In particular, for example, review the decision to classify the results of the investigation by the Chief Military Prosecutor of the Russian Federation into the “Katyń Case”.
However we will not delude ourselves: more likely than not, the Commission will counter not falsification of historical facts, but opinions, assessments and concepts, obviously only those which go against the government policy in the area of national memory. It is precisely these assessments and concepts which will be declared “harming Russia’s interests”, it is they that will become the object of State “counteraction”. How such counteraction will be carried out is not difficult to imagine going by the huge mass of experience in our country of “struggle with the falsifiers of history”.
If our fears are proven justified, then such a commission must be seen as not only counter-productive, but as anti-constitutional, since such “counteraction” introduces elements of State ideology into State practice, and this is directly prohibited by Article 13 of the Russian Federation Constitution.
The International Memorial Society