The Commission on History is Unconstitutional and harms Russia
Human rights and civic organizations from all over Russia are demanding that the Presidential Decree creating a Commission “on history” be revoked as being against the constitutional prohibition on censorship and State ideology.
The Commission on History is Unconstitutional and harms Russia
On 19 May 2009 we learned of the President’s Decree “On a Commission under the President of the Russian Federation for Countering Attempts to Falsify History to the Detriment of Russia’s Interests” (http://document.kremlin.ru/doc.asp?ID=052421).
We consider it to be totalitarian in its nature, in breach of several articles of the Constitution and a disgrace to our country.
This decree clearly exceeds the limits of authoritarian police measures like the creation of a Centre for fighting extremism, the imposition of individual surveillance of opposition figures and civic activists, or the transfer to a system whereby the Council of the Federation, on the submission of the Head of State, appoints the Head and Deputy Head of the Constitutional Court (instead of the judges themselves electing them).
The purpose of this decree is to regulate knowledge of the humanities, this being a typical feature for despotic and totalitarian regimes.
The real history of the country is the result of free work of scholars and the free process of understanding what is happening by the people themselves.
Normative “defence” of history assumes some kind of State canonical edition, a version of history which is fixed as dogma. The creation and guarding of the “sole correct history” has been entrusted to mainly high-ranking officials, military men and intelligence officers. The cynicism of those who wrote this Decree is demonstrated, as many have noted, in the lack of condemnation of the falsification of history “in Russia’s interests”!
The establishment of historical “dogma” and State plans for measures to defend this dogma, as well as the planning of various measures to counter dissent means the effective introduction of State ideology. It also establishes fully-fledged ideological censorship (already banned in 1990) in one of the humanitarian disciplines, education and publicist writing. It involves coercion to express or renounce views.
All of this runs counter to the following Articles of the Constitution of the Russian Federation: 13 (the prohibition of State ideology); 29 (coercion to views or to the renunciation of views); 44 (the principle of freedom of creative works).
Furthermore, the creation of a Commission dedicated to issues of ideological struggle, propaganda and counter-propaganda does not fall within the scope of constitutional powers and prerogatives of the RF President as set down in Articles 80 – 93 of the Constitution.
The Decree “On guarding history” thus goes beyond the limits of the constitutional legal framework which is in itself reason to revoke it. We therefore call on all those with regard to whom the Decree is applied to complain to the RF Constitutional Court. Human rights defenders are ready to assist in preparing such submissions.
If one speaks not of the legal, but of the social context of Decree No. 549, then it has in essence been written to defend Stalinist policy and pro-Stalin historical mythology, and is an answer of sorts to the call by human rights and civic activists to give a legal assessment to Stalinism and the latter’s crimes.
This and similar ideological bans could not have appeared if modern Russia had publicly and officially condemned the crimes of the Soviet totalitarian regime, and historical fact had become consolidated through law. This would have rendered ineffectual all attempts to rehabilitate Soviet policy and to use historical mythology for ideological polemics with other countries.
We are convinced that full and through denunciation of Stalinism not only does not harm Russia, but will provide a long-awaited chance to break with totalitarianism, including with the tradition of a mandatory ideology, once and for all and that such severing is vital and useful for our country.
We hope that this Decree will unite in the struggle against attempts to impose official ideology and censorship not only professional historians whatever their views, but also civic society, and very different ideological movements.
We call on the authorities, if they are really interested in history which is not distorted, in accordance with current legislation, to declassify the archives and publish information about the entire history of the Soviet Union’s collaboration with Hitler, about “Katyń, about State terrorism, military crimes and repression, including in countries of Eastern Europe.
If we are speaking of real history, then not even the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the KGB with all their totalitarian might were able to conceal the truth about uncomfortable and tragic events.
The Statement is signed by:
Ludmila Alexeeva, Head of the Moscow Helsinki Group
Svetlana Gannushkin, the Civic Assistance Committee
Lev Ponomarev, “For Human Rights”
Yury Samodurov, Co-Chair of the All-Russian Civic Congress
Father Gleb Yakunin, Committee in Defence of Freedom of Conscience
Ernst Cherny, Secretary of the Public Committee in Defence of Scientists
And many others, many of whom express their outrage and disgust, for example,
My great grandfather died in the First World War, both my grandfathers were killed in the Great Patriotic War (was burned alive in Belarus, the other is unburied, his remains lie in the Sinyavinsky Marshes My mother, grandmother and great-grandmother lived through the Leningrad Blockade. The creation of this commission insults the memory of those who died and those who survived, and that means, my historical memory.
Yelena Chizhova, Writer and Director of the St. Petersburg PEN-Club.
To readers outside Russia:
This Commission is not only an insult and betrayal of the memory of Russians, but of Ukrainians, Belarusians, all those whose countries were part of the Soviet Union. It is part of a concentrated assault on our history and our memory.
Even if your families were not directly affected, we all need historical truth.
This Commission is seriously harmful to Russia and its people, to all the countries of the former Soviet Union and former Socialist Bloc, and to you and I.
Please add your voice of support to this statement.
Halya Coynash, KHPG
If you would like to add your signature, please write to