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12.10.2009

Private against honest

   

Historian Boris Sokolov sees the initiation of a criminal investigation against the well-known Arkhangelsk historian Mikhail Suprun and the Ministry of Internal Affairs Archivist Alexander Dudarev, as evidence that the campaign against falsification of history is not to remain a bureaucratic fiction, but a means of forming a “canonical version” of Russian history.

As reported, Professor Suprun and his team are working on a “Book of Memory” about Russian Germans repressed during Stalin’s times and investigating the fate of foreign prisoners of war held in the northern labour camps. This is part of a joint German-Russian project “Ethnic Germans repressed in the 1940s”.

The Federal Security Service [FSB] are using a norm which prohibits the disclosure for 75 years of information about private life contained in the archives without the consent of those whom the information concerns. Boris Sokolov stresses that there would have been no disclosure of private information since the Fund plans to publish the Book of Memory after the period stipulated by Russian law.

“I would point out that strict adherence to this prohibition virtually excludes publication of the vast majority of archival documents pertaining to the period after 1934, that is, to the darkest pages of Soviet history of the Stalin period. In practically every document somebody is mentioned. Not infrequently we can be talking about dozens or even hundreds of people. Finding them or their relatives would be a massive task which is hardly feasible even for State bodies. And if necessary it is fairly easy to obtain from one of the descendents a ban on their publication.

If a guilty verdict is passed in the case of Suprun and Dudarev, researchers will be afraid not only to publish, but even to copy documents. This will mean that in studying the history of Soviet society one will be forced to use only documents and memoirs already published, and access by independent researchers to the archives will virtually cease. The State, together with historians closely associated with it, who sing of a “strong regime” and “iron fist”, will hold monopoly on the use of the archival sources.  After all, in our country the descendants of those mentioned in the documents will not risk complaining. And if they do dare, they will certainly lose in the courts. And it’s not difficult to guess that in these conditions they will mainly publish documents which show how much was good in our country, and particularly how good Soviet foreign policy was. They will probably publish documents about the repressions as well, but in strict doses, and mainly those that do not give any idea about the true scale of the terror. Nobody, of course, will prohibit publication of letters from children to Stalin expressing gratitude for their happy childhood.

If Russian historians continue to be silent, I don’t envy their professional prospects. Thus far not even his own Pomorsky State University has stood up for Suprun. And today we need to shout at the top of our voice and demand that academics are not taken to court for attempts to look honestly at the history of our country. There need to be public protests against censorship imposed under the guise of protection of private information.

The norm in legislation on a 75-year ban on disclosure needs to be abolished for documents of public significance, and all documents in the State archives should be recognized as such. Restrictions should apply only with regard to private collections. If you want to publish a letter addressed to you, please, ask the consent of its author. However letters of historical figures, whether about repressions and other State actions in the State archives should under no circumstances be subject to such censorship. Otherwise we will lose the possibility of objectively studying our own recent history and learning lessons important for the present and future".

 

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