Against falsification, and a changing of the guard.
In this issue of Kritika we are particularly pleased to present an illuminating dialogue between historians based in Russia and the United States. The topic is especially timely: the now infamous teacher's manual by A. V. Filippov and its associated textbook on Soviet and post-Soviet history. The perspectives of the four historians in our Ex Tempore discussion of contemporary Russian approaches to history and history education differ noticeably, but there is a good deal of consensus to be found about the nature of the history textbooks in question. Where the commentators differ most is on the broader significance of the new, state-promoted textbook for the future of Russian historical scholarship and intellectual life.
In Russia itself, the heated discussion of Filippov in the press and on intellectual blogs gave way to a new controversy in the summer of 2009: President Medvedev's ukaz no. 549 of 15 May 2009, "On the Presidential Commission to Counter Attempts to Falsify History against the Interests of Russia." (1) As wags and critics immediately noted, falsification in the service of Russia's interests does not fall under the commission's purview. The commission's brief is to develop strategies against falsification "minimizing the international prestige of the Russian Federation" and, to that end, to "coordinate the activities" of the "organs of state power." The 28-member committee is dominated by prominent state functionaries. It has been widely reported that it includes only three members who hold positions as scholars and historians (V. P. Kozlov, head of Rossarkhiv; A. O. Chubar'ian, director of the Academy of Sciences Institute of World History; and A. N. Sakharov, director of the Academy of Sciences Institute of Russian History). It does, however, include a fourth, publicly celebrated patriotic historian, Nataliia Narochnitskaia, author of what Anton Fedyashin in his review in this issue of Kritika calls "a tour de force of theosophical geopolitics" (993, see below).
Few fail to notice that the discourse of falsification, particularly as harnessed to a high-level state effort to combat it, carries with it a particularly Soviet ring. But, in fact, the marriage of the concept of falsification with necplus ultra politicization has a very particular heritage dating to the onset of mature Stalinism. In the mid- to late 1930s, earlier revolutionary attempts to theorize the primacy of class and politics in determining knowledge were repudiated. This corresponded with the so-called second death of M. N. Pokrovskii, the dean of early Soviet historiography. For the notion of falsification is predicated on a black-and-white, "scientific" distinction between true and false--not Pokrovskii's famous dictum, heavily criticized during the anti-Pokrovskii campaign, that history is politics projected into the past (oprokinutaia vproshloe). (2) MI the Soviet talk of falsification thus marked the eclipse of more radical epistemologies (associated with the proletarian culture and proletarian science movements) attempting to relativize knowledge as products of society and class. Thus was a heavy-handed, "objectivist" definition of historical truth enshrined even as in practice historical inquiry was ideologized and subordinated to raison d'etat to an unprecedented degree. One may suppose that today's apparatchiki on the falsification commission, a number of whom hold posts in the president's staff, the foreign policy establishment, and the Federal Security Service (FSB), may not be fully aware of this epistemological heritage. But in this context the discussion of Stalin's Short Course in this issue's Ex Tempore debate is logical, involving less bandying about political epithets ("Stalinism!") than an informed consideration of a deep-rooted historical legacy. The question in this age of "globalization" and the Internet is not whether history will repeat itself; it is whether the abuse of history will recur as tragedy or as farce.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, and in light of this as well as ongoing battles with official Ukrainian positions on genocide and the famine of 1933, the falsification commission could well be directed initially against historical battles in the Baltic states, Poland, and the "near abroad." However, fears of more systemic measures were raised on 23 June 2009, when Valerii Aleksandrovich Tishkov, academician and deputy secretary (zamestitel" akademika-sekretaria) and head of the history section (rukovoditel" sektsii istorii) of the Historico-Philological Division of the Russian Academy of Sciences, sent out a circular letter to the directors of member institutions. Tishkov asked them to produce an "annotated list of historical--cultural falsifications" in their own fields, compile reports on the activities of scholars in the institutes in rooting out falsification, and provide contact information for scholars designated to work with the falsification commission. (3) As of this writing, however, l'affaire Tishkoffappeared less the launch of an organized campaign than a mysterious if somewhat ominous machination. After the letter was roundly criticized in Russia and abroad, its author--a well-respected academician who is the director of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology and who is not known for servility to the authorities--downplayed its significance. (4)
Even so, the falsification commission is not going away. As we were writing this editorial in August 2009, a local struggle over a children's history book published by the Tatar State Book Publisher in Kazan spilled into the limelight when opponents appealed to the falsification commission to examine the work's depiction of a centuries-old struggle for Tatar independence from Russian occupation. (5) As with the Filippov textbook, the ramifications of the falsification commission for the ways history is discussed and researched in Russia remain to be seen.
Indeed, one theory, advanced by the prominent Russian historian Aleksei Miller, is that the Filippov textbook and the falsification commission are closely connected. In other words, the falsification commission is directed less at external battles over the past than at creating a different climate within Russia itself--one in which, in particular, the Filippov textbook can achieve predominance. "I am certain," Miller said in an interview in June, "that the struggle against falsification is a cover for the ratification of a 'positive' version [of the past], which is clearly visible in the Filippov textbook." He added: "To understand precisely which group is most active today in historical policy, it is enough to read the concluding chapter of the Filippov teachers' manual on 'sovereign democracy.' I am certain that these same people prepared the ukaz about the commission." (6)
Even if Russian "high scholarship" remains to some as yet unknown degree insulated or separate from the way history is treated in state-sponsored media, education, and politics, it is also clear that for several years the context and much of the content of historical scholarship in Russia have been changing, sometimes incrementally and sometimes dramatically. This topic has as yet hardly been discussed in Western history and Slavic journals, which in their professionalized focus generally react to contemporary changes with glacial slowness. In this regard, the review by Anton Fedyashin of the scholarly output of the prominent "patriotic" analyst of geopolitics, Nataliia Narochnitskaia, is particularly noteworthy. As noted, Narochnitskaia was offered a slot on the falsification commission in an addendum to President Medvedev's ukaz no. 549.
As specialists immersed in Russian history and culture and as intellectuals, readers of this journal may well have an important role to play in continuing to promote international scholarly exchange, something that has been so central to Kritika's mission in the ten years of its existence. Now more than ever, it will be crucial not to shut doors but to keep open minds.
We are very pleased to announce that in late 2009 and early 2010 two new editors will join long-standing editor Mexander Martin at the helm of Kritika's editorial collective. The first is Paul Werth, currently associate editor of the journal and Associate Professor of History at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, whose works include At the Margins of Orthodoxy: Mission, Governance, and Confessional Politics in Russia's Volga--Kama Region, 1827-1905 (2002). The second is Stephen Lovell, Reader in Modern European History at King's College London, whose major publications include Summerfolk: d History of the Dacha, 1710-2000 (2003).
We are also delighted that Simon Dixon, Sir Bernard Pares Chair of Russian History of the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London, will replace Paul Werth as the associate editor focusing on prereform imperial Russia. His major works include The Modernisation of Russia, 1676-1825 (1999) and two books on Catherine the Great (2001 and 2009). In addition, we are happy to announce that Erika Wolf--a historian of Soviet art, photography, and visual culture who is Senior Lecturer in Art History and Theory at the University of Otago in New Zealand--will assume the new post of iconography editor. Erika Wolf is completing a book on SSSR na stroike entitled USSR in Construction: A Modernist Propaganda Magazine for the Stalinist
Regime. In her new capacity, she will work with authors in developing the visual component of the journal.
Finally, founding editors Michael David-Fox and Peter Holquist, after more than ten years on the editorial troika, will move away from the journal's day-to-day operations but continue their involvement with Kritika as its executive editors.
(1) "O Komissii pri Prezidente Rossiskoi Federatsii po protivodeistviiu popytkam fal'sifikatsii istorii v ushcherb interesam Rossii," published 19 May 2009 (www.kremlin.ru). The Russian version is available at document.kremlin.ru/doc.asp?ID=052421. See the useful links and references in the Wikipedia article (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_Truth_Commission, accessed 6 August 2009).
(2) David Brandenberger, "Who Killed Pokrovskii (the Second Time): The Prelude to the Denunciation of the Father of Soviet Historiography, January 1936," Revolutionary Russia 11, 1 (1998): 67-73; Brandenberger, "Politics Projected into the Past: What Precipitated the 1936 Campaign against M. N. Pokrovskii?" in Reinterpreting Revolutionary Russia: Essays in Honour of James D. White (London: Macmillan, 2006), 202-14. But for an example of the continuing relevance of rejecting "objectivism" in the USSR, see Reginald E. Zelnik, Perils of Pankratova: Some Stories from theAnnals of Soviet Historiography (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2005), 30.
(3) A scanned copy of the text was available online at gdb.rferl.org/9548997E-D883-43A0-9BF2-028C7903BDAF_mw800_s.jpg (accessed 5 August 2009).
(4) See the interviews with Tishkov in Liudmila Rybina, "Istoriia bez prava perepiski," Novaiagazeta, 6 July 2009 (www.novayagazeta.ru/data/2009/071/00.html); and "Falsifikatsii: Spiski podozrevaernykh i podozrevaiushchikh," Radio Svoboda (www.svobodanews.ru/content/article/1766749. html). Both sites accessed 5 August 2009.
(5) Ian Stashkevich, "Kazanskoe khanstvo prodolzhaet bor'bu za nezavisimost'," Svobodnaia pressa, 12 August 2009 (svpressa.ru/issue/news.php?id= 12268, accessed 12 August 2009).
(6) Vladimir Rudakov, interview with Aleksei Miller, "Dlia vnutrennego upotrebleniia," Profil', no. 22 (22 June 2009): 14-15.
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|Title Annotation:||From the Editors|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2009|
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|Next Article:||The enemy, the communist, and ideological closure in Soviet Cinema on the eve of the Great Terror (The Peasants and The Party Card).|