Last week President Dmitry Medvedev formed a government commission on analyzing and suppressing falsifications of history to the detriment of Russia. Some have rushed to portray this move as an "Orwellian Truth Commission" dedicated to official propaganda of the historical facts that fit the government's interpretation of history. Indeed, one may be tempted to form such a conclusion simply by looking at the commission's appointees. What is Medvedev likely to accomplish by forming this commission? Is this the right way to approach this issue, or are there more subtle ways to deal with the problem? -- Dr. Vladimir Frolov
One should wait, of course, for the commission to undertake some specific actions before criticizing it, but knowing how bureaucracy works, one could safely assume with high probability that whoever came up with the idea to create a "Commission on Analyzing and Suppressing Falsifications of History Detrimental to Russia" did not do a good service to his country or to president Medvedev, for that matter. Leaving aside its dubious name, this commission will do more in creating controversy than in helping Russia to withstand the information warfare conducted by its foes. Instead of taking a high road and leaving the word battles to historians and experts, the Kremlin set itself on a par with those ill-wishers who try to use history for political purposes at the pundit or state level.
One does not have to create another bureaucratic body to prove several basic historical facts, the interpretation of which is pretty straightforward and I assume is shared by the overwhelming majority of unbiased people, except those, of course, who want to rewrite history for different reasons.
Victory over the Nazis in World War II was achieved by the joint efforts of the Allies, but it was the Soviet Army that contributed the lion's share to this victory, and it was the Soviet civil population that suffered the most in absolute numbers. The same population also suffered from its own communist rulers because of the Red Terror, forced collectivization, Gulag slave labor, and political repressions on a monstrous scale.
During World War II there were Nazi collaborators, both on the state and individual level. Japan, Italy, and later Slovakia, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Croatia joined the Axis lead by Germany. There were also regular military battalions and divisions in the Baltic States, Ukraine, and Russia itself who fought alongside German troops against Soviet and Allied forces. Some of them did so voluntarily and others were forced into it, but any glorification of such collaboration as we are now witnessing in Latvia, Estonia or Ukraine should be strongly condemned. Unfortunately, we do not hear any loud condemnations from the West, which proves over and over again that double standards in our time continue to be a sad reality.
Although the Soviet Union played a major role in liberating the world from the Nazis, it did occupy the countries of Eastern Europe, the Baltics, and Western Ukraine, and imposed totalitarian regimes on them. All revolts against such regimes were brutally suppressed.
It was the Russian Federation that liberated the world, including itself, from Soviet-style communism, but unfortunately the Kremlin has so far failed to condemn the crimes of the communist regime against its own people and all of the so-called captive nations clearly and unequivocally. Russia acted somewhat unwisely, but generously and nobly, when it acknowledged the Soviet Union's entire financial debts. While at it, Russia should have clearly stated that it is not responsible for Soviet crimes, itself being simply another victim of communism.
In terms of facts and figures, Russia was the country worst hit by the communist terror. Some statements to this effect have been made by post-Soviet leaders, but they have not been nearly coherent and convincing enough. Yet that would have radically improved Russia's image in the world, would help to portray it as a country that has chosen freedom and democracy, and helped improve its relations with its neighbors - and Europe and America too, for that matter. Moreover, it would also help the Russians themselves to overcome their nostalgia for lost empire.
A strong statement directly from the Kremlin along these lines would benefit Russia much more than any artificial commission, which will most likely be an inefficient bureaucratic instrument anyway.
Edward Lozansky is president of American University in Moscow.