Rewritten History

In an article recently published in Novaya Gazeta, Professor of Sociology Vladimir Shlapentokh (of Michigan State University) has revealed an academic study of altered history in Putin’s Russia. Shlapentokh introduces the idea that silenced names provide a clear indicator to measure authoritarianism. Likening the media and public blacklisting of opposition figures to similar moments in the early Soviet Union, Shlapentokh explained:

Today, the names that are supposed to be mentioned in a positive light in the newspapers that serve the Kremlin are well known. At the same time, the Kremlin created a blacklist of people who cannot appear in the publications that collaborate with the regime and who cannot appear on a TV talk show. Among them were practically all of those who dared to challenge Putin’s supremacy, including Grigorii Yavlinsky, the leader of the political party “Yabloko,” Garry Kasparov, the leader of the movement “Other Russia” and Mikhail Kasyanov, the former prime minister and oppositional politician.

The same has been seen of liberal-minded sociologists. Under the Kremlin’s oversight, both modern and historically significant sociologists with liberal or pro-Western ideas have been weeded from the record. The history of Russian and Soviet sociology has been so thoroughly rewritten that many famous scholars, such as Boris Grushin, Yuri Levada, and Andrei Zdravmyslov, have simply “ceased to exist” in the history books.

Shlapentokh comments:

In essence, this event easily fits into the outline of the Kremlin’s general plan to gradually destroy all elements of liberalism and pro-Western feelings in the country. These developments remind us of a similar process in the second half of the 1920s. Then Stalin was building up a totalitarian regime and gradually but consistently destroying, by various means, the open and hidden political opposition.

This trend of white-washing history has seen parallels in numerous fields since Putin took power in 2000. Perhaps most troubling of all are the descriptions in the latest round of Russian history textbooks. The 1945-2006 book, for instance, claims that “Stalin was one of the most successful leaders of the USSR.” It also overlooks Stalin’s mass campaign of political purges, which killed and exiled millions of Soviet citizens, and describes a series of 1937 repressions as “a way to drag the nation out of crisis.”