There is an article on the BBC website today regarding the current controversy in Russia regarding the way in which Western historians are manipulating Russian history. President Medvedev is incensed that there is a plot to destroy Russia’s reputation and to belittle its past. He says that this is becoming “severe, evil and agressive”.
What seems to get Eussians extremely worked up is that they feel that the West is belittling its achievement in beating the Nazis during World War II. They do not like the fact that other countries see the Soviet Union not as liberators but one oppressor replacing another. They don’t believe that this is what actually happened. Neither do they like the fact that the Eastern European and Baltic states also bring the Soviet atrocities to light.
To Russian they were heroic liberators who brought light into the darkness. They don’t mention things like the Katyn massacre, Stalin’s decision to halt the Soviet advance in 1944 and allowed the Poilsh nationalist resistance to be destroyed by the Germans in Warsaw that August. They could have helped the resistors but chose to have them eliminated instead. In addition the Soviets were quite ruthless in overthrowing non Communist governments and parties as they asserted control over post war Eastern Europe.
I remember my history teacher telling us about the Lever Arch History practised by the Stalin regime, where people were airbrushed from pictures and events retold. This is also a major theme of Otwell’s 1984 as the regime rewrite history to fit with current policy.
Russia has always been very insecure about its image, whether controlled by the Tsars, Communists or the current “democracy”. They want to been seen as a strong, confident nation that has a place at the top table of world affairs. Unfortunately they can never carry it off because of that insecurity.
Therefore any criticism by outsiders, or internal opposition, is seen as an attack on the entire nation. Even if the historical record backs up the opposing view, this is not acceptable to the people in power at the time.
Russians do not see themselves as a threat to others but as a benevolent, paternal figure. They fail to see that where they see a big cuddly bear. others see a vicious predator ready to bite.
What may have helped to focus their attention on this is that next month sees the 70th anniversary of the Nazi/Soviet Non Agression Treaty that helped to make WW II possible. Without this Hitler may have had second thoughts on invading Poland.
The Non Agression Treaty is one of those skeletons that Russians would sooner leave in the closet.