That is, on 21 December. True, since then it became known from those documents of the Tsarist police which he failed to destroy after coming to power that he was born in fact three days before the solstice, on 18, but the growing number of his believers continue to celebrate the anniversary on 21, as it should have been.
When reading Russian news, blogs and comments, or speaking with former Russian friends, it is almost tangible to what extent the nostalgia for Stalin is growing Russia-wide. I have referred to it a few times here in the blog, and have often thought to write about it when an occasion – the erection of a new statue of Stalin, contemporary church icons representing him, the stalinobus traveling around the Ukraine and Russia with the portrait of the Generalissimus for a month before this 7 November, the neo-Stalinist literature growing on Russian pirate sites – offered the chance, but somehow I could never induce myself to do so. However, after yesterday’s birthday parade I decided not to delay any more. Let us read here on this occasion an essay by the internationally appreciated historian Roy Medvedev, which I have wanted to translate since it appeared in the 15 April issue of Московские Новости.
“I see that the production of biased pseudo-historical literature is increasing in the country, including books in praise of Stalin and Stalinism, which fell short of any scientific criteria. Fashionable is the outright propaganda of Stalinism and an open denial of any crime Stalin might have committed. The repression of the 1930s is again due to the existence of a fifth column in the country, and they proclaim that the show trials of 1936-38 only came down on the real enemies of the people – such as Bukharin and Zinovev. The existence of unjustified repression is simply denied. And they make this in the greatest agreement with the then chief prosecutor of investigations, Vyshinsky.
Most of the allegations and evidences in these books are based on the versions of the Stalin era. For example, if they write about Marshal Tukhachevsky, they take for granted his interrogation protocols of 1937 – which include confessions wrung by torture. Or they say, for example, that “only” 800 thousand people were shot in consequence of the decisions of the courts, when in fact several millions (!) of people were shot “out of court”, as it was called at that time. They also deny the post-war repressions and anti-Semitic campaigns. “Stalin has been a great political leader”, they say, and virtually all his mistakes and guilt are denied and/or justified.
The manipulations of the protocols and documents of that time give the illusion of authenticity. In fact, however, all the books of the “Stalinist” series simply restore the fakes of that time.
One time I even purchased these books – I try to get to know the standpoint of the opponents –, but then gave it up. What argument can you say to an author who even now denies the responsibility of Stalin and Beriya for the massacre of Katyń? Therefore I can only state the fact that this is a deliberate lie.
I consider this series as a speculation on the historical illiteracy of the population (as the young generation is definitely illiterate in this regard). Its publication is done on a political order. I find it difficult to judge whose order it is, since no studies have been made on this. But I see that the Exmo and related publishers are responsible for it.
A couple of years ago they released my book on Nikita Khrushchev. They seemed to have consented to its publication because the book is somewhat critical to Khrushchev [who had condemned Stalin – the translator]. Subsequently, however, they point-blank rejected my proposal to publish my book “What did Stalin read? Literature in the totalitarian society”. The rejection had a principle reason. As an employee of the publisher has openly declared: “This book does not match our views.” Later in a TV reportage I met a director of a branch of Exmo. When I asked him why one cannot know anything about the fate of my book, he at least revealed that much: “Look, we will never publish this book.” Then I quickly took the book to the “Human Rights” publisher, where it came out and was quickly snapped up.
Whoever I know there – I will not mention names – are ideologically committed people, as it is clearly reflected in their public declarations. The publisher’s argument that the “Stalinist” series is a mere business, as this kind of literature sells well, is easy to refute by the fact that anti-Stalinist literature also sells well. The demand for historical literature is increasing, the young generations want to know their history. And this interest could be met in another way, too: not only with forgeries, but also by the publication of real history books.
They of course say that these are not forgeries, but “different perspectives” which try to “improve” our history, to liberate the young generation from the inferiority feeling that “we live in a miserable country”. However, one can only be critical of this position. History cannot be “improved”, history is as it is. History can be only explained. Our history had dark and bright pages, achievements and sins, and all this requires an objective and worthy presentation.
A debate has already flared up on the internet about the “Stalinist” series. It is interesting that none of the participants require the publication of such books to be banned, or their immediate withdrawal and destruction. This is already the merit of modern times – at Stalin’s times they decided simply and quickly about the books representing different political views. Let us rejoice that our country and society is changing in this direction.
But the government and public institutions should also assume a role to some extent in this change for the elaboration of a national ideology. Without such an ideology, a government simply does not exist. After all, this exists everywhere, in America just as well as in Europe, Kazakhstan or Belorussia. You may not agree with it, but it’s there. But here it seems as if our government did not want to participate in the social discussion on destalinization.
I do not understand, for example, who is responsible for issuing high school history books. In the Ministry of Education and Culture diametrically opposite tendencies coexist. I personally have no definite answer on how the government should react to this situation, but the bigger problem is that the Academy of Sciences and the History Institute does not have, either. There are no initiatives, no call for public debate and for seeking the truth and the relevant solutions.
Obviously, this is a base literature, but scientists should restrain their disgust and explain to the readers how, from what and they were composed. You cannot simply ignore their existence.
It is not honest to simply proclaim that these books meet a mass demand. For this demand is also shaped by the publisher, which deliberately develops a distorted image on the past of the country. It follows that the government – if they are at all interested in destalinization – should set a host of other books, films, publications, TV programs against the forgeries, to present the facts and the current state of research. To publish popular, but not yet empty literature. For it is possible to write books which are easy to digest, but tell the truth. And most importantly, the state should clearly indicate on whose side they are.
On the basis of my experiences with the leaders of this country I must think that they do not want to get involved in this debate, at least do not want to make clear statements about it. The chinovniks behind the scenes also fear to get involved, either because they do not dare to show their incompetence, or in order not to conflict with the will of the authorities. Once I was invited for the all-Russian conference of history teachers. There was a debate on which school history books we need. Putin and Surkov [the most important gray eminence – the translator] arrived for the final session. In the friendly table talk with the teachers, the former stressed the importance of “a good history book”, but he did not deliver an opinion on the content of this book, and told nothing on his personal relationship to the most important historical problems.
In recent years we have heard some declarations from Putin and Medvedev against Stalin, but they have never converted it into their consistent practice. Word is one thing, acts are another. The reason of their doing so is inconceivable to me.”
The “Stalin’s Renaissance” and “Stalinist” series (so far approximately 20 titles) have appeared in joint edition of Exmo and Yauza since 2007. Their titles are revealing on their ideological position and quality: “Handbook of Stalinism” “Stalin before the tribunal of the dwarfs”, “Beriya: the best manager of the 20th century” (one of the most popular titles in the series, published in eight editions in three years). The editorial practice of Exmo was in the focus of public attention just in this week, thanks to the public debate launched on the site of the “Snob” project. The radical participants of the debate called for the boycott of all the publications of Exmo, including the works of Lyudmila Ulitskaya, Victor Pelevin and other successful authors, as long as Russia’s largest publisher does not stop the publication of books glorifying Stalin and Stalinism. Director General of Exmo, Oleg Novikov has claimed that he acts within the frames of law and the logic of the market, and he stresses “to meet the demands of the readers without censoring them” (from an interview recently published in the Kommersant). Lyudmila Ulitskaya, the author of several works on the holocaust and the dissidents of the former Soviet Union, replied on the invitation to stop her cooperation with Exmo that “she does not support such categorical and radical positions”, and asked “not to be forced into a situation where she would be unable to publish her works”.
A Facebook forum has been recently opened with the title “Прекратите издавать сталинистские книги/Stop publishing Stalinist books”, and its participants plan to soon organize a round table meeting on this topic.”