Andrzej Nowak

Prof. Andrzej Nowak is one of the most influential Polish historian and publicist in modern Poland. Professor of Jagiellonian University and Business College - National Louis University in Nowy Sącz, former (1996) visiting professor of East-Central European history at Rice University. Author of many books including Imperiological Studies. A Polish Perspective

The uses and abuses of history are many. Most of them stem from the search for power rather than the truth. In a post-totalitarian country, the misremembered past may be used both against the previous regime and in its defense. From the perspective of “pure scholarship”... - writes Prof. A.Nowak

Here we examine a few examples of this tendency in contemporary Russia – the tendency to use history as the tool of a totalitarian ideology. Two definitions are the premises of this study. 1. Totalitarian ideology is the system of ideas and doctrines that justify and normalize the totalitarian form of government, usually by representing it as the reign of justice. 2. It operates through resentment and for resentment. The identification of Russia and the Soviet Union is at the core of the resentment at the core of the totalitarian potential in contemporary Russia and its “justification” in history; specifically an identification which which enables Soviet apologists to treat the USSR as a temporarily weakened and somehow beaten (or rather “cheated”) form of the Russian State. Here we follow briefly a story of this identification: from Stalin's decision to restore the Russian Imperial dimension to the Soviet state, to a new Russian-Soviet “patriotic” synthesis proclaimed by most of the Moscow's media during the May 9 th celebrations in 2005. The feeling of the loss of important territories, the feeling of degradation in the state's international status, as well as dreams of revenge against the external and internal enemies held responsible for this deplorable situation – these are the most important elements of the resentment I anatomise in this paper. Its mobilizing power has penetrated the realm of history interpretations very soon after 1991. However, it is used by the state's manipulations with history only after 1999, confirming an important role played by interpretations of the past in contemporary “political technology”1 of the Russian Federation. The essence of these interpretations is best represented in books pretending to guide the reader toward a new, “patriotic” attitude in Russian historiography. Many of them are written by professional historians with very solid academic positions, and published in the most prestigious scholarly publishers, quite frequently serving as new historical textbooks to be used in higher learning institutions. We try here to go through ideological motives and “hot” historical issues being “reinterpreted” in these publications in the most obstinate way. This way is opened, as so many others, by Stalin. 1. On 19 July 1934, Josef Stalin sent his Politburo colleagues a letter entitled “On Engels’s article ‘The Foreign Policy of Russian Tsardom’.”2 The father and co-founder of communist ideology was unmasked by Stalin as a German nationalist, blackening Russian history and politics in the name of an eternal hatred of the western powers competing with Russia. Although the letter to the Bolshevik party leaders was only published seven years later, only some few days before the outbreak of the German-Soviet war, it was, from the moment it was sent, a turning-point in the attitude to Russian history in the Soviet system. A synthesis was proposed; a synthesis of the imperial, that which served the enlargement of the state and its military-political potential, with the new Soviet identity. The historical synthesis of the new ideology was built around a Russian centre, surrounded once again by a hostile world: the western powers and their “agents”. The Russian past, generally treated by the Bolsheviks in former years like the Russian present – as an arena for brutal conquest – was transformed after 1934 into a treasury of models of Soviet patriotism, such as prince Alexander Nevsky, Field-Marshal Suvorov, Admiral Nachimov, eventually Ivan the Terrible (evoked in Sergei Eisenstein’s film) – treated as a forerunner of Stalin struggling with internal and external enemies of the state. Stalin reduced the former to dust in the 1930s while intending to defeat the latter at the end of the decade. The war of 1939-1945 (and its fruits in the shape of conquests which far exceeded the...

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