Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Russians Need a History of the Russian People and Not Just of the Russian State, Butakov Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, October 22 – From the oldest manuscripts to the latest textbooks, “the entire history of Russia has been invariably presented  as the history of the state” rather than the history of the people, a situation that has kept Russians from viewing themselves as a nation apart of the state and thus retarded national development, according to Yaroslav Butakov.


            The Russian historian argues that by reducing the complex history of Russia to “’a genealogy’” of its leaders, Russian rulers have advanced their claim over places and peoples which were never Russian in any national sense and which have little in common with that nation (


            But at least as significantly, this approach to the history of Russia has deprived Russians of an understanding of their origins and development as a nation, Butakov says. “A significant part of the Russian people has simply been thrown beyond the limits of the official ‘fatherland’ history.”


            The Old Believers, the Dukhobors, the Cossack-Nekrasovites, and so on were simply cast out of the nation because they were  not willing to subordinate themselves to the state as a result of their religious convictions and thus have been deprived by Russian historical “’science’” of “the right to be considered as part of the Russian people.”


Moreover, Butakov continues, as far as the Pomor region, the Middle Volga, the North Caucasus, the Urals, Siberia and the Far East are concerned, their history “officially begins from the moment at which these territories were included within the Russian state, even though they had proud and rich histories before that time.


Such “an ignoring of their histories is a typical approach of colonizers.”


Russian historians have largely neglected and the official version of history has ignored the pre-Russian periods of the enormous territories over which the Russian state has spread and even more the fact that “today’s ‘Russians by passport’” are not so much “a people of a single origin” as “a conglomerate of various ethnoses, unified only by a single state language.”


The official history has also failed to investigate how the Russian people lived as opposed to how the Russian state behaved, Butakov says, and that has meant that Russians do now know as much about their own nation and its past and present as they need to in order to be able to construct a genuinely national future.


An adequate history of the Russian people must include in itself attention to anthropology, ethnography, regional groups, family patterns, forms of territorial administration, religious faith and practice, including all the varieties of those things, and many other topics as well, he says – even though the supporters of the official version may not like the results.


Historical studies which focus on this “human dimension” have “already for a long time become the norm for European historical science,” Butakov says, but they have only just begun in Russia. Many had hoped that glasnost would allow many questions to be answered, but that hope has proven an illusion with the imposition of a new official history on many issues.


            “In general,” he concludes, “the real history of the Russian people and particularly its most recent period has still to be clarified. The capacity of Russian historical science to formulate these questions, to raise them, and to require from the state conditions for that to happen are a barometer of the maturity of this science.”


            And until Russian historians are able to pursue such investigations and communicate their findings to the entire Russian population through textbooks and other means, one will not even be able to speak of a genuine “Russian nation, because there is no nation without an interest to the truth about its history, however shocking at times this truth turns out to be.”



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