Staunton, September 20 – In the past, Russian regimes have insisted that they were telling the truth even when they were lying and everyone knew it, Sergey Mitrofanov says. But now, the Putin regime “in the person of its culture minister” has gone further: it says truth doesn’t matter at all and that “important and necessary” untruths are “more valuable than any truth.”
The Russian historian draws this conclusion on the basis of the controversy surrounding Sergey Mironenko, the head of the Russian State Archive, and the Russian culture minister Vladimir Medynsky, over the truth value of stories from World War II that are not supported by the facts (svpressa.ru/blogs/article/132173/).
Mitrofanov cites the words of Russia’s Free Historical Society: “The responsibility of a historian consists precisely in that which the minister is declaring undesirable: in the establishment of historical truth on the basis of primary sources regardless of political circumstances” (polit.ru/article/2015/09/13/vio_about_medinsky/).
That might have appeared to settle the matter, the Russian historian says, but unfortunately, it hasn’t. Instead, some Moscow commentators are now trying to justify the culture minister’s declaration by arguing that no one must ever question any of the myths the state has declared true because they are part of Russian national identity.
Pavel Svyatenkov is one of those. He argues that “these ‘holy myths’ relate to national identity and therefore they must not be touched lest they injure that identity.” The most unwelcome conclusion from that, Mitrofanov says, is that in all likelihood, when speaking about Russia today, “he is right.”
“A loyal attitude toward untruth” has really become “an important element of [Russian] national identity. Its core,” in fact, the historian continues. But unlike those who welcome this, he says, he believes that it would be far better to dismantle this core rather than preserve it and to welcome truth instead of supporting lies.
The reason for that is obvious, Mitrofanov suggests. It is all too easy for those who accept the myths of the past as true to accept new myths about the present and act accordingly. Obviously, all peoples form myths especially in war time, and that is understandable if not entirely welcome.
“But the problem is,” Mitrofanov says, that the inventors of these myths outlive the war; and in Russia, all too many of them see no reason to correct them and are upset if anyone calls their stories into question as happens in other countries with civil societies after such conflicts. Now such people have defenders at the highest levels of the Russian state.
As a result, “we return again and again to the past in order to celebrate death, to beat again all virtual enemies, and to establish super-enormous monuments of glory,” he writes. Instead, it is long past time to calm down and examine things dispassionately. Otherwise, it is all too likely that this dismissal of truth will lead to still more tragedies and wars.