Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Russian Officials Haven’t Learned that Trying to Erase History in the Internet Age Attracts Attention to It

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 8 – In Soviet times, CPSU officials thought they could rewrite history at will by erasing parts of it that had become inconvenient, as David King documented in his classic 1997 study, The Commissar Vanishes.  They were often successful because they had near total control of the media as it existed at that time.

             But the Internet has changed things, because it means that nothing is ever completely erased; and as a result, trying to rub it out for the benefit of the current rulers typically backfires, calling attention to the people and events that the new Russian powers that be want people in that country and elsewhere to forget.

            And quite often Russian officials make the situation worse for themselves by making high-profile declarations that what they are doing has not relation to a despised past, thus ensuring that ever more Russians will focus on that past and even more on its links to the present.

            Three such cases have emerged in the last week alone.  The first is perhaps the most absurd: Russian officials at the “Russia is My History” park in Moscow covered over references in a chronology to three events the Putin regime wishes people would forget: the Kursk disaster in 2000, the Nord-Ost incident 2002 and the Beslan tragedy in 2004.

            Officials tried to deny responsibility by insisting upon being queried that the chronology wasn’t part of the “official” exhibit and therefore they did not bear responsibility for the metal plates covering up references to these events, words that again will attract even more attention to them (tvrain.ru/news/rossija_moja_istorija-478390/).

            The second occurred in Daghestan when officials at night and by stealth took down a marble plinth Kumyk activists had erected which told the story of their ancestors’ liberation in 1918 by Turkish forces in three languages, Kumyk, Turkish and Russian, and put in its place one only in Russia and with references to “unnamed” armies whose soldiers fell for “the freedom of Russia and Daghestan.”

            Not surprisingly, the Kumyks are angry but so too are the Turks who played a major role in this battle and who aren’t thrilled that Russian officials or non-Russian officials under Russian control are so obsessed about whiting out their contribution to their fellow Turkic nation (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/01/daghestans-kumyks-outraged-after-local.html).

            And the third involves a statement by Valery Maksimenko, the deputy head of the Russian penal system who declared that it is “incorrect” to compare Russia’s camps and jails with their Soviet predecessors like the GULAG. Today, he insists, “there are no mass violations of human rights, no torture, and no use of physical force except when necessary to control things.

            The FSIN official may feel that he has put a stop to such comparisons, but almost certainly he has ensured that even those who had never considered the current Russian prison system as the GULAG of today will now at least consider it, the exact opposite of what the Kremlin certainly wants (meduza.io/short/2019/01/06/nikakogo-naslediya-gulaga-v-nashey-sisteme-segodnya-net-zamestitel-glavy-fsin-o-pytkah).

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