Thursday, March 19, 2020

Constitutional Changes Make Profession of Historian in Russia Even More Dangerous, Sokolov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 14 – The amendments to the Russian Constitution that Vladimir Putin is pushing devote a great deal of attention to historical issues and thereby made “the profession of historian one of the most dangerous in Russia,” according to Moscow commentator Boris Sokolov (

            One of the most dangerous innovations, he continues, is the provision that specifies Russia “respects the memory of defenders of the Fatherland and will guarantee the defense of historical truth. Any reduction in the importance of an achievement of the people in the defense of the Fatherland will not be allowed.”

            Given the Kremlin’s focus on World War II as the basis of national identity and unity, the powers that be are virtually certain to insist on a single version of truth and attack anyone, now with the force of constitutional law, anyone who presents alternatives or variants or who criticizes a Russian or Soviet commander.

            And the second change that is certain to have a negative impact on the work of historians specifies that “the Russian Federation, united by a thousand-year history, maintaining the memory of ancestors who gave to us our ideals and faith in God and also the continuity in the development of the Russian state recognizes the historically evolved state unity.”

            “But history at times doesn’t unite but divides, Sokolov says; and the Russian Constitution now specifies that this is not the case. Historians in Russia thus face a difficult and unhappy future.

            The lives of Russian historians are already difficult, especially those involved in the study of the Caucasus war.  Three who specialize on that topic say that some of the problems arise from Moscow’s inattention to this conflict, despite it being the longest in Russian history, while others reflect the actions of republic leaders (

            Larisa Tsvizhba, a senior specialist at the Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies, says that the absence of interest in this conflict is creating problems because there is no common matrix which defines the terms of discourse within which issues are discussed. As a result, each republic and even each institute is going in its own direction.

            That politicization of the issues of historical research impedes progress in understanding what happened and why, she continues; and that makes it even less likely that there can be any common position across the region or between it and the federal center. That in many cases lies behind fights over the erection of statues to tsarist generals.

            Khadzhimurad Donogo, a Daghestani historian, says that this politicization is now reaching below the ranks of established scholars and requiring graduate students to adapt their theses to whatever direction the political winds are blowing in the republic where they are seeking their degrees.

            And Vadim Mukhanov, a specialist on the Caucasus at MGIMO, says that in part the problems of the study of the Caucasus war arise from the ways in which the sides were treated by Moscow and the West during the Cold war, with the one making heroes of those the other side made into enemies.

            At the same time, the Moscow scholar says that “there is practically no diktat in this segment of historical research but that at the region level, this problem [very much] exists.”

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