Staunton, March 8 – A new study prepared by the Free Historian Society at the request of the Committee on Civic Initiatives with the assistance of the Levada Center, says that most historians in Russia do not see themselves playing a key role in forming the historical consciousness of Russians.
Instead, Andrey Kolesnikov of the Moscow Carnegie Center reports, they see government propaganda playing that role and divide over whether it is their responsibility to help the regime impose its vision of the past in order to structure the future or to engage in research to challenge that vision (gazeta.ru/comments/column/kolesnikov/12984559.shtml).
(The report, based on responses to a survey from more than 250 historians, was presented and discussed at the Yeltsin Center two weeks ago. For that discussion, see youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=TUHX6CdHkMY&feature=youtu.be).
In addition to identifying their other professional concerns, the study found that 68 percent of Russian historians “do not consider themselves to be an important force in the formation of the historical consciousness” of the Russian people, with most saying that that is not their role at least in terms of defining their work and in the short term.
Kolesnikov says that the report found that “the majority of historians clearly see that the state is carrying out a historical policy and understand towards what it is directed, including such ideas as “the special path of Russia,” “the formation of an isolationist consciousness” and the like.
Forty-four percent of the historians said that the state should not be conducting such a historical policy, although almost as many – 38 percent -- said that it should. But not a single respondent said he or she was “completely satisfied” with the government’s policy in this area, and 81 percent said they were dissatisfied to one degree or another.
“In general and on the whole,” Kolesnikov says, “the state from the point of view of historians should not ‘rule’ history. It should help enlighten but not be involved in ‘Clio-therapy.’” After all, “Clio, the daughter of Zeus and Mnemosyne, does not exist for these goals. She does not cure or punish. She is a muse which leads historians to work better.”
Unfortunately, few governments Russian or other understand that and often seek to inform the historical consciousness of the people under their control for their own purposes with little or no reference to what historians actually do or have discovered.