Sunday, November 11, 2012

Window on Eurasia: FSB Historians Seek to Control History of Moscow’s Security Services

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 11 – Historians employed by the FSB and often the only ones who have access to many of its archives are issuing studies that have less to do with promoting an understanding of the past than with doing everything to promote “the improvement of the image of the organs,” according to a review of their recent publications.

            In a detailed review in the current issue of “Klio,” Aleksey Teplyakov says these in-house studies are characterized by “the archaic quality of its ideology propositions, poor knowledge of contemporary work of civilian historians, tendentiousness, and an inclination to accept without criticism Chekist documents” ( no. 6 (66) (2012), at

            While there are some notable exceptions, Teplyakov argues, most of the in-house historians display “a tendentious superficiality, crude errors and distortions of reality to the point of intentionally false assertions,” qualities that are having an ever more dangerous impact on understanding as access to the archives is restricted.

            Indeed, it has reached the point that “the major contribution of these authors” is to bring certain archival documents to light, but their willingness to accept Chekist definitions and even to distort the record to make the Chekists look good and their opponents at any point look bad limits the usefulness of such citations.

            Few of these writers appear to be familiar with the works of others either in Russia or abroad, but “the most serious questions” concern the statistics of repression, numbers which the FSB writers typically understate and which they argue have been “consciously distorted by the ‘so-called’ ‘democrats.’”

            Teplyakov gives numerous examples of this approach. One case, however, is especially instructive: the official data on repressions in 1933 “did not include data on the shootings by troikas in Western and Eastern Siberia, in the Far East, the North Caucasus, and in Nizhny-Volga and Middle Volga krays” – in sum, most of the country!

            Often these in-house historians assert that “the organs of state security had the legal right to engage in repression (including mass shootings and ethnic exile) ‘delegated to them by the highest legislative organs of the state.” Such assertions ignore “the core role of the Cheka-KGB in the political-ideological system of the USSR and their institutional interest in carrying out repressions and their enormous influence on all institutions of the state.”

            These works, Teplyakov continues, citing dozens of examples, accept without criticism the descriptions offered at the time of the regime’s supposed opponents, descriptions that were often made of whole cloth. And they overstate the number of victims among the Chekists while ignoring the crimes and immorality the latter were involved in.

            All these shortcomings demonstrate, Teplyakov concludes, that “the special status of the force structures in the contemporary system of power [in the Russian Federation under Vladimir Putin] is being extended to the interpretation of their own history,” an extension that threatens to open the way to the repetition of Soviet-era criminality by them.

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