Monday, September 24, 2018

Declaring Russian Cities More Ancient than They Are Now the Fashion, Historian Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 23 – Unlike in imperial and Soviet times, when the authorities typically blocked efforts to present this or that city or region as more ancient than the historical record justifies, in post-Soviet Russia, the passion for pushing founding dates back has spread often to the point of absurdity, historian Aleksey Sirenov says.

            “In post-Soviet times,” he continues, “the ideological function of the state has significantly weakened” and other groups, religious and public, are taking the lead (, a repost of

            Such groups should be ensuring that historical accuracy is maintained, Sirenov says; but “on the contrary, those structures and movements which should speak against the falsifiers turn out to be their supporters and sometimes even the creators of the falsifications” with no one left to challenge them.

            “In our time,” he says, “marking jubilees is an accepted practice,” one that attracts money and even prestige; and consequently, many places in the Russian Federation are trying to push back the dates of their founding as far as possible into the past and to ensure that when officials want to celebrate a date, it will be a “round” one, that is, equal to a decade or century.

            Sirenov acknowledges that “from the point of view of local patriotism, making cities more ancient than they in fact are is viewed as an exclusively positive phenomenon.” But it undermines the understanding of history and reflects the abdication of responsibility by those who should care about that.

            Worse, it produces absurdities which can only elicit laughter and regret.

                Among the examples Sirenov gives is the 1992 decision of the authorities in Vladimir to mark the 1000th anniversary of the founding of their city, something that attracted attention because it came only 34 years after it marked the 850th.  There was no mystery: the city council formed a commission and voted for the new founding date. 

            An even more ridiculous projection into the past involves Belgorod, which in 1995 also wanted to mark its 1000th anniversary.  The problem is that the Belgorod that existed a millennium ago is not located anywhere near the Belgorod of today: it is near Kyiv in Ukraine where it is now the village of Belgorodka. But officials didn’t care: they got their jubilee.

            Then, in 2012, the city fathers of Kursk decided to celebrate the 980th anniversary of the founding of that city.  There was a pre-Mongol city of Kursk – its people are even mentioned in the Law of the Host of Igor – but it ceased to exist and was restored only in 1596, just over four centuries ago and not nearly a thousand. Again no one cared enough to oppose this travesty.

            One interesting example with a somewhat different outcome occurred in Dubna, the nuclear city near Moscow.  It was founded in 1954 but then expanded to include a neighboring village with an ancient lineage going back to 1134.  The city did not miss a trick: it decided to view that date as the founding of the city.

            Several years ago, a Museum of Archaeology and History was set up in Dubna; and its staff began pressing the authorities to proclaim that the city, founded in 1954, had in fact been set up by Yury Dolgoruky. But this campaign fell short, Sirenov says, because the population rejected this total falsification of history.

            The reason of this appear to be “the high educational level of residents of the science city Dubna,” something again “atypical for present-day Russia,” Sirenov concludes.

No comments:

Post a Comment