In Russia, the Past is Unpredictable

Some more history rousing on the Gdansk visit by Vladimir Putin in this week’s Economist:

At this week’s commemorative ceremonies in Gdansk, Mr Putin offered his Polish hosts some comfort (see article). Unlike Russian official media in recent weeks, he did not blame Poland for starting the war, or try to claim that the Soviet Union’s invasion of Poland on September 17th 1939 was justified. Unlike several Russian commentators, he did not maintain that the Nazis rather than the Soviets had perpetrated the Katyn massacre of 20,000 Polish officers and intellectuals in 1940. And unlike official Russian history books, which talk mostly of the “Great Patriotic War” that started only when Hitler attacked the Soviet Union in 1941, he accepted September 1939 as the beginning of the conflict.

Just as the Russians suffered most from communism, so the worstdamage from revived Soviet-style history is done to Russia itself. Ithas become an ingredient in the toxic mix of xenophobia and chauvinismthat the official Russian media, especially television, repeatedlyserve up. The Kremlin uses history as a weapon to imply that eastEuropean countries which see the past differently are closet Nazis. Italso tacitly justifies the loss of freedom at home as a price worthpaying to defeat imaginary external enemies.

The renovation of Kurskaya metro station in Moscow last monthrestored a Soviet-era plaque glorifying Stalin for inspiring “labourand heroism”. The dictator’s rehabilitation is a shameful betrayal ofordinary Russians’ suffering. The Kremlin should admit that Stalin wasHitler’s accomplice before 1941, and that this nefarious alliance madethe war far more dreadful than it otherwise would have been, not leastfor the people of the Soviet Union.