Thursday, July 23, 2009

At the Edge of the Memory Hole

Recently, the Russian government shut down the history web site, leading, as reported in the Guardian,* to protests from British academics. The Guardian piece contained these astonishing details:

The closure comes amid official attempts in Russia to rewrite some of the darkest aspects of its 20th-century history. School textbooks now portray Stalin not as a mass murderer but as a great, if flawed, national leader and an ‘efficient manager’ who defeated the Nazis and industrialised a backward Soviet Union.

…Much of Soviet history is now taboo. Particularly sensitive for the Kremlin is the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, under which Hitler and Stalin agreed to carve up Europe, with Moscow annexing the Baltics and two-thirds of Poland. The Kremlin also refuses to acknowledge Ukrainian claims that the Stalin-engineered famine of 1932-33 amounted to a genocide.

Looks like the site’s back up now (not being able to read Russian I can’t say for sure).

One of those speaking out against this censorship was Orlando Figes, author of the superb The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia:

In writing the book, distinct for its use of oral histories and its focus on ordinary people, Figes worked with and drew heavily on the archives of Memorial, a human rights, documentation, and humanitarian organization. In November 2008, Memorial’s St. Petersburg office was raided by authorities who seized computer disks containing the organization’s extensive archives of the Stalin era. The disks were returned in May, but the struggle continues on many fronts. The Guardian reports:

Today Figes said in an email the Kremlin had become ‘very active on the internet’ on history, claiming that it even hired bloggers to pose as members of the public, their task being to disseminate a Kremlin-approved version of the past and to ‘rubbish historians like myself’.

Speaking truth to power continues to be extraordinarily dangerous. Earlier this month, Natalia Estemirova, a Memorial worker documenting human rights violations in Chechnya, was kidnapped and murdered. Human Rights Watch recently released this video in tribute to her:

A few days ago, Memorial suspended its activities in Chechnya.

*I accept at face value nothing reported in the mainstream press. If I read one more article suggesting that Mel Zelaya was trying to extend his term in office or that the public consultation was a referendum on extending presidential term limits, or using the phrase “plots his return” or “threatens to return,” or describing demonstrations of tens or hundreds of thousands of people against a criminal coup as protests by “dozens of Zelaya supporters,” or ignoring human rights violations, or…I’m going to lose it. There is no way they could be unaware at this point that they’re repeating lies. It’s shameful.

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