Christopher A. Lawrence contests the claim that Russians have had a particularly difficult history. I was shocked when I read his claim. How could this be?
As a graduate student one of my areas of specialization was Russian history (Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union). Therefore, I had to read a lot about the history of the Russian people in preparation for my comprehensive exams. One of the things that struck me was the constant stream of misfortunes endured by Russians. They never seemed to catch a break.
I thought maybe I mis-remembered their history when I saw this article by a supposedly credible historian. But upon reading the essay I realized that it wasn’t my memory that was the problem, it was Lawrence’s argument. His argument focuses on their many political revolutions, the last of which he highlights as “fundamentally peaceful.” Now where does he discuss the actual suffering or explain why it wasn’t actually suffering. In fact his argument works by actually ignoring the real suffering of the Russian people (wars, famines, political oppression, purges, etc.). He only mentioned one, World War I, which he points out was short-lived and entailed fewer deaths than other nations. He forgets to mention that they left only to fight a civil war that killed millions, followed by famine, political purges, terror, and crushing poverty. And that was all before the Second World War!
It’s easy to make an argument that the Russians are not long-suffering, if you ignore the actual suffering!
Source: History News Network | Are Russians Really Long-Suffering
“There is hardly any country history has been as utterly rewritten as Russia’s, from the tsars to communism…Indeed, like in the times of Russian tsars, emperors and general secretaries, the current Russian leadership’s real concern is great power status, which in the case of Russia, has always been achieved at the expense of its citizens’ prosperity.”
Source: As Putin Zaps Lenin, Lavrov Hurriedly Rewrites History
If you want to understand Putin and his motives this piece is very helpful and interesting: History News Network | The Surprising Consensus on What Experts Say about Putin
The answer might surprise you. Walter G. Moss argues that Putin is more of an opportunist, but that he also “hold[s] some basic conservative beliefs and is willing to use various means to trumpet them.” Read his entire article here:
History News Network | Is Vladimir Putin an Ideologue, Idealist, or Opportunist?
“Putin laying wreaths at a monument to the defenders of Sevastopol in World War II, 9 May 2014 (www.kremlin.ru)”
In his review of Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin, Walter G. Moss examines how Putin uses and abuses history for his own purposes. Fittingly, he concludes:
“Putin is far from unique among politicians, or even among professional historians, in attempting to manipulate history. But a true “history man” (or woman) is primarily a truth-seeker, one who puts discovering the truth before any political or personal causes, whether they are of an ideological, national, patriotic, class, ethnic, or gender nature. Philosopher and novelist Iris Murdoch in her The Sovereignty of Good
writes of the “honesty and humility of the scholar who does not even feel tempted to suppress the fact which damns his theory.” Without denying that Putin believes much of what he says, he possesses neither the honesty nor humility of Murdoch’s hypothetical scholar. Politicians who do possess such virtues are rare—in any country. And even we professional historians must fight a constant battle to prevent our biases and causes from trumping truth-seeking.” Read the entire article here:
History News Network | Vladimir Putin: History Man?
Museums in Russia are collaborators in sparking the flames of nationalism.
“Irina Y. Velikanova, a former Moscow City Council member appointed to run the museum last year, said the mission of any historical museum should be rooted in patriotism. ‘We don’t hide the fact that we are interested in forming the patriotic and civic position of Russian youth,’ she said. ‘Our goal is that when leaving our museum, all Russians would feel proud of their country.’”
Pride is one thing but history has shown that nationalism is more likely to incite hatred, intolerance, and violence. And unfortunately Russia is not the only country where nationalism is on the rise.
Russian History Receives a Makeover That Starts With Ivan the Terrible – NYTimes.com.
Ivan the Terrible
Nationalists of all stripes have been particularly adept at distorting history to serve their own purposes. Once again, nationalism and its sidekick “selective history” have been on the rise, most notably in Russia. Vladimir Putin is a master of exploiting nationalism in the pursuit of power. Recently, as noted by Maxim Trudolyubov, Putin declared: “‘It’s time to stop taking note only of the bad things in our history and berating ourselves more than even our opponents would do,’ he declared at the annual gathering of international Russia experts known as the Valdai Discussion Club in 2013. ‘We must be proud of our history.’” Sound familiar?
Read Trudolyubov’s entire article here:
Moscow’s Twisted History Lessons – NYTimes.com.
After reviewing Karen Dawisha’s Putin’s Kleptocracy, Anne Applebaum concludes: “Since 2000, Russia has been ruled by a revanchist, revisionist elite with origins in the old KGB. This elite had been working its way back to power since the late 1980s, using theft on a grand scale, taking advantage of the secrecy provided by Western offshore havens, and cooperating with organized crime. Once in power, the new elite sought to maintain control using the same methods that the KGB always used to maintain control: through the manipulation of public emotion, and by undermining the institutions of the West, and the ideals of the West, in any way that it can. Based on its record so far, it has every reason to expect continued success.” Read her full review at:
How He and His Cronies Stole Russia by Anne Applebaum | The New York Review of Books.
Peter Pomerantsev wrote in The New York Times: “’Everything is P.R.,’ my Moscow peers would tell me. This cynicism is useful to the state: When people stopped trusting any institutions or having any values, they could easily be spun into a conspiratorial vision of the world. Thus the paradox: the gullible cynic.” This is a problem everywhere, but Putin has taken it to a new level.
Russia’s Ideology: There Is No Truth – NYTimes.com.