Friday, May 7, 2010

Medvedev on Historical Distortions

In my most recent post I tried to show how the current Russian government is trying to overcome the historical distortions - especially, in the West - that tend to keep the Soviet contribution to the outcome of the WWII out of the history books. With the May 9th and the grandiose 65th Anniversary of Victory celebrations already under way, President Medvedev made this appearance on RT, sending a clear message to the world: Russia (along with the other post-Soviet countries) wants proper acknowledgment of its role.

One of the reporter's questions highlighted the issue very well:

While Russian history books contain most of the details, in Western countries victory is attributed to the West – the Allies won, and the Soviet Union just participated. So it’s like we are losing our victory. Many people don’t know anything about the major losses of the Soviet Union in this war, they don’t know that it was the Red Army that entered and seized Berlin, and they don’t know many things. What can we do in order not to lose our victory?

As the interview shows, the "New Russia" (as the current administration calls itself) sees this herculean task of "correcting" the historical perspective as playing a key part in their overall public diplomacy effort: it is directly related to the way others perceive modern Russia.

This is a great interview, in that Medvedev is trying to explain the Russian attitude and reactions to the West in the post-Cold War period:

[...] people in Russia, too, are suspicious of America, other NATO members and even other countries that are simply major players on the international arena. Why is that? It’s because of our history, the way we used to perceive each other. You and I remember well what we had in the Soviet period. We had a set of stereotypes concerning each other. Just recall what they used to tell us at school about Americans and Europeans. This position was totally based on ideology. It pursued obvious goals—to make us consider people who lived there as our enemies. It was a way of keeping the government efficient and achieving certain political goals.
They had the same thing. In fact many stereotypes of the past are still here today, more or less. Perhaps it is particularly true in the West, because, frankly speaking, many of our people wanted a new life in late 1980s and the early 1990s. And there was a kind of romantic period in our relations with the West. We thought they would welcome us as an open, modern country that no longer threatened anybody. We thought we would quickly and easily be integrated with other civilised developed nations.
Something different followed though. First of all, we ourselves were not fully ready to do this quickly since there was a certain inertia to our thinking. The need to create a modern economy in our country remained, and remains up to the present moment. There is also the process of civil society institutions maturing. But the people in the West, too, were not fully ready to give up their stereotypes.

It is obvious that he is painfully aware of the persisting "negative" image of Russia in the Western popular culture and perceptions, as well.
You know, sometimes I watch Hollywood movies, and even though they have excellent actors, an excellent cast, perfect scene sequence and a big budget – the way they portray Russia today is just a bunch of absurd, ludicrous ideas. Russia is a country where it is always raining or snowing, where everything is bad, people are mean, all they can do is drink vodka all the time, they are aggressive, they like to fight, they can attack you any moment – you have to keep an eye on them, otherwise, they will stab you in the back. Everything is bad!

So what is the message? "Work actively and fairly, and [...] abandon extreme positions."

Well done, Mr. President. Don't stop here, though! It will take much more effort and time, on all sides, to really resolve the problem..

You can read the transcript of the entire interview on RT's website.



  1. The Bear shall reach out and claim its well-deserved glory!

    Be very afraid...

  2. Stereotypes die hard, as evidenced, inter alia, by the above comment.
    I think the Western perceptions of Russia is a specific, particular case of a more general trend, which, in my view, should be dealt with within the PD framework...
    My point is that all political correctness notwithstanding, some people, nations and group of nations firmly believe (or at least try to make others believe that they firmly believe) that Truth (and the only Truth at that) is their birthright.
    Their pronouncements are supposed to be (almost) absolute truths (I mean with regard to other countries and nations, obviously that does not apply to domestic affairs).
    The whole idea of natural rights, which was in due time properly codified, claims equality as not only virtue but also a fundamental principle.
    Why then are "some animals more equal"?
    I think it is a good question for PD. If someone engaged in PD efforts, be it politicians, media or researchers, why not address some of these simple questions?
    Why, for instance, Russia (or Soviet Union) has always to be apologetic for what it did or does?
    I am not trying to exonerate the terrible things done by the Bolshevik regime, Stalin, etc.
    OK, take Katyn. Terrible crime. But why while demanding (and justly demanding) from Russians to apologize, etc,. for that crime, Poles (and the West that supports them) do not apologize for 60 or may be 70 thousand or even more deaths of Russian prisoners of war in 1920?
    The "great" Great Britain, when an empire, did terrible things. (First concentration camps for civilians is just a minor episode).I have yet to hear constant recriminations.
    Who used A-bombs? Who used them against civilians?
    Who used chemical warfare?
    Who used a scorched-land tactics in modern times? Who used napalm indiscriminately?
    The list may go on and on.
    But for some mysterious reason it seems like no one is to blame because they are "good guys".
    Russians, on the other hand, are "bad guys".
    Well, not only Russians.
    Now, for a change, it is Iranians. Uf...
    So, if there are clear moral standards and principles, why some countries are "entitled" to having nuclear weapons, while others are not?
    Why is it tenable to believe that someone can have monopoly on truth?
    The WWII is merely an example.
    Simple statistics and facts show who bore the brunt of the war.
    Just an episode. In Schindler's List they make fun of a dumb Soviet soldier. But the plain truth is that, as many Jewish survivors testified, in most cases it was the Soviets who liberated them sacrificing many more lives of their soldiers than otherwise they would.
    It is easier to invoke an image of a menacing Russian Bear than to take the trouble of learning some history and to not subscribe wholeheartedly to moral relativism.