There is a worrying trend in Russia to censor dissenting voices and to officially promote falsehoods. This article is in no wise anti-Russian. Russians are the victims of the Kremlin in this regard. They are victimised by having their freedom of expression unduly curtailed and also by being deceived by their government.
Panfilov’s 28 Men is a film due to be released next month about a battle in the Second World War. This film shows Kazakh and Kyrgyz troops under the command of Panfilov valiantly battling the Wehrmacht. The tale is partly true. Central Asian troops under Panfilov fought against the German Army and destroyed some tanks near Leningrad. The film has all 28 being killed whereas in fact some of these soldiers survived. Bending the historical truth to make a film more impactful is nothing new nor is it unique to Russia. A Soviet investigation in 1948 concluded that the Panfilov 28 men story was largely bogus. This was not a time when someone would contradict the Kremlin’s version of events unless he or she was really sure of the truth. Sergei Mironeneko the director of the Russian State Archive said the story is untrue. This man would know better than anyone. He is a state appointee and hardly likely to be deceiving the public or doing down his own country. He told the plain truth and was reprimanded for it by the Minister for Culture. A few months later Mironenko was sacked.
Medinsky the Culture Minister said that even if the Panfilov story was totally bogus it must never be questioned. It is staggering to think that the Culture Minister believes that the state ought to promote a version of History that it knows to be false. This story is not presented as fiction but as fact. There you have it. Lying is official Kremlin policy.
The bizarre thing about Panfilov’s 28 Men is there is no need to dream up such tales of derring do. The Second World War was the largest war of all time. The Eastern Front was the main theatre of that war. There were therefore countless tales of gallantry by the Red Army. Why make up a story rather than use a real one? Millions of Red Army soldiers died defending the USSR. Many of them were Kazakhs and Kyrgyz.
Since 2013 there has been a new History syllabus in schools. It disseminates a version of History which reflects very positively on communist dictators. It redounds to the discredit of countries which whom Russia has strained relations. Again not every word of such a syllabus is false by any means. There is also an official History channel which broadcasts programmes to show Stalin and other tyrants to have been enlightened and to downplay or deny the countless horrendous crime the Communists committed against their own nationality and others. Discordant voices are not to be heard. This has a chilling effect on academic freedom.
In 2014 Dozhd TV courted controversy for saying that maybe Leningrad could have been spared if it had surrendered. This provoked a furious reaction. It is easy to perceive why this is such an emotional issue. Millions of Soviets died at Leningrad as civilians who died in the siege and troops who died fighting to save the city. To suggest these deaths were needless is very painful for descendants of those who laid down their lives for the city.
In 2014 a law was passed banning the rehabilitation of Nazism. There was no need to do this. No one is trying to do it. Nazism is about wars of aggression, state censorship, militaristic myth making, chauvinism, the promotion of official falsehoods …. sound familiar?
Vladimir Luzgin published an article stating the well known fact that the Red Army invaded Poland in 1939. Everyone knows that the USSR assisted the Wehrmacht in carinv up Poland. Luzgin was slapped with a huge fine for recounting a historical event. Luzgin deserves immense credit for having the courage to relate an incident that does not reflect well on his country. The court said that Luzgin published this knowing it to be false. Everyone knows it to be true. The Russian Government has even admitted to the Katyn Massacre. Putin attended a commemoration for it in 2010. This massacre can only have occurred because of the Soviet invasion of Poland. The prosecutors of Luzgin said he would create ”a firm conviction about the negative action of the USSR”. There certainly were negative actions by the USSR such as the enslavement of millions of dissidents, deliberate famines and many massacres. The Soviet people were the main victims of these crimes. Every country has its dark chapters. This is not to insult any nationality. People should be brave enough to confront ugly chapters in their past. Ireland and Great Britain are good at facing up to ghastly chapters in their past. Sometimes they overdo it and excoriate themselves too much. This is not a case of demeaning of offending a whole nation but looking at which individuals and organisations were guilty.
In the Luzgin case the court denied the indisputable fact that the USSR invaded Poland in co operation with the Third Reich. The supreme court upheld the verdict.
The Kremlin’s aim in promoting this Panfilov’s 28 Men is to bind Kazakhstan to Russia. Nazarbayev is bosom buddies with Putin. Remember that Nazarbayev publicly opposed his country becoming independent. Putin had openly stated his goal: to rebuild the USSR insofar as possible. He has partly achieved this. Some Central Asian states and Belarus are in his orbit. He has partly reintroduced censorship and official propaganda. Propaganda does not usually mean outright lies. It can be truth that is selected to flatter oneself and to denigrate ones’s foes. Propaganda can be overstated rather than actually specious.
Putin’s core belief is that truth does not matter at all. Lying on a huge scale is entirely acceptable. Telling the truth is a crime when it inconveniences the president. We should bear this in mind when listening to other Kremlin statements. They say that Assad’s troops never massacred civilians. Do not forget that the Kremlin has openly stated its view that lying to the public is entirely permissible. The Kremlin says its troops did not bomb a UN aid convoy. Remember that Moscow said that promoting official lies is ok. The Kremlin said that there are no Russian soldiers in the Ukraine. Remember that the Kremlin said that the USSR did not invade Poland in 1939.