05/18/2024, 09.47
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Putin's programme to rewrite history

by Stefano Caprio

The first decree approved as soon as the ceremony for the start of his fifth term is about the ‘Fundamentals of Historical Education Policy’. The anxiety to rewrite history is the sentiment that stirs Putin's conscience most of all, as well as that of the entire generation afflicted by the resentment of the end of the Soviet Union. And it is this global and eschatological vision that Putin is now also trying to embody side by side with Xi Jinping in Tiananmen Square.

Many comments in recent days have been devoted to the changes in Moscow's government team decided by the newly re-elected President Vladimir Putin, above all the replacement of Defence Minister Sergei Šojgu with economist Andrej Belousov, which foreshadows increasingly apocalyptic scenarios of world conflict.

In reality, Mikhail Mišustin's government has remained more or less unchanged, with the inclusion of relatives and friends of the president to provide even more guarantees of loyalty, but no great revolution seems to be on the horizon: the puppets and ‘Putin impersonators’ move from one chair to another for matters of image, such as the repulisti being carried out at the Ministry of Defence to celebrate the ‘end of corruption’, while the various Šojgu, Patrušev, Medvedev and so many others remain to act as the furnishings or fans of the ‘collective Putin’, regardless of the office they currently hold.

What really indicates the meaning of Putin's ‘fifth term’, among the many bombastic promises about the war and the economy, is the first decree he approved as soon as the coronation ceremony was over, entitled ‘Fundamentals of the policy of historical education’, using for ‘education’ the term prosveščenie, ‘enlightenment’ by the state towards the people to spread and permanently implant in their minds and souls ‘historical knowledge corresponding to the truth and scientifically proven’.

The eagerness to rewrite history is the sentiment that stirs the conscience of Putin, Patriarch Kirill and the entire generation most of all, who resent the end of the Soviet Union, which was supposed to be the ‘perfect society’ that ended history, and instead plunged Russia to year zero.

Enlightening history therefore means making it start again, summarising all that has been lost into a new-ancient collective identity that gives meaning to Russia's very existence in the world.

Historians are well aware that past facts cannot be ‘scientifically proven’ beyond documents, testimonies and archaeological remains, as in history, the interpretation of the facts themselves always counts for much.

Usually, history is made by the victors, and is rewritten according to the change in the dominant positions; the more one claims to impose a definitive and ‘enlightened’ vision, the more the ideological distortion of those in power becomes evident.

The most glaring example, to which Putin's Russia is evidently trying to refer today, is the History of the Communist (Bolshevik) Party of the USSR, which Stalin had a commission appointed by the Central Committee and chaired by him write in 1938, and which Mao Tse-Tung also imposed as compulsory reading for Chinese Communists.

The Georgian dictator intended to show that Russian communism was precisely the realisation of all the aspirations of peoples from the very origins of history, and the sciences themselves were put at the service of this definition: geography and chemistry, physics and literature were equally at the service of this global and eschatological vision, which Putin today seeks to impersonate alongside Xi Jinping in Tiananmen Square in his first ‘historic’ visit of the new mandate.

Putin's decree asserts that Russia is a ‘country-civilisation’, strana-tsivilizatsija, meaning no longer the ‘scientific’ system of Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism, but the coryphaeus of ‘traditional moral and spiritual values’, the refrain of recent years that accompanies and justifies all wars at all latitudes.

In fact, the greatest sin of the ‘collective West’ is not even the denial of the principles of family and gender, ‘LGBT propaganda’ or democracy entrusted to the ‘strong powers’, but it is the ‘denial of historical facts’, or rather Russia's failure to acknowledge the salvation of the world.

The scenario evoked is always the great Victory over Nazism, which is now intended to be replicated in Ukraine, and which the Anglo-Saxon allies of the Second World War claim to attribute to themselves instead of glorifying the eschatological sacrifice of Stalin's armies.

Behind these events of the last century are ‘illuminated’ all the great turning points of the past, of Europe defended by the Slavs against the Tatars, of Asia conquered by the Cossacks against the Mongol peoples, of the Middle East protected by the Tsars against the Turks, of colonised Africa and revolutionary Latin America, all the way to the empires of Rome and Byzantium, whose glory spilled over into Moscow's Third Rome.

This is not just the megalomania of a despot who wants to inscribe his name in the annals, even if Putin does everything he can to centralise the comparison with the great tsars and emperors on himself, turning out to be a rather grotesque copy of already quite monstrous characters from the past.

It is a sign of a change in the conception of the state in the contemporary global world, which is no longer affirmed by the free consent of individual peoples and represented by its institutions, but seeks to redefine itself according to a different space-time dimension.

Today, distances are cancelled and memories are dispersed, real and not virtual points of reference are lacking, and it is no coincidence that Putin's provisions do not only concern books and manuals, films and documentaries, but require even video-games and digital applications to be regulated to the ‘authentic vision’ of the world and history.

Commissions are set up to ‘control the content of historical literature’, to prevent not only falsehoods about Russia's historical role, but also to weed out any other kind of content that is ‘heretical’ and unwelcome to the official ideology, just like in Stalin's time.

Putin's decree on history stands somewhat above the constitution itself, already reformed in 2020 in an extremely ‘sovereignist’ sense, in that it declares that the ‘Foundations’ are ‘the values that inspire all principles and norms of international law, and agreements at all levels accepted by the Russian Federation’, despite the many contradictions they introduce precisely at the legal level.

Article 13 of the Russian constitution affirms, at least on paper, the principle of ‘ideological multiplicity’ introduced at the time of the first Yeltsin version to break free from the totalitarian legacy, prohibiting the establishment of a ‘state ideology’.

Evidently the detail has escaped the latest Putinist amendments, as the ‘foundations of state policy’ re-establish the dictates of the single idea to be submitted to, ‘illuminating’ history to obscure any divergent versions.

The chairman of Russia's Central Investigative Committee, Aleksandr Bastrykin, had in fact suggested some time ago that the indigestible Yeltsin article should be deleted, but in the Kremlin they thought it was enough to trample it underfoot without remorse, approving the presidential decrees without unnecessary discussion.

The official definition of history, as the decree states, is aimed at ‘forming a scientific understanding of Russia's past and present’, where ‘scientific’ properly means ‘ideological’, not only in evaluations of events or protagonists of history, but also with regard to its very methodology.

It is a matter of ‘understanding the history of Russia in the development of its autonomous path of civilisation’, excluding any kind of external influence, which in reality is unthinkable for any country in the world; we are all ‘contaminated’ by our neighbours, except for Russia, which for centuries tried in every way to imitate Europe and the West, only to reject such influences at the beginning of each century, as the most western of tsars, Peter the Great, stated in the early 18th century: ‘We will take from Europe all we need, and then we will show them our backsides’. Anyone who only dares to think in ‘Western’ terms in Russia today is immediately put on the list of ‘foreign agents’.

Putin proclaims ‘historical enlightenment’ to counter ‘information warfare’, the real front on which to deploy all troops in the mobilisations, far more than the kilometres of terrain to be conquered in the Donbass; because it is from those weapons that the ‘destruction of the integrity of Russian society and the Russian state’ could result, as we read in no.6 of the decree.

No. 5 states instead that ‘Russia is a great country with a millennial history, which has united all branches of the Russian people and many other peoples on the great expanses of Eurasia in a single cultural-historical communion’. In addition to the Tatars, the Bashkars and the Kuvaks, it is now the turn not only of the Ukrainians, the Kazakhs or the Moldavians, but of every people in the world in search of its ‘enlightenment’.


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