Who controls the past, controls the future


There is nothing new about Russia’s desire to misinterpret history, especially the historical facts related to World War II, but this year’s 75th anniversary of the end of the Great Patriotic War and the historic victory over fascism has put the Kremlin’s propaganda machine into overdrive.

In a traditional annual address in January, Russian President Vladimir Putin affirmed that the state has a duty to defend the truth about their Victory because „ what else can we tell our children when lies spread like a plague throughout the world?“ According to Putin, „attempts to change history with blatant lies must be met with historical facts“.

Russia’s Defence Minister, Sergei Shoigu confirmed days later to the Presidential Federal Assembly in a speech dedicated to the board that „the Ministry of Defence will counteract attempts to defile Russia and falsify its history. This is particularly important on the threshold of the 75th anniversary of the victory in the Great Patriotic War.“

According to Shoigu, new sections of the interactive service „People’s memory“ will be available on the Russian Defence Ministry’s website by May 9. There are ongoing plans to update the „Commanders of the Victory“ and „Liberation salutes“ projects on the Web, which talks about victorious Red Army Generals and the liberation of European capitals. The Russian Armed Forces main church will be completed by May 9 and more than 2,100 soldiers’ burial sites in Russia and 78 abroad, including Estonia will be restored.

In order to overcome narratives that are incompatible with the Russian official narrative of the Great Patriotic War and to shut up the „dirty mouths“ of historians, it is planned to open an archive dedicated to World War II documents in Moscow. It will be open to all with free admission as well being able to access it by internet.

Armed with facts from the recently created archive, Putin delivered a one-hour history lecture to leaders of the CIS states in St. Petersburg late last year, which justified among other things the signing of the Molotov – Ribbentrop pact and blamed Poland for the start of World War II. Putin had a large bundle of archive material to substantiate his claims.

History professor Sergey Radchenko, in his analysis published for Foreign Policy found that although when taken individually, the facts put forth by Putin were correct, but they were taken in a completely wrong context and in his mixing, he silenced any non-favourable narratives. Any reputable University would not recognize amateur professor Putin’s interpretations of history and he would be given a failing examination grade.

Putin’s creative interpretation of history led to an official Polish statement of opposition as well as many prominent European politicians also expressed their surprise. „It’s crazy…to deny, that Stalin collaborated with Hitler to crush Poland. Putin’s Russia continues to be a glorified monster, „ tweeted Guy Verhofstadt, a former Belgian Prime Minister and an influential member of the European Parliament, on Twitter.

Poland, in particular has fallen within the gears of the Kremlin’s propaganda machine, who has maligned Poland’s history. „Gross ingratitude for being liberated from a brown plague – this is now the political trend of the Poles,“ stated columnist Olga Bugrova on the Estonian language Sputnik (when it was still broadcasting) critizing Poland’s treatment of history.

According to Marko Mihkelson, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of Riigikogu (Parliament), Poland as a special target for Moscow is important because of the presence of US military units that pose a serious deterrent force. „In the short perspective, history will help mobilize compatriots living in the West, divide public opinion (how can you condemn the victors of fascism), and isolate Eastern European countries from Western Europe,“ wrote Mihkelson in an opinion article published in Edasi and ERR.

At the initiative of Mihkelson, the Riigikogu adopted a statement on „Historical Memory and the Counterfeiting of History“, which condemns Russia’s attempts to interpret the history of World War II in their favour and to cast the blame for war on other countries. The statement condemns attempts by the Russian authorities to rewrite history and justify the non-aggression pact and its secret protocols between the Communist Soviet Union and National Socialist Germany before World War II. According to the bill’s explanatory memorandum, Russia, by justifying the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and its secret protocols, is creating grounds for pursuing an aggressive foreign policy towards its neighbours and the entire Western world.

A similar statement has already been adopted by Polish and Latvian parliaments, and Russia’s actions in rewriting history have been condemned by the Speaker of the Lithuanian Parliament.

However, these statements should not be expected to significantly impede the Kremlin. The theme of history is particularly topical this year and Moscow is not missing any opportunities to impose its interpretations of history. It is worthwhile recalling the statement of the Russian Foreign Minister on the anniversary of the Tartu Peace Treaty.

As the 9th of May approaches, the intensity of various Kremlin information operations will also increase.

Photo: Screenshot from the “Mälu tee” (Memory’s path) website