Again in Could 2022, when southern Ukrainian cities had been already occupied however not but annexed, the Russians resorted to an outdated trick and began issuing passports. If the locals had been insufficiently wanting to embrace Russian citizenship, the occupiers tried to inspire them with threats and intimidation.
One of many makeshift amenities issuing Russian passports in Melitopol was adorned with the pastiche of a traditional Soviet WWII propaganda poster. The unique confirmed a Crimson Military soldier bayoneting a rat-like Hitler, whose nostril caught out by a torn Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. The slogan acknowledged, ‘We inflict defeat upon the enemy and annihilate him!’
The model prominently exhibited within the Russian passport workplace depicted the identical soldier, however this time bullying a really totally different enemy. The Führer had been changed by a fats, ill-shaven historian, busy scrawling a manuscript entitled Historia, for some obscure motive written in Latin. Behind the unfortunate chronicler, who was doomed to be shot by a Russian firing-squad, stood a person in navy uniform with a smiling masks in his palms. This determine was clearly meant to be the harbinger of historic revisionism; however the risible abilities of the artist left one questioning if he symbolized American imperialism, NATO militarism or Ukrainian nationalism. This time, the slogan was: ‘We forbid the rewriting of our historical past!’
The thought of historical past as holy writ that may neither be revised nor even interpreted has for a while been a elementary part of the brand new Putinist ideology. Its basis stone was the cult of Soviet victory in WWII, which quickly become a political faith. It got here as no nice shock that Putin’s ideologues seized on it and developed it. Soviet historical past in its unadulterated kind was of little use for contemporary functions, restricted because it was to the warfare in opposition to the Nazis and to post-war area exploration. So the Putinist ideologues give a recent spin to the victory so dearly purchased with the lives of numerous Soviet folks.
They ruthlessly nationalized the narrative to make it completely Russian, airbrushing out disagreeable particulars such because the 1939 division of Poland and the postwar occupation of central and jap Europe. The Victory Day navy parade grew to become the primary festive occasion of the yr. Banners proclaiming ‘We will do it once more!’ grew to become common amongst Russian automotive house owners, and a plywood copy of the Reichstag was erected on the outskirts of Moscow for the annual reenactment of its storming.
The brand new cult, nicknamed Pobedobesie (‘victory insanity’), required state assist. In 2009, President Medvedev established the Presidential Fee of the Russian Federation to Counter Makes an attempt to Falsify Historical past to the Detriment of Russia’s Pursuits. The duty of this physique was to ‘defend Russia in opposition to falsifiers of historical past and people who would deny the Soviet contribution to the victory in World Conflict Two’. The fee was short-lived and ceased to exist after Putin’s reelection as president in 2012. By 2021, denying the Soviet function within the victory and evaluating the Soviet Union to Nazi Germany had been criminalized. Violations grew to become punishable by extreme fines.
The widespread perception amongst Russian intellectuals that Putin’s weaponization of historical past can be restricted by info proved naive. In August 2021, officers of the Investigative Committee of Russia interrogated the director of a faculty in Novosibirsk due to vital remarks he had made about Alexander Nevsky, a medieval prince canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church. The case confirmed that any doubts concerning the greatness of Russia’s previous would quickly change into crimes in opposition to the state.
Putin himself is an beginner historian, his actions proving how harmful such a ardour will be. His insipid treatise ‘On the Historic Unity of Russians and Ukrainians’, a sorry collage of rusty stereotypes and outdated propaganda banalities penned lower than half a yr earlier than the invasion, solid doubt on Ukraine’s very existence as a respectable nation. Weird although Putin’s article appeared, it was a vital indicator of the prevailing political local weather and clearly heralded the forthcoming warfare.
If the warfare in opposition to Ukraine can fairly be interpreted as a ‘historical past warfare’, then the Russian occupation of Kherson gives excellent materials for a supporting case examine. Instantly after Kherson fell, billboards depicting figures from Russian historical past who had visited town within the distant previous mushroomed across the city centre. Right here was Alexander Pushkin, the well-known poet; there was Denis Davidov, hero of the Napoleonic Wars; and who was that however Generalissimo Alexander Suvorov, navy chief within the days of Catherine the Nice and Paul I? The textual content on Pushkin’s billboard naturally failed to say the truth that the poet had visited town after being exiled from the imperial capital. This was a bit like Italy claiming the city of Ovidiopol in the Odesa area as a result of Ovid had been exiled there by Augustus.
At first of the Russian occupation, the commonest slogan on the streets of Kherson was, ‘We’ll keep right here without end!’ By Could, because the Ukrainian counter-offensive gathered momentum, the temper had modified dramatically. Russia secretly began eradicating probably the most invaluable reveals held by Kherson’s museums. On 30 September, Putin annexed the Kherson area and on 19 October declared martial regulation, successfully legalizing the looting of town. The occupiers dismantled and eliminated Soviet monuments to Russian imperial heroes corresponding to Suvorov and Admiral Fyodor Ushakov. The identical destiny awaited the memorial to Prince Grigori Potemkin, although on this case the theft was not restricted to his statue. Potemkin’s stays, interred in St Catherine’s Cathedral, had been exhumed and in addition spirited away.
This was on no account the primary time the lifeless prince had been disturbed. Paul I, son of Catherine the Nice, had ordered Potemkin’s mummified physique to be faraway from the cathedral crypt, the place it had been prominently on show. In 1874, his stays had been put in a brand new lead coffin and interred beneath a tombstone set within the cathedral ground. In 1930, when the cathedral was reworked into an anti-religious museum, Potemkin’s stays had been once more exhumed and pressed into service. His cranium was positioned in a single vitrines, his bones in one other, with a 3rd being reserved for the half-decomposed stays of his clothes. Labeled ‘The Stays of Prince Potemkin, lover of Catherine the Nice’, this grisly set up was dismantled solely after complaints from Boris Lavrenev, an influential Stalinist author who visited the museum within the early Nineteen Thirties.
Allegedly, the bones had been re-buried following Lavrenev’s intervention. However whether or not or not the extant stays are real or full is one thing of a thriller. For a begin, the prince’s cranium had disappeared; in line with one native legend youngsters had used it to play soccer within the cathedral yard. In keeping with one other, the cranium had been stolen by a collector of macabre souvenirs. Lastly, in 1984, Potemkin’s stays had been exhumed once more and researched by a fee that included knowledgeable forensic pathologists. Essentially the most they might conclude was that the bones discovered within the grave belonged to a big man and could possibly be dated to the tip of the eighteenth century.
Within the Putinist view of historical past, Potemkin is essential because the conqueror of Crimea. Nonetheless, he’s maybe extra broadly often known as the unwitting originator of the phrase, a ‘Potemkin village’. The prince had famously made elaborate efforts to impress his mistress, Catherine II. Certainly one of these was the development of a collection of prefabricated ‘settlements’ on the banks of the Dnipro, that could possibly be unexpectedly put in place earlier than the empress’s go to after which rapidly dismantled. Putin’s model of Russian historical past has a lot in widespread with this ludicrous scheme, an occasion of theatrical set-dressing devoid of any true substance.
Throughout this pointless and craven failure of a warfare, the weaponization of historical past has change into no much less pressing than the acquisition of Iranian drones. To finish the development of its personal ‘Potemkin Village’, the Putinist administration has launched a brand new statutory self-discipline for all institutes of upper schooling in Russia. It is going to be known as ‘The Basis of Russian Statehood’. The 2 central components of this new catechism would be the historical past of Russia and the historical past of its tradition, trumpeted in a model none will dare rewrite for worry of brutal reprisal.