Punished peoples fight Putin’s war on history with monuments to their deportations

The cover of the book called "Istoriomor, or The Drilling into the Brain of Memory: Battles for the Truth about the GULAG, Deportations, the War and the Holocaust" by geographer and historian Pavel Polyan. “'Istoriomor' is a necessary “neologism and metaphor” to cover “the triumph of politicized mythology and anti-historicism over what is really history and memory.” It involves making certain themes and sources taboo, falsifying and mythologizing events, and both denial of the obvious and relativism about anything negative.

The cover of the book called "Istoriomor, or The Drilling into the Brain of Memory: Battles for the Truth about the GULAG, Deportations, the War and the Holocaust" by geographer and historian Pavel Polyan. “'Istoriomor' is a necessary “neologism and metaphor” to cover “the triumph of politicized mythology and anti-historicism over what is really history and memory.” It involves making certain themes and sources taboo, falsifying and mythologizing events, and both denial of the obvious and relativism about anything negative. 

Analysis & Opinion, History, Russia

A new book documents the way that the peoples whom Stalin deported are seeking to preserve the memory of that crime by erecting monuments in the face of Vladimir Putin’s effort to kill such recollections via a new crime for which the author Pavel Polyan suggests a neologism, “historiomor” — or a war on history for current purposes.

Today, the Polit.ru portal publishes a chapter of this book, Istoriomor, or The Drilling into the Brain of Memory: Battles for the Truth about the GULAG, Deportations, the War and the Holocaust (in Russian; Moscow: AST, 2016, 624 pp.; ISBN: 978-5-17-098145-8) by geographer and historian Pavel Polyan.

Polyan argues,

“’Istoriomor’” is a necessary “neologism and metaphor” to cover “the triumph of politicized mythology and anti-historicism over what is really history and memory.” It involves making certain themes and sources taboo, falsifying and mythologizing events, and both denial of the obvious and relativism about anything negative.

In the chapter Polit.ru posts today, he discusses the ways in which those who were deported in Stalin’s time have sought to recover their past in various ways. (Other chapters cover World War II, individual heroes in the struggle in the defense of historical memory, and Holocaust deniers.)

The deportation of peoples either whole or in part remains one of the most contentious issues in Russian historiography, Polyan argues. While it was not always a death sentence for those involved, “you wouldn’t call deportation one of the easier forms of repression.” And he discusses its extra-judicial character and its treatment of entire peoples as collectively guilty.

According to Polyan, ten peoples were deported en masse with seven of them – the Germans, the Karachays, the Kalmyks, the Ingush, the Chechens, the Balkars, and the Crimean Tatars — losing their ethnic territory as a result. Three others — the Finns, the Koreans and the Meskhetian Turks — did not have such structures to lose. 

In addition to these, many other peoples were deported in part, including most prominently portions of the three Baltic republics following their annexation, Ukrainians, Belarusians and Moldovans.

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Most of the 7,000-word chapter is devoted to descriptions of the efforts of these peoples to memorialize their past in monuments and museums and the absence of any effort by Moscow to help them do that or to recognize in some way the victims of this mass crime against humanity.

Much of the activity by these groups took place in the 1990s, he reports, but there has been “an interesting new ‘trend’ in the North Caucasus” where many peoples are memorializing Nikita Khrushchev out of a naïve belief that he was not implicated in Stalin’s crimes and in fact helped to overcome them.

But the most important trend if one can call it that, Polyan continues, is “the complete absence of the federal center in any undertaking in this process.” The Russian government in Moscow has done nothing to help and has often gotten in the way, itself the clearest possible case of the phenomenon of “historiomor” one can think of.


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Edited by: A. N.

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