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. 

2016/10/10 • 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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  • Randolph Carter

    The Holodomor. The Ukrainian diaspora(s). The massacres at Babyn Yar and Drobytsky Yar. Cheka, NKVD, KGB, FSK, FSB murders and assassinations. The many rapes carried out by Beria. The Gulag labor camps. The murders of Boris Nemtsov, Anna Politkovskaya and how many other journalists critical of Putin.

    None of these, and many others that I do not know but must learn about, must ever be forgotten lest they happen again. Every victim here is a hero, for their lives went to the unveiling of the tyranny, repression, subjugation and persecution of Ukrainians and other Slavic peoples. Even now, Putin is bankrupting his own country to build weapons systems to what end? Strafing runs against Aegis cruisers? Defense of a country guilty a million times over of persecuting its own people? Stalin said: “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” These ‘statistics’ must never pass from our memory and from the knowledge we teach our children (I’m afraid it’s too late for the USA school system unless there is some sort of sea-change in it).

    • Quartermaster

      Yes, US schools are in the process of collapse.

      • Randolph Carter

        Not to derail the conversation, but I have to say this:

        Sadly, I would say that they are already there (collapsed). Two summers ago, I took a course in Statistics and went down in flames on the final. I emailed the teacher and asked if there was some extra-credit work or something that I could do to bring up my grade. Long story short, she reopened the test and basically gave me the answers. Universities here have gone from institutes of learning to profit centers in which the student is a financial asset to be kept in a seat no matter what it takes. Look at book prices in the college bookstore.

        If you want to see a truly frightening monologue on the state of schools, look up George Carlin’s “Who owns the country?” It will make you rethink (at least) the state of education in the USA and where the country is going.

        • Quartermaster

          You didn’t derail it. I would agree with you to a great extent. Some places, however, are still bright places. I have taught as an adjunct and the place I teach we still teach rigorously. But, then, I’m in STEM and our grads deal with people’s lives.

          • Randolph Carter

            Good for you…at least there’s some hope! I think I may be reacting to my own experiences as well. I never learned about the Cambodian killing fields, the Rape of Nanking, the bombing of Dresden, and the Holomodor and Jewish genocide in Ukraine. We were taught that the Civil War was about slavery. That America won WWII, and oh, yeah, we had some French and British guys along for the ride.

            It wasn’t until I fell in love with a woman from Lugansk that I started looking around at the history of Ukraine, Russia, some of the other Slavic countries and the marvelous history that goes all the way back to the Scythians. The Silk Road and the Cossacks. Tales of Ivan Durok and Baba Yaga. Such rich culture and tradition, tragedy and courage.

            And above it all, a woman who would not leave her homeland of Lugansk, regardless of the danger (my girlfriend’s mother) and my girlfriend refusing to leave her mother behind. Sometimes I wonder if I would have had the courage to do that. She served as a nurse during the height of the fighting in Lugansk, but I never ask her what she saw. She hates death, but has an affirmation of life that amazes me.

  • zorbatheturk

    RuSSia thinks it can invent history. It is an Orwellian State.