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Professor Oleh Panfilov: Every shot fired against the enemy stems the tide of “Russkiy Mir”

Political caricature by Oleksiy Kustovsky for Radio Liberty
Professor Oleh Panfilov: Every shot fired against the enemy stems the tide of “Russkiy Mir”
Article by: Rostyslav Khotyn
Translated by: Christine Chraibi

Reputed historian and journalist, Oleh Panfilov, professor at the Iliv State University of Georgia was recently in Prague to promote his new book “Antyradianski Istoriyi” (Anti-Soviet Stories); he spoke with Radio Liberty about how to approach history in modern-day Russia and the historic context of Ukraine’s dramatic ongoing war against Russia and its proxies.

– You recently stated that Russians have been writing “antihistory” for more than 16 years. Please explain what you mean…

Professor Oleh Panfilov, historian, journalist
Professor Oleh Panfilov, historian, journalist

– Well, Russia has always used history as a propaganda tool. They’ve always told or made up convenient stories and recorded them in history textbooks, but concealed disturbing facts behind closed doors, in archives… and just forgot about them. The same has been happening in Russia for the past 16 years, but on a larger scale. Putin’s growing personality cult and the absence of a popular state ideology to replace communism have failed to provide a new ideology in Russian society.

Therefore, Russian “thinkers” have invented something strange called “Russkiy Mir” (Russian World) that will be the main tool to study, explain and clarify a new view of history.

The technique is simple: take old facts and manipulate them, manipulate information that is not available to everyone, write new books, invent new stories … Not long ago, Russian literary circles launched the promotion of a historical book recounting Russia’s “victory” over China in the first millennium BC… that is but one example, and there are thousands of similar books and essays. This is just old traditional Soviet propaganda, repeated in “28 Panfilovtsev” (2016 war film about the supposed act of bravery of a group of Soviet soldiers from Panfilov’s Twenty-Eighth Guardsman during the Battle of Moscow-Ed),  Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya (revered but controversial Soviet partisan-Ed), Alexandr Matrosov (Soviet infantry soldier during the Second World War, awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union for blocking a German machine-gun with his body-Ed), and thousands and thousands of other characters, whose stories were largely made up for the masses. Now, several generations of Russians have grown up listening to these stories and believing them.

Putin understands that if you tell the truth, people will sooner or later rise against the government. That’s why real facts and old historic facts are hidden while a new history is recorded and presented to the world. .

– In other words, do you think that today’s Russian government continues to write its own “anti-history” about Maidan, the annexation of Crimea, and the war in Eastern Ukraine?

– Of course. By studying the events of the first and second Maidan, I want to understand how Russian propaganda attempts to change the Russian view of those Ukrainians, who until recently were native Russians, those Russians who loved to sing Ukrainian songs over a glass of vodka. And then, how many Russians with Ukrainian names had to be invented! So, the Russian government, the ideologues of the “Russkiy Mir”, had to get rid of this somehow. That’s when they started making things up!

So, they invented a fairy tale about the “artificial Ukrainian language”, that “Ukraine has never existed”, that “there’s no Ukrainian history”, and so on…

Monument to the founders of Kyiv, Maidan Nezalezhnosti,  during the Revolution of Dignity, December 15, 2015
Monument to the founders of Kyiv, Maidan Nezalezhnosti, during the Revolution of Dignity, December 15, 2015

The Soviet government and the current Russian government were and are fully engaged in manipulating history. This is the source of all evil! I mean, it’s one thing to block some opposition parties in the Duma, kill some opposition leaders, or ban them from elections, but how can you make fun of history and twist the facts to your liking? What happens in the end? It produces a new generation of idiots…

– Can we say that Ukraine’s resistance to the Russian invasion in Donbas has effectively managed to stop the expansion of “Russkiy Mir”?

– Well, let’s say, we were the first to do that in 2008… in Georgia. First of all, Ukraine is a very big country, and secondly, for Russia, Ukraine is not just part of the Russian Empire, but the most important foundation stone of the Russian Empire in terms of state-building.   Ukraine was a source for many things – language, faith and religion, culture and traditions, and much much more.

Ukraine has put an end to the very existence of the Russian Empire – not geographically, because the empire is still present in post-soviet space, but both mentally and psychologically.

This may sound a bit strong – especially coming from a pacifist – but every shot fired against the enemy in the war zone stems the tide of “Russkiy Mir”, the advance of the “Russian Empire”, and the expansion of the stupid ideology that Putin is trying to impose, not only in Ukraine, but also in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Belarus – everywhere in post-Soviet space.

– As Ukraine continues to move towards Europe, many historians believe that Ukraine is returning home at last… as for a very long time, it used to be an integral part of European civilization…

– In fact, history shows that this is true. Ukraine, its hetmans and Ukrainian intellectuals have always aspired to join Europe. Ukraine was part of Europe; Western Ukraine was particularly part of Europe in terms of trade and commerce and political relations. Belarus and Bessarabia were also part of Europe, and mentally even Georgia has always been a European country.

Not only is Russia trying to save the empire, but it’s also trying to maintain and spread this psychological quagmire, from which we must all escape. And yet, only two countries have managed to do so with some success – Georgia and Ukraine. I hope that others will join the struggle…

– As a historian, do you find it interesting to bear witness to everyday occurrences when time and events are moving at such an incredible pace?

– Of course! We’re living in extraordinary times!

This is especially true in Ukraine, despite internal difficulties. Ukraine is becoming an important country. I think that the future of “old rundown” Europe, as well as the future of the territory, which until recently was called the Russian Empire, is firmly tied to Ukraine. I’m quite sure that in future, Ukraine will have a positive impact on Russia.

Translated by: Christine Chraibi
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