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Portnikov: Crimea’s past and Kremlin’s falsifications

Collage: krymr.org (RFE/RL Graphics)
Portnikov: Crimea’s past and Kremlin’s falsifications
Translated by: A. N.

The parliaments of Central European and Baltic countries, one by one, have been passing resolutions condemning the Kremlin’s attempts to rewrite history and blame the unleashing of World War II on the victims of the tragedy, and not on the aggressors.

“Revising” history is a tactic quite customary to the Russian leadership. It was by rewriting history that Russia began the process of annexation of Crimea – not in 2014, but much earlier.

At first, they simply substituted the centuries-old history of civilization on the Crimean peninsula–from its ancient colonies [beg. 7th century BC] to the Crimean Khanate [1441-1783]–with the history of the Russian fleet [founded in 1783], summer vacationers from Russia and the Soviet resort. So Crimea ceased to be Crimea, lost its soul in the perception and understanding of not only the majority of Russians–who live in the world of historical and political lies–but also in the perception of many Ukrainians and residents of Western countries. If you ask such people–even those who are outraged by the annexation of Crimea–about whose territory it is, they will answer you that from the point of view of international law, Crimea is, of course, Ukrainian, but from a historical point of view it is part of the “Russian world,” of Russian civilization. To believe it is the same as to believe Angola is Portuguese, Morocco – French, and Argentina – Spanish. But, somehow, even in our postcolonial age, Russia successfully established this belief with the help of lies.

“Revising” history is a tactic customary for Russia. It was by rewriting history that Russia began the process of annexation of Crimea – and not in 2014, but much earlier.

And we can say that Crimea serves for Russia as a successful proving ground. If the history of the peninsula, on which ancient states arose even when there were impenetrable forests and swamps on the site of not only Moscow [est. 1147], but even Veliky Novgorod [est. 859], was reduced to several centuries, starting on the day of the arrival of the Russian army [1783], then why can’t the history of Ukraine begin from the Pereyaslav Treaty of 1654, and not from Kyivan Rus [est. 880]? Why can’t you forge a fabrication on top of a falsehood, a lie on top of a lie, guided by a simple rule: the bigger the lie and the more resources broadcast it, the more people will believe it?

The Palace of the Crimean Khan in Bakhchysarai, Crimea, a lithograph from the collection by Carlo Bossoli, 1843.
The Palace of the Crimean Khan in Bakhchysarai, Crimea, a lithograph from the collection by Carlo Bossoli, 1843.

And it is clear now that from falsifying the history of neighboring countries, Russia can safely proceed to falsifying the history of World War II. It seems that the liars themselves should not be afraid of any exposure, so powerfully and confidently the falsifications are rooted in the brains of their compatriots. When I discuss this topic, I always give a simple example with the “Unknown War” documentary series narrated by the great American actor Bert Lancaster.

A country with such a long state propaganda tradition as Russia can confidently distort the truth and no less confidently dismiss any fear of its fabrications being exposed.

This film was made back in Soviet times by Soviet and American filmmakers. Its goal, of course, was to show the role of the USSR in World War II, but at the same time it presented in detail the role of the Allied Countries, their contribution to the victory over Hitlerism and their aid to the Red Army. Entire episodes were dedicated to this! This TV series was broadcast on the main Soviet television channel during prime time. Still, it did not leave any trace in the minds of most Soviet people as to the war contribution by the Western countries-members of the anti-Hitler coalition, as the people had been so thoroughly conditioned by the Stalinist myth about the Soviet Union alone winning the war, by the myth which Putin has now successfully resuscitated.

It seems a country with such a long state propaganda tradition as Russia can confidently distort the truth and no less confidently dismiss any fear of its fabrications being exposed. The truth will not pass! That is why it is so important for Ukrainians, Poles, and residents of the Baltic states to stop Kremlin falsehoods at their borders, to counter them, and not to let them take root.

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Translated by: A. N.
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