Russia’s demands that Ukraine stop rewriting history sound too much like a thief calling to catch the thief. In Russian historiography, not to mention mass consciousness, reversals of evaluations in historical discourse take place with marvelous ease. These historical novelties come to Ukraine through an entire array of TV channels affiliated with the Russian TV space and attack the minds of our citizens. Such modern historical “revelations” are often aimed at blurring the line between the truth and falsehood, between good and evil, and between ravings and the common sense.
Considering that mass culture products are aimed at the wide audience that is not burdened with special knowledge, such artistic-historic propaganda becomes a fairly efficient and powerful political force and a tool with which to influence our state on the geopolitical level. Of course I’m talking not only about primitive propaganda movies, such as We are from the Future II, but also about works that claim to be historically accurate and pursuing the truth. However, such pseudo-historical TV series have a special tendency to present hypotheses and often even rumors and inventions as proven historical facts. Underpinning it all is a clearly defined ideological pattern which certain ruling clans need today. The brainwashing machine targeting the citizens of Russia and adjacent countries is working nonstop.
A graphic example of such products and a sample of political-historical kitsch are the Russian TV series broadcast on the Inter channel. They purport to educate viewers regarding dramatical events in the Russian history under Stalin and Khrushchev. However, a blind man can see that they are actually aimed at imposing badly biased views on these events from the standpoint of the ruling circles of the Russian Federation and contrary to the propaganda statements about some kind of “de-Stalinization” that were made by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. What is happening in the actual fact is that Russians are making desperate efforts to legitimize Stalinism. This is being done in the context of the Russian political circles’ refusal to accept the decisions of the European organizations (OSCE, PACE and the EU) that pronounced communism to be equal to fascism and Stalinism to Nazism. Fundamental to this attitude is their internal conviction that there are two versions of totalitarianism — the bad one (brown) and the good one (red) — and that the Russian Federation does not need any de-communization similar to de-Nazification in Germany and de-Fascisization in Italy. Moreover, the Russian ruling circles and millions of Russians truly perceive Stalinism, contrary to all kinds of official “condemnations,” as their “glorious past.” However, this “glorious past” often looks so dirty and murderous that it needs a periodical wash.
A case in point is the Russian TV series called Tukhachevsky. The Marshal’s Plot broadcast by the Inter channel in the course of a week. Specialists at whitewashing history have screened Stalin’s and Beria’s version of regressions against the Red Army command in 1937–38 by completely revising the resolutions of the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party about “unjustified repressions.” It turns out that Comrade Stalin crushed a very dangerous plot, a coup in the making that could disarm the USSR in the face of the threat of imperialist aggression. The filmmakers clearly wanted to please the force that has replaced the CPSU as the “leading and guiding” party in the Russian Federation and produced the current Russian prime minister. Naturally, the repressed marshals and army commanders are shown to be moral scum, while Comrade Stalin emerges as a wise and farsighted leader.
Beria as a state-builder
The Beria TV series, also broadcast by Inter, is even more stunning in its careless handling of historical facts. The chief of the Stalinist law enforcement elite is shown to the viewer as an outstanding organizer, successful manager, and a remarkable statesman who is unjustly condemned and destroyed by the “Khrushchev band.” It turns out that Lavrentiy Beria was the one who allegedly started the liquidation of GULAG and had a great potential as a reformist. It also turns out that Khrushchev and his followers among the party and state leaders tried to break up the Soviet Union back then, in 1953, while the true Soviet patriot Beria tried to preserve it at any price. The filmmakers attribute to him a desperate struggle to keep the unity of the Soviet Union, which is not corroborated by facts, just like Khrushchev’s apparent desire to demolish the empire is not supported by historic evidence.
Were there any reasons to speak about threats to the integrity of the Soviet Union in the early 1950s? There were indeed. However, those who are suspected of this hardly realized where their actions were leading to. They were unaware of this even late into Mikhail Gorbachev’s rule when an ordinary party functionary, Ivan Polozkov, created the Communist Party of the Russian Federation. Under Stalin, accusations to this effect (although no evidence has been presented to date) were brought against the Leningrad party leaders who allegedly sought to set up the Russian Communist Party (similar to the parties in the other Soviet republics) and move the capital of the Russian Federation from Moscow to Leningrad. The so-called Leningrad Affair was invented, and the leaders of the city headed by Alexey Kuznetsov were executed. Nikolai Voznesensky, a Leningrad native and an outstanding Soviet economist, was also among the victims.
If they had indeed wanted to have a separate Russian communist party, it would have been a very serious affair. Russian political scientist Vyacheslav Nikonov recollects that he once asked his grandfather, Vyacheslav Molotov, why each republic had its own Communist Party and its own Central Committee, while the RSFSR did not have one. The experienced party functionary replied: “When Russia gets its own communist party, the Soviet Union will fall apart.” During the times of perestroika, some Russian intellectuals were outraged by the fact that Russia was treated “unfairly” in the Soviet Union: other republics, but not Russia, had their own academies of sciences, republican KGB directorates, and republican communist parties. Well, it took several minutes to rename AN SSSR (Soviet Academy of Sciences) as RAN (Russian Academy of Sciences). The KGB was not a problem, either. What about the party then?
As is known, there was the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and 14 republican communist parties in the USSR. However, the mandate of the Ukrainian Communist Party was, under its statute, equal to that of the Moscow Oblast Party Committee or Krasnodar Krai Party Committee. What was the CPSU without the 14 republican communist parties? It was made up of 89 krai and oblast committees in Russia whose members comprised the absolute majority of Soviet communists. It was from the position of this monolith, the position of force, that the CC CPSU was able to speak to the communist parties of the Soviet republics and hence to their population. The trick that Russian patriots of the 1980s did not grasp was that the CPSU (excepting republican parties) was nothing else then the communist party of Russia. This secured it a special position in the Soviet Union, while Russia was, in fact, the USSR and the USSR was Russia. As soon as Comrades Polozkov, Zyuganov and Kuptsov, who badly wanted to be leaders and stood no chance of promotion in the CPSU, created the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, the CPSU lost all of the 89 krai and oblast committees and then turned into nothing, a general without an army, because it did not have direct control over any district committee, however small, in the Russian Federation. An amorphous confederation of republican communist parties emerged in the place of a monolith construction whose Russian core was, so to speak, covered with layers of republican communist parties.
Mr. Molotov knew the country he governed for so many years all too well. His forecast became a reality. He knew that the USSR was a party state and that the structure of the empire was just a copy of the party’s structure. Comrades Polozkov, Zyuganov and Kuptsov were unaware of that. By breaking up the CPSU and its structure, they essentially did much greater and more important work of ruining the USSR. The demise of the Soviet Union was a consequence of the breakup of the CPSU.
Quite possibly, the same consequences could have resulted in the early 1950s if the Leningrad Oblast Committee of the CPSU had succeeded in realizing its intentions to set up a separate communist party. However, did it indeed have such intentions? Or was it routinely framed up? The authors of the TV series do not take the pains of providing any evidence. They simply accuse Comrades Khrushchev, Kuznetsov and Ignatyev of a desire to proclaim Ukraine, Russia and Belarus, respectively, independent states. This looks like a caricature of Leonid Kravchuk, Boris Yeltsin and Stanislav Shushkevich in the Belavezhskaya Pushcha. The filmmakers advance a very precarious hypothesis that it was Khrushchev and his alleys who, after learning that Beria was about to find out about their evil plans, first killed Stalin and later Beria himself.
As a matter of fact, Khrushchev was not noted for any federalist tendencies. Mr. Beria, however, could be suspected of such a thing. When he was again appointed chief of the Soviet Internal Affairs Ministry in March 1953, he suggested pursuing a more flexible policy on the national liberation movement. Under his influence the Presidium of the CC CPSU passed a resolution in May–June 1953 to stop the unjustified policy of mass repressions, above all in western Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia; nominate local officials to top positions; write business correspondence in the respective national languages, and so on. Mr. Beria understood that by repressions alone the insurgent movement could not be suppressed. He was an ideological cynic and did not use any Communist Party demagoguery in the family circle. His son, Sergo Beria (Gegechkori), remembers that when he and his father discussed events in western Ukraine, Lavrentiy Beria said: “People are fighting for their freedom there. The same thing was in our land, Georgia.”
Mr. Beria knew that in 1952 alone the law enforcement agencies attempted 1,023 military operations in western Ukraine of which 946 failed. He appointed Pavel Meshyk Minister of Internal Affairs in the Ukrainian SSR who immediately ordered all members of the ministry’s board to master Ukrainian. He issued an order to stop executions OUN members. They were also working with the leaders of the Baltic national movements, in particular with the captured Lithuanian General Jonas Žemaitis. Mr. Beria was looking for some kind of compromise with these movements by offering them acceptable conditions of ceasefire.
On 26 June 1953, Mr. Beria was arrested in Moscow, while his policy on nationalities was declared to be wrong. This was followed by a new wave of repressions, and the national movement activists with which Mr. Beria tried to negotiate, particularly Stepan Okhrymovych and Jonas Žemaitis, were shot. This was ordered by Khrushchev, just like the murder of Stepan Bandera which was carried by a KGB agent. Therefore, the portrayal of Khrushchev as a “Ukrainian independentist” in the Russian TV series does not stand up to criticism.
It is sad that this kind of anti-historical fiction is being consistently and purposefully imposed on millions of citizens in Ukraine and other countries, denying them any chance of perceiving history in a healthy way by supplanting it with comfortable pseudo-historical myths.
A Russian writer with a fitting pseudonym Kremliov argued on the Russian NTV channel that Mr. Beria did many good things to Georgia when he worked in Transcaucasia. However, he, in fact, organized murderous mass repressions against Georgian intellectuals. It is enough to read the text of his speeches at the time: “The Soviet writers of Georgia cleansed their ranks of hideous traitors and spies — Dzhavakhishvili, Mitsishvili, Yashvili, Tabidze, and the likes of them. While acting as agents of international fascism and skillfully masking their true face, they betrayed Soviet Georgia and the Georgian people. The remainders of bourgeois-nationalistic groups have been rooted out in literary organizations…
“In 1927–35, the nationally biased activists merged with counterrevolutionary Trotskyists and turned into hired agents of fascism, an unscrupulous and ideology-rejecting band of spies, wreckers, saboteurs, intelligence agents, and killers — a frenzied band of sworn enemies of the working class. In 1936, a Trotskyist terror center of spies and wreckers was unmasked. B. Mdivani, M. Okudzhava, M. Toroshelidze, O. Gikhladze, N. Kiknadze, and others were identified among its members.”
In our day and age, a Russian scholar by the name of Kolpakidi claims: “Beria was our Deng Xiaoping who was not allowed to carry out reforms.” No accusations of rewriting and distorting history are heard against these Moscow-based “researchers.”
A very dangerous atmosphere of historical and moral relativism is emerging in which any murderous tyrant and any crime can be justified; the criteria of the acceptable and unacceptable in human society disappear; people end up on the wrong side of good and evil, etc. On 23 February 1944, NKVD units, acting on the order of Mr. Beria, who had direct command over deportations, faced difficulties in escorting Chechens from a mountainous aul, Khaibakh. So they rounded up all of them in a stable and burned them alive. Over 500 people died in the fire. All participants of this beastly “exploit” received government awards, in particular the commander of the unit, Colonel Gvishiani. Neither he nor his subordinates ever faced any charges like those brought against the Nazis at the Nurnberg process. They say that Gvishiani’s son later made a career in the Soviet Council of Ministers. The good thing is that no one is at least calling for honoring the “heroes of Khaibakh,” these glorious veterans. They are not declared “successful managers” on the local scale. So far anyway.
Now the Inter channel is likely to serve up some more stuff of the same value.
Excerpts from Yuriy Mukhin’s book Neizvestny Beria. Za chto ego oklevetali? (Unknown Beria. What was he Slandered for?)
“Beria’s merits before the Soviet state were great. He could have done more if he had not been perfidiously killed almost immediately after the murder of Stalin. The author is in no doubt that these were precisely murders.”