Aleksandr Sergeyevich Barsenkov and Ðleksandr Ivanovich Vdovin
Istoriia Rossii, 1917–2009, 3d ed., exp. and rev. (Moscow: Aspekt Press, 2010)
On 15 September a meeting of the Scholarly Council of the Faculty of History at M. Lomonosov Moscow State University (MGU) was held to discuss the situation that has emerged around the question of the three editions of a textbook used by professors at the Faculty of History of MGU, which was recommended by the Instructional-Methodological Department (UMO) for students attending institutions of higher learning who specialize in history.
This text, as described in the annotation to it, reflects the ‘most up-to-date achievements in the study of national history’ and is ‘highly rated by specialists and students.’
However, in no way can the members of the professional community be satisfied with the approach to the history of Russia’s various national minorities which is presented in the given textbook. The xenophobic thrust overtly present in this textbook attests to the professional defects of its authors. This has sparked alarm among scholars who are concerned that the information prepared in this manner not only grossly distorts the true picture of our country’s past, but is capable of gravely complicating the inter-ethnic and inter-confessional dialog taking place today.
According to the expert findings made public at the 6 September meeting of the Commission on Interethnic Relations and Freedom of Conscience in the parliament (‘Public Chamber’) of the Russian Federation, the textbook written by professors of the Faculty of History at MGU was categorized as ‘xenophobia, fraud, an apology for dictatorship.’ At this meeting it was clarified that the recommendation for publication was granted to the UMO ‘in advance,’ on condition that the authors would eliminate errors and shortcomings, which in fact was never done.
In the building that is used for educating and training future historians, the history of the peoples inhabiting Russia is being expounded in an unacceptable and insulting form. Since our professional interests are connected with the field of academic Judaica, we will focus in greater detail on how this topic is interpreted in the textbook. The idea that Jews played an extremely negative role in Soviet history runs throughout this work. In the authors’ view, ‘in the Soviet Union a considerable part of its seventy-year history coincides with the years of governing, when the leaders of the country were persons of non-Russian nationality’ (p. 12). Further, in connection with this phrase highlighted by us, which is clearly borrowed from the Stalinist-era apparat lexicon, the following explanation is given: in the USSR in the 1920s-1930s there emerged ‘utterly obvious disproportions in the representation of nationalities within the structures of power … the Jewish nationality, leaving others far behind, were in the lead in the party and state apparatuses, spheres of scholarship and art until the 1930s’ (p. 299). In the authors’ view, Stalin’s correction of these ‘disproportions’ had a positive effect on political and social life in the USSR, as well as on its domestic policies.
The author’s other ‘revelations’ on this subject matter, which are characterized by their obvious absurdity, are not lacking in developed commentary. In a paragraph devoted to collectivization, the authors note that ‘the kibbutz was chosen as the model for future collective farms in the Soviet countryside … a cooperative model developed in the global Zionist organization’ (p. 223). However, the first Jewish collective farms, which were created in the mid-1920s, were disbanded by the Bolsheviks, a fact that the authors ignore, along with other data that do not fit their tendentious scheme. At the same time, they consider collectivization a successful sequel to the agrarian reforms of Stolypin.
The sole mention of the Holocaust appears in the following ambiguous context: ‘The 10,172 Jews who fought on the side of Germany (during the “Great Patriotic War”!) and ended up in Soviet captivity were not endangered by the prospect of becoming victims of the Holocaust’ p. 360). The authors do not mention that these Jews (incidentally, there were half as many: not 10,000 but 5,000), who were members of so-called workers’ battalions, were forcibly deployed to the front as members of Hungarian units allied with Hitler, where they were used for such auxiliary labor as demining minefields, digging trenches, and the like.
The authors present a whole array of Stalinist-era crimes in the postwar period, including the ‘Doctors’ Plot,’ as having been ‘provoked by the American secret services’ (p. 377). The propagandistic and repressive campaign ‘for the struggle against cosmopolitanism’ in the USSR is treated as a measure that was introduced ‘for an objective reason’ and which was aimed at strengthening Soviet patriotism. The authors regard the overwhelmingly well-substantiated viewpoint, according to which this action stemmed from Stalinist anti-Semitism, as ‘incorrect’ (p. 427). Moreover, they view Soviet Jews who had broad ties with American and Israeli relatives as dubious Soviet citizens and potential traitors (p. 425). The authors seek to justify the secret assassination, on Stalin’s orders, of Solomon Mikhoels, the head of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee (EAK), by declaring that he was suspected ‘of attempts to use Stalin’s daughter and her husband in the mercenary interests of the Jews’ (p. 385).
Roaming the dense forest of Soviet mythologems, the authors reproduce them when, in recounting (with numerous additions of the phrase ‘in our own words [ot sebia]) the project to found a Jewish republic in the Crimea, they write about the Soviet authorities’ intention ‘to probe the reaction of influential foreign Zionist organizations.’ As well, heedlessly making use of old propagandistic clichés, they equate Jewish organizations with Zionist ones, although in fact the reaction of genuine Zionists to such a project could only have been negative.
The Pamiat′ society is presented as expressing the interests of the Russian patriotic movement (p. 565). A positive assessment is given to the works of Iurii Ivanov, Evegenii Evseev, and Vladimir Begun [Uladzimir Biahun], who ‘exposed the reactionary essence of Zionism in their books’ (p. 565),which, under Soviet conditions, set the public against Jews.
The authors of the textbook deny that a policy of state anti-Semitism was pursued for decades in the Soviet Union and that the ‘case of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee’ and the ‘Doctor’s Plot’ were its consequences (p. 574).
Numerous such ‘innovative findings,’ pertaining not only to Jews but also many other peoples of Russia (for example, the Chechens), are found in this textbook, many pages of which are written from the position of hardcore nationalism. Used as sources of the ‘sensations’ and ‘innovations’ cited in this textbook are outright falsifications that were exposed many years ago—such as Stalin’s (never delivered) speech of 19 August 1939 in support of the non-aggression treaty signed with Germany; a plan for a struggle against the USSR, allegedly developed and aired in 1945 by the future head of the CIA, Allan Dulles (in point of fact, this plan was invented by Soviet ‘patriot’-writers); and a speech that was never delivered by US President Bill Clinton. In another section of the textbook Stalin’s exact words are replaced by a quotation from the Stalinist-era novel Tainyi sovetnik vozhdia [The Leader’s Secret Advisor]. Even Aleksandr Barsenkov and Aleksandr Vdovin themselves, under pressure from irrefutable revelations, admitted in writing that they used unverified materials as sources.
The bibliography at the end of the book does not list a single book or article by a foreign author (either in Russian or any other language). Naturally, no works on the history of Soviet Jews by foreign authors are listed either. Neither does the bibliography contain any works on the history of Jews by Russian historians (with the exception of Gennadii Kostyrchenko), such as Ilya Altman, Oleg Budnitsky, Elina Genina, Mark Kupovetsky, A. Lokshin, et al.). Barsenkov and Vdovin cite as specialists on the Jewish question in the USSR the Judaeophobic views of such non-professional historians as Igor Shafarevich, Mikhail Lobanov, and others. We are also disturbed by the authors’ reference to the notorious Holocaust denier David Irving, who was recently sentenced for this in Austria to a three-year prison term.
Taking into consideration the public scandal that has erupted [around this question], the Scholarly Council of the Faculty of History resolved to create an expert commission of highly-qualified specialists from Moscow State University, the Russian Academy of Sciences, and other scholarly institutions in order to carry out a scholarly expertise on the indicated textbook.
Until such time as the expert findings are completed by 15 November, it has been decided to suspend the use of this textbook in the educational process in the Faculty of History. Meanwhile, radical nationalists, including those who are garbed in the robes of scholar-historians, have launched a noisy campaign of defamation against those Members of Parliament who condemned this textbook. Attempts are being made to present the book’s authors as blameless, persecuted ‘Russian professors’ who wrote a ‘professionally irreproachable textbook.’
Fully aware of the danger that the contents of Barsenkov and Vdovin’s textbook The History of Russia: 1917–2009 pose to the Russian state and society, we support the assessment of this work as one that is written on an extremely low scholarly level and which promotes xenophobia and chauvinistic and anti-Semitic views. We resolutely declare that such a book cannot be used in the educational and training process.
Semen Charny, Candidate of Art History,
Memorial Human Rights Center
Mikhail Chlenov, professor,
Chairman of the Academic Council, Sefer International Center for University Teaching of Jewish Civilization
Valerii Dymshits, Doctor of Chemistry,
Director of the Petersburg Judaica Research Center,
European University in St. Petersburg
Dmitry Eliashevich, Doctor of Historical Sciences,
Professor, rector of the Petersburg Judaica Research Center
Scholarly associate of the Petersburg Judaica Research Center,
European University in St. Petersburg
Tatiana Karasova, Candidate of Historical Sciences,
Head of the Department for Israel and Jewish Communities,
Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences (RAN)
Viktor Kelner, Doctor of Historical Sciences,
Professor, European University in St. Petersburg,
Senior scholarly associate, Russian National Library
Evgeny Khazdan, Candidate of Art History,
Russian Institute of the History of Arts
Aleksandr Kobrinsky, Doctor of Philological Sciences, professor
Mark Kupovetsky, Director, Center of Bible Studies and Judaica,
Russian State University for the Humanities (RGGU)
Alesandr Lokshin, Candidate of Historical Sciences,
Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences
Elena Melnikova, Doctor of Historical Sciences, professor
Aleksandr Militarev, Doctor of Philological Sciences,
Professor, Russian State University for the Humanities
Viktoriia Mochalova, Candidate of Philological Sciences,
Director of the Sefer International Center for University Teaching of Jewish Civilization
Elena Nosenko-Shtein, Doctor of Historical Sciences
Senior scholarly associate, Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences
Semen Parizhsky, Pursuing the degree of Candidate of Philological Sciences,
Institute of Oriental Manuscripts, Russian Academy of Sciences
Vladimir Petrukhin, Doctor of Historical Sciences,
Professor, Institute of Slavic Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences
Pavel Polian, Doctor of Geographical Sciences,
Professor, geographer, and historian
Evgeny Rashkovsky, Doctor of Historical Sciences,
Head, Research Department of Religious Literature and Russian-Language Literature Abroad, M. I. Rudomino All-Russian State Library for Foreign Literature (VGBIL),
Leading research fellow, Institute of World Economics and International Relations (IMEMO), Russian Academy of Sciences
Vladimir Roksin, Candidate of Sociological Sciences,
Director of the Povolzhsky Mir Center for Tolerance, Kazan
Viktor Shnirelman, Doctor of Historical Sciences,
Senior scholarly associate, Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, Russian Academy of Sciences
Roman Spektor, Candidate of Psychological Sciences,
Member of the International Academy of Science (MAN),
President of the Jewish Cultural Association,
Co-chairman of the Federation of Russian Jews
Igor Tantlevsky, Doctor of Philological Sciences
Professor, St. Petersburg University of Humanities
Sergei Tishchenko, Candidate of Physical and Mathematical Sciences,
Leading research fellow, Institute of Oriental Cultures and Antiquities, Russian State University for the Humanities
Translated from the Russian by Marta Olynyk