The war in Ukraine, the atrocities committed by the Russian army against the people of Ukraine revived in the public sphere the debate on the enigma of the Russian spirit that is most successfully depicted in one of Fyodor Tyutchev’s poems - ”You can’t understand Russia with the mind, you can’t measure it with a common yardstick”. That’s why the people of Russia often appear to the world as unsolved mystery and the energy without vector is one of the greatest enigmas of the Russians’ behavior. Unlike many other nations, the Russians do not value a lot the material part of life and even the life of their close ones. Opinion polls show most of the Russians are very proud not of the national scientific or cultural accomplishments but rather of the history, of the past and the Russians’ victory in the Great Patriotic War constantly occupies the most significant place in the current historical conscience of the people of Russia.
Russians’ nostalgic attitude influences actions of regime of Putin
The nostalgia for the great past is a particularity of the Russian national mentality that has been cultivated with a lot of tenacity by all the political regimes of historical Russia during centuries. Sometimes it seems that the Russians’ predisposition for the imperialist policy in time became part of the genetic code of the Russian community in general. Or how can we explain the approval by the largest part of Russian society of the war in Ukraine, the cruelty with which the Russian soldiers treat the Ukrainians, including the civilian population. Namely this nostalgic attitude of Russian society for the imperial past makes the ordinary Russians immune to the sufferings of the others, decisively determining the actions of the regime of Putin at present. Consequently, according to the version of the current political regime in Moscow, there is no sufficient historical motivation for the being of the new independent states that appeared after the dismemberment of the Soviet empire, while the people of these states are denied the right to existence as independent and self-sufficient cultural and political communities. This is not only ideological speculation or propaganda trick. This is an integral part of a vision about the world that is not susceptible to reasonable argumentation or moral standards. The roots of this view of Moscow on the world goes through time and get deeper into the centuries-old soil of imperial Russia, leaving deep imprints on the collective mentality of the Russian society.
The implosion of the USSR is perceived by Russia with increasing revanchist ambitions, as a huge geopolitical catastrophe. The imperial renaissance of Moscow is accompanied by intensified actions concerning the ideological coverage of this process. Among these actions in the geopolitical space claimed by Moscow as its preferential influence, a separate place is occupied by the treating of the historical past according to the Russian imperial models. The multiple attempts by different players of the Russian state, from politicians to representatives of the academia, to impose a common view on the interpretation of history, in particular of the history of the Russian and Soviet empire, derive from here. With special assiduousness, Moscow tried to unify the historical thinking in the post-Soviet space at the level of school textbooks, justly considering that a “common history textbook” for this space could be the most successful solution for keeping its ideological influence. Moscow’s interest in common didactic history is perfectly legalized by the idea of keeping together, at collective mentality level, the nations of the former empire, uniting them again by the content of a common history textbook on whose cover there should be written “History of Russian State”.
Penal law against History
But this intention of Moocow to impose a common interpretation of history failed in most of the former Soviet republics, including in the Republic of Moldova. A real ideological war with the former metropolis on the history issue was triggered in the neighboring Ukraine. The decisive battle in this war was given over the Holodomor of 1932-1933, becoming the neuralgic point of the process of strengthening the national Ukrainian identity. An especially serious blow to the Russian imperial ideology came from the national historiographies from the post-Soviet space, which subjected primarily the Soviet interpretations of the results of World War II to cardinal revision. In this new historiographical vision, the Soviet troops brought not only liberation from Nazism but also a new form of subduing of the nations that entered the Soviet sphere of influence, this last finding being supplemented by the thesis of equation of the Nazi and Communist regimes.
Such a historiographical approach to the consequences of the war, which is different from the traditional Soviet one, caused a virulent reaction on the part of Moscow, which resulted in the adoption of a law in the State Duma, which introduces criminal punishment for the so-called distortion of history according to the official Russian version. By the adoption of his law, Russia opened a real front in the fight for the “correct history” with almost all its neighbors. For the purpose, the regime in Moscow founded state organizations like the Russian World (Russkiy Mir) and Russian Cooperation Agency (Rossotrudnichestvo), while their declared activity principles signal a whole strategy for creating Russian irredentism in the former Soviet republics that are now sovereign states. Concomitantly, Russia’s delegation to the UN launched a real marathon of initiatives lasting for over ten years for condemning the glorification of “Nazi collaborationists”, which refer first of all to the Baltic States and Ukraine. Currently, the thesis of the fight against “Nazism”, which is probed by the Russians at the UN, is turning into an official pretext for the start of the war in Ukraine.
Propaganda gives birth to militarism
The tendentious interpretation of history borrowed by the Russian propaganda primarily by creating in Russian society the false cult of the “great Victory” progressively turned into a cult of militarism and of “fury of victory” that is expressed in the most radical form in the slogan “we can repeat”. Covering themselves with the false thesis about the continuation of the fight against Nazism, the Russian militarism tries to accredit the idea that the Russian army in the war in Ukraine continues the May 9 work – what they didn’t manage to finish in 1945 will finish now in the fight against fascists, the followers of Bandera. This way, a falsified interpretation of history of World War II turned into the ideology of a large-scale imperialist war against Ukraine.
At the same time, the Novorossiya project emerged, which covers not only the territory of Ukraine but also of the Republic of Moldova. In this connection, Putin’s programmatic article of the summer of 2021 entitled “On the historical unity of Russians and Ukrainians” has a special significance. This article became a kind of compendium of all his previous statements and arguments: about Russians and Ukrainians as a single nation, about their common history, about the Russians’ special rights in Ukraine, about Ukrainian “nationalist Nazis”, about the territories donated by Russia to Ukraine. It should be noted that Putin in this article asserts that Ukraine, among other territories, obtained also Romanian land, alluding to Bucovina and the Hertsa region, which were annexed by the Soviets in accordance with the provisions of the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact. If we follow this logic of the Russian leader, we can deduce that Bessarabia, which was also annexed by the Soviets based on the same Soviet-Nazi agreement of 1939, is Romanian land. This is an unexpected and unpleasant conclusion for a political leader who tries to juggle with historical data for the purpose of hushing up the historical truth.
History does not exist without investments and there is only propaganda
So, the forceful return to the stage of the Russian militarism was prepared ideologically by the erroneous interpretation of history by the Kremlin’s propaganda, first of all through the massive disinformation of public opinion about the real reasons and objectives of the Russian army in the war in Ukraine. The fact that the dimensions of the effect of falsification of historical truth in Russian society are all-embracing is due to the authoritarian character of the political regime in Moscow, which does not permit the pluralism of opinions. But the fact that there are massive spheres of influence of the Russian propaganda in Moldovan society, which is confirmed by the high rating of the Russian President Putin among Moldovan citizens and also by worrisome support for Russia’s position in the war against Ukraine, speaks about the serious shortcomings in the propagation of historical truth in the Republic of Moldova, about unsatisfactory securing of the national information space. The explanation for these gaps in the collective mentality of Moldovan society should be looked for in the shortage of support at state policy level for the development necessities of national historiography, including by scandalous stripping of institutional financing of the historical research process for the period of contemporary history. In the absence of vigorous national historiography, it is impossible to counteract the falsification of history in favor of the Russian imperialist revenge, to ensure the information resilience of the state amid a cruel war at its borders.
IPN publishes in the Op-Ed rubric opinion pieces submitted by authors not affiliated with our editorial board. The opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily coincide with the opinions of our editorial board.