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Russian history under threat, again

I was planning to write about something entirely different today, but the arrest of Mikhail Suprun, a historian from Arkhangelsk who is researching Germans sent to the  Gulag in the Stalin era, is worrying news which deserves comment. This is the most recent in a series of attacks on academic freedom and integrity relating to the study of the Soviet era, following last year’s raid on the St Petersburg offices of Memorial, which I mentioned in a previous post, the establishment by Medvedev of a commission to prevent the so-called ‘falsification of history’ (here it is — sadly, most the interesting bits haven’t been translated), and the related closure of a major Russian history website, hrono.info (now fortunately back up and running).

We’ve got so used to the control of the media that when we read that that Russia’s last independent TV channels are being taken under state control, the only surprise is that they had lasted so long. The media is one thing, but scholarship is another, and this sort of political interference represents a return to the practices of the past, which is particularly alarming because it’s trying to suppress the memory and retelling of those very events.

In this light, even the odd apparently liberalizing step, such as in the recent news that Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago is going to be taught as part of the Russian high school curriculum, looks so contrary to the general trend that one has to be suspicious; I wonder how it will be taught, and whether this is actually a move to control and neutralize its influence, a return to something akin to Stalinist reading circles, perhaps? The irony would certainly be in the Stalinist spirit.

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