This issue of OZ dwells on theme of the “appropriation of the past”. We have invited cholars, educational specialists and art historians who show how different social and professional groups have seized on the image of the past in different epochs to achieve their specific goals.
In his major work, Victor Zhivov analyses the concepts that are of paramount importance for Russian history, policy and ideology. These are the “Russian Land” and “Holy Rus” (Russia). The author shows the purpose underlying the development of the first concept in the Kievan period and the way the second concept was effectively exploited in Muscovy as an element of the then developing imperial mentality. The author focuses on the directions of their further transformation as well as on their reassessment in the 19th century by Uvarov, Gogol, the Slavophiles, Herzen and others.
Igor Danilevsky traces the transformation of the image of the battle of April 5, 1242 on Lake Chud. The author shows how this rather unexceptional military engagement was transformed through the efforts of Orthodox clergymen into an act of defense of Orthodoxy in the face of the Catholic threat. Later, in the works of historiographers working during World War II and the Cold War, this event was interpreted in the context of centuries’-old history of repulsing “German aggression”.
Alexander Etkind interprets the whole Soviet period of Russian history as a process of constant revolution which began in 1905 but was gradually exhausting itself ever since. The author ponders upon the time of its completion. A post revolutionary situation supposes a distinct ideological preference, a consensus reached by the vast majority of politicians, historians, and the public. Such a consensus has not been reached in Russia mainly for the reason of an inadequate historical memory of the society. The chronic inability of the post- Soviet Russian elite to set up symbolic monuments to the end of the revolution can be clearly seen in many facets. The most crucial among these are the failure of an official denunciation of the Communist party, the incompletion of most projects dedicated to perpetuation of the memory of its victims along with the general failure of the process of rejection of Soviet social and political traditions, evasively named “perestroika”.
Alexei Peskov analyses N.A. Berdyaev’s “The Origin of Russian Communism” and arrives at the conclusion that the revolutionary disaster of 1917 compelled Berdyaev to recode the entire scheme of Russian historical philosophy in accordance with the altered historical reality. He did this in an effort to preserve the traditional historical and philosophical paradigm. “Communism” had become the new word for Russia, and so Berdyaev broadened the concept of Russian religiosity to include Soviet communism, Christianity’s enemy, arguing that with its messianic message it was essentially homogeneous to the Orthodox faith of the Russian people. Without such a transformation, the entire Russian system of history and philosophy, the basis of Russian culture, was bound to be ruined.
Sociologist Boris Dubin analyses the evolution of public opinion in Russia between the 1970’s and 2000. In the last decade the respondents of sociological polls have stated that the Brezhnev era was the best period in which they would prefer to live. This period is endowed with a certain perfection, albeit retrospectively. The fulcrum for the mental shift from the past to the present proves to be a particularly myth about the victory in the World War II, a myth that was fabricated in the 1970’s. Paradoxically enough, this can be referred to not only as the principal event of the Soviet period, but also as the central “event” of the Brezhnev era. Today, when the generation of war veterans has almost departed, a new image of the war and the whole preceding century is being formed in the mass media, including film, TV, and history textbooks. On the one hand, this image is encrusted with symbols of imperialism and Orthodoxy, and, on the other, with the techniques of Hollywood-style poetics pyrotechnics. However, these decorations do not affect the principal elements of the construction of “history” in general, but merely modernize it. Such a “monumental” interpretation of the war is not proof of memory, but of forgetting, a sort of historical amnesia.
Discussing “The Day of National Unity,” the newly established state holiday, historian Vladislav Nazarov asks: was it really so, as our lawmakers believe, that Moscow was liberated on November 4, 1612 and the Time of Troubles came to the end? The author clearly shows the fact that the enactment, adopted by the Duma, is the result of a number of mistakes, including a major misreading of the calendar, born by an opportunistic approach to an act of state impor- tance. The author also presents a most interesting story on the formation of the cult of the icon of the Holy Virgin of Kazan. This cult was not formed in the early 17th century, but over the course of the first half century and was not firmly established until long after the Time of Troubles.
In the interview given to OZ the well-known scholar Aron Gurevitch, emphasizes the importance of a profond self-analysis for a historian, the possible use of non-trivial and even «fantastic» ideas in historical studies. He also speaks about the attempts of Russian historians to falsify the history of the Russian historiography.
The noted schoolteacher Tamara Eidelman summarizes her long experience teaching history. She shares her mirthless observations on how today’s schoolchildren see themselves in relation to our national history. It turns out that our children’s self-identification as “Russian” is largely defined by an aggressive and militant attitude towards the “Slavs” former and current neighbours. Such an attitude has been cultivated since Soviet times in school curricula and most textbooks.
The essay of another history teacher, Alexandra Veselova, is based on the compositions of high school seniors. The author concludes that for today’s teenagers the Soviet era is as indistinct and distant as the times of Peter the Great or the Empress Catherine the Great. The author accounts for this by the fact that school programs contain insufficient information about everyday life and how people lived at different times, that is, the basics of historical knowledge. Veselova also emphasizes other shortcomings of how history is taught in the schools, such as the wrong balance among different periods and a lack of attention to world history.
The essay comes with several copies of school compositions dedicated to the subject of history as science and its significance for culture and society.
Alexei Shmelyov gives a critical review of the language and style of history course books. He observes that these books can hardly give any coherent conception of Russian history since real historical events are hidden behind “stylistic niceties”, figures of speech, Soviet stock phrases, numbing lists of names and doubtful journalistic devices. The author believes that all these publications bear no comparison with the pre-revolutionary course book by S.F. Platonov.
In an interview given to OZ, two popular TV personalities, Leonid Parfyonov and Nikolai Swanidze, express profoundly different views on TV’s role in presenting history. The former believes that the role of TV is to convey the “resplendence” and diversity of the past, while the latter thinks it is to communicate to the audience the bitter truth of the history of the 20th century.
Vera Zvereva, analyzing Russian TV documentaries, comes to the conclusion that TV synthesizes elements of professional and common knowledge, of intellectual and mass culture. History itself is situated within the context of our time and is considered according to its benefit for solving today’s problems. As a rule historical events are evaluated according to “common sense,” to views and values that are supposedly shared by the majority of the audience. Such an approach has little in common with true history. Nevertheless, it helps society to design new models of self-identification. The past here serves as nothing more than handy material.
Maxim Sokolov is sure that the principle “battles for history” have been lost by professional historians. Now we can speak only of rearguard actions, which can scarcely contain the revisionism that has been let loose. The violent democratization of intellectual life (or, to be more exact, the annihilation of hierarchy within it) has brought destructive consequences for historical knowledge. Until recently the latter has had all the features of a caste. All of this inevitably leads to what might be called a “mechanical” form of history, devoid of depth and shades of meaning.
In her essay Nina Braginskaya revises the traditional scholarly evaluation of the status and historical destiny of the southern Italian Greek colony of Sybaris. The author considers this evaluation exaggerated and distorted. As is well known, Sybarites, the inhabitants of this colony, became a popular personification of immoral love for luxury. Braginskaya advances a hypothesis that the commonly held view on Sybaris and its inhabitants was formed as the result of peculiar amalgamation of folkloric characters, linguistic changes and, most important, the political propaganda of early Pythagoreans.
Pavel Uvarov makes a detailed survey of the development of French historiography from the early 19th century to the present. The author concludes that today France is devoid of any unified or at least predominant method of writing history. Still, practicing historians concur that history should be based on sources and the results of any historical research should be presented in a way that makes them verifiable. Followers of the Fomenko-style are simply not possible for economic reasons in a country where substantial sums are invested in historical and cultural property. In such a country, history, despite one “Copernican revolution” after another, remains useful to society and continues to create if not a national myth, then a sense of shared cultural heritage.
In the section “Bookshelf” we publish a fragment of the work of the noted German scholar Reinhart Koselleck “The Past Future. On the Problem of Semantics of Historical Time”. Here the author analyses the concept, articulated in the Enlightenment, that humanity (as represented by its political leaders) is able to direct the course of world history at its discretion and that historians are able to describe this as an integrated and universal process. Koselleck suggests that such a development in the West’s approach to the past – from numerous historical ‘tales” to a comprehensive history “as such” – took place in other cultures too.
This section also includes a synopsis of the work of the French historian Francois Hartog “Types of Historical Thinking: Presentism and Forms of Time Perception”. Here the ways of being in and experiencing time before and after the French Revolution, when a new form of historical consciousness arose, are examined. Historical consciousness is not something metaphysical and abstract. It is directly connected to the attitude to the past, present and future, prevalent in a certain society. Both the ancient conception of “history – mentor” and the Christian concept of history were directed toward the past, they focused on events that had already taken place. The 20th century was marked by the triumph of futurism the cult of the future) and, in its final two decades, of presentism (the cult of the present). Hartog carefully explores the origin and features of this cult.
The French historian Alain Besancon, reviewing the work of his American colleague Martin Malia, asserts: “The answer to the question whether Russia belongs to Europe depends on our position. We can consider that Russia has just ‘fallen behind’ Europe or can admit that in this case we deal with a ‘distortion’ of Europe… If the second statement is true we should not make hasty conclusions but watch the developments”. Malia objects resolutely: “I am far from believing that ‘the form and the role of the Russian state as well as the form and essence of Russian religious sense prevented Russia” from joining the rest of Europe and that “the mixture of the remains of the Communist ideology, ‘stupid’ nationalism and ‘fanatical’ religion still make the objective of Russia’s Europeanization practically unrealizable”.
Tatiana Zikova’s essay depicts the odd realities of today’s Tuva, ranging from widely spread adoration of Chingis Khan and fantastic ideas of local population about their origin to the effort of replacing the traditional yurta (nomad’s tent).
In “The Land of OZ” we publish a brief article by the historian Mikhail Roshchin about the International Congress of Asian and North African Studies, which took place in Moscow in the summer of 2004. Roshchin takes up the idea of the famous orientalist Yuri Rerikh, who urged for the repudiation of a sharp opposition of East and West and called for one common approach to the description of all of world culture.
The two reports we publish from this congress heed, in Roshchin’s opinion, Rerikh’s call. Russian historian Robert Landa has written a concise essay on the centuries’-old history of the cultural development of the Mediterranean region, in which he traces the numerous interactions between the Muslim East and Christian Europe that have, in many respects, defined the face of the modern world. Japanese scholar Shin Nomoto (“Reconsideration of Isma’ili Christology with Special Reference to Abu Hatim al-Razi”) analyses the key theological conceptions of Isma’ili thinkers of the Middle Ages, their attitude towards the personality of Jesus Christ and the circumstances surrounding his crucifixion. He also shows the connection of these views to the formation of Muslim eschatology concerning Judgment Day.
The theme of the previous issue of OZ is continued by the essay of Anne de Tinguy “In What Way the Migratory Processes in Eastern Europe Are Going to Change after the Expansion of the European Union?” The analysis of the changes which have taken place after the expansion of the EU makes it possible to conclude: the new border has become an obstacle on the way to regional integration. This obstacle hampers diplomatic relations between the countries of Central Europe and their eastern neighbours, who interpret the new rules of crossing borders as a means of their isolation. The new border complicates personal contacts, displacement of common people and business “shuttles”. The latter serve for the economies of the CIS countries as a certain safety valve. Therefore, as the author states, it is absolutely necessary to form a new regional policy which would also take into account the fact of joining the EU by the Central European countries as well as the objectives of regional cooperation. It is also necessary to establish contacts between the EU and those countries, which are not yet proposed to join it.
Tatiana Ivanova dwells on the desperate situation of Afghan refugees in Russia, who have to live illegally due to the imperfection of Russian legislation.