SOURCE: Telegraph (UK) (12-29-08)
Myself, I have some doubts about the veracity of this poll, particularly given that the television station in question is state-owned, and therefore manipulated by the Kremlin. Also, first place went to Alexander Nevsky, a medieval prince who defeated German invaders – and an ideal symbol for the Putinist regime, which prides itself on its defiance of the West. Second place went to Piotr Stolypin, a turn-of-the-century economic reformer who, among other things, gave his name to the cattle cars (Stolypinki) in which prisoners were transported to Siberia – another excellent symbol for the “reformer with an iron fist” label to which both Prime Minister Putin and President Medvedev aspire.
Both seem too good to be true; neither had ever before seemed like candidates for such an august title. Had the poll been completely free, I expect Stalin would have come in first place. Why wouldn’t he? After all, the government, media and teaching professions in Russia have spent a good chunk of the past decade trying to rehabilitate him – and not by accident.
All nations politicise history to some extent, of course. But in Russia, the tradition of falsification and manipulation of the past is deeper and more profound than almost anywhere else. In its heyday, the KGB retouched photographs to remove discredited comrades, changed history books to put other comrades in places where they had not been, monitored and tormented professional historians. Russia’s current leaders are their descendants, sometimes literally.
But even those who are not the children of KGB officers were often raised and trained inside the culture of the KGB – an organisation that believed that history was not neutral but rather something to be used, cynically, in the battle for power. In Putinist Russia, events are present in textbooks, or absent from official culture, because someone has taken a conscious decision that it should be so....