Clio at gunpoint

16:50 21.01.2010 • Armen Oganesyan , Editor-in-Chief, International Affairs

"There are as many historians as there are histories," once remarked the English Sovietologist Edward Carr. Perhaps that's why so many today speak and write about the falsification of history. We must at least agree on the terms.


Already at the first session of the Presidential "Commission to counter attempts to falsify history to the detriment of Russia's interests," a logical question was raised: "how does one separate a falsification from a simple difference of opinion? “ In essence, this means the following question: can the science of history be developed without debate? How can one relate to the emergence of new facts that will inevitably lead to new approaches and understanding of the past? A member of the said Commission, the academic Chubaryan correctly observed: "There are millions of facts and they have all passed through the mind of a scientist. History is not a precise and absolute science, it is fascinating, and it has a very large element of imagination. Is there not a danger of a return to an ideological state, where only a formal opinion exists, and everything else is considered fraud? "


A highly-radical argument also exists from a growing number of antifundamentalists for whom, in principle, all human knowledge is relative. Last but not least the old woman Clio cops for it. What is curious, one of the most prominent representatives of this school of thought, Karl Popper (who Mr. Soros considers himself a disciple of), once said: "You have to write a history that is interesting to us. This does not mean that we can twist the facts." Let's not dwell on that, do we always need for history only to be interesting, and what history is "uninteresting?" Or who has the authority to be the judge here? Another remarkable fact is that Popper is strongly against any empirical verification, calling himself and his followers none other than only "falsificationists", but nevertheless he recognizes the right of history to be an objective fact. Not too bad really. Because a fact is a fact, it is a "memory" of history and at the same time a monument to it, not only in pathos, but also in the scientific sense.


But let us return to native land and not go beyond the thought of academic Dmitry Likhachev. "Perceptions about the author's responsibilities were composed historically. They were distinctive in antiquity and the Middle Ages ... In our time, when the idea of historical sources is at a high enough level; the falsification of monuments cannot have any excuses." But that is not all. In recent times, the distortion of historical characteristics are not only and not so much a distortion of the known facts as they are completely disregarded. We almost constantly encounter the conscious or unconscious color-blindness that throws away "unwanted colors" from the historical picture.


"I will not hold anything back from you. Not only is it not right to lie, you should try not to lie in a negative way, or say nothing, "in the words of Leo Tolstoy. One of the howling examples of modern Western historiography is the cloak of silence around our country's role in the victory over Nazi Germany. There are other examples. As the academic Chubaryan told the program “Vis-à-vis the world," to prevent attempts by the Ministry of Education of France to remove from all of the textbooks everything that denigrates French colonialism, it took a special decision of the Senate. Also at the European Council meeting in Istanbul a document containing as many as 20 pages was handed out, recommending how to interpret certain events of European history.


Probably the day is not far off when a single textbook titled "History of Europe" will be presented by Brussels for all members of the EU.


Another side of this method of "obliteration," is the plucking out of "important facts" from a historical context. It is curious that the concept of "heresy" is translated from the Greek word "choose", while it meant the removal of certain part from the Scripture text, the interpretation of which was presented as the only true and complete doctrine. Opposition to this kind of fraud is difficult because by themselves the facts and documents plucked away are undeniable.


However, every cloud has a silver lining. The very same Likhachev quipped that falsification is also a "monument" but made with specific goals." You just need to "clearly and convincingly show the purpose for which this forgery was committed." In addition, any substitution, forgery, or falsification provokes the opposition of society and historical science, generates historical discussion and awakens interest in history.


Obviously, there has always been no lack of those wanting to touch up world and national history, and not only abroad. In this sense, the slogan: "Leave history to the historians" is very relevant. Politics should not play a tactical game with it. However, to separate history from society is impossible. Parents care about what history their children are taught and they will not trust the decision of this question exclusively to workshops. And rightly so. History highlights not only the sequence of events, but the characters, or as is fashionable now to say the "actors", in fact, showing such personalities as kind of "building blocks". I think it would be interesting to investigate the events of the past, which were directly determined by what kind of "idols" and heroes were chosen as an example to those who in their time left an indelible mark on the fate of mankind. A kind of "remake" of the famous works of Carlyle's "On heroes, hero worship and the heroic in history", but from a different angle. It would be instructive to read...


If "any comparison is lame," then any encyclopedic definition is even more “lame.” Falsification everywhere is treated as  "change with an ax to grind, the intentional misrepresentation of any information known to be the misinterpretation of historical facts, is falsification", "conscious intent, intended for the public eye." Distortion and falsification can be done unintentionally due to: a lack of information, low professional standards, the inertia of some of the historical schools of thought, with the long-Legacy of stereotypes of a national bias, for example, in relation to neighbors, etc. etc. Needless to say, that bias of the school and the personal bias of an author are not quite the same thing; however, errors made in "good faith" are a much bigger problem than deliberate falsification.


The academic Chubaryan believes that "dealing with history requires increased responsibility on the part of the scientist. It needs a tool that would minimize the "risks" inherent in the science of history ... And one of the ideas is that the big events, the dramatic events, require a multifaceted approach. In history there is no black and white. It is necessary to take into account various facts and events, and then you will not get a distorted picture. "


Historical science sends forth two Diogenes. One asks: "I am looking for facts and documents!" The other "I am looking for meaning and concept!" They do not play nicely with each other, but history can’t do without them. And yet, in the words of the ancient philosopher: "A word can refute any word, but how can one contradict life?" Conflict between concepts and approaches, as well as throwing in conscious or unconscious distortion are often resolved by an arbitral tribunal of new historical sources. Another thing is obvious- you can’t turn history in to anthology, a worn-out record in a set of well-known clichés. Otherwise, any tampering would be perceived as rain in a parched desert. To awaken young people's interest in living history, to bring new blood to the national science, we need new facts. Here a lot depends on how the archiving in Russia will be undertaken. Russian archives contain a huge amount of untapped and unexplored documents, lying under a bushel. According to Chubaryan, the president's "Commission can play a positive role in the ordering of our archives and give some impetus to the declassification of documents. The Commission is not a scientific organization, and it does not deliver verdicts. In its composition it cannot replace any scientific community. It was created to coordinate and discuss issues related to the minimization of attempts to diminish or distort the role of our country in World War II in particular and world history in general. "


Still, I would like to complete the theme that was mentioned in the beginning. Especially, history by nature is perhaps the most human of all the humanities. It contains a place for creativity, inspiration, and even enlightenment. The historian, like the poet, "in a fit of inspiration unravels God" (Dostoevsky), but in doing so puts himself before the court of history itself ... and not only that.<!--EndFragment-->


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