There is only one history, but there are quite a few interpretations. The 20th century saw quite a number of serious attempts to rewrite history, says the head of the Russian State Archive Sergey Mironenko.
The secrets and facts hidden within the archives of most countries are tempting to both historians and conspiracy theorists alike. Russia’s State Archives are perhaps the most fascinating in the world, revealing key moments of recent history, ranging from the Second World War and the Stalin era, to the current rise of neo-Nazism in the Baltic States.
RT: Mr. Mironenko, thank you so much for joining us and talking to us. Now, yet another anniversary of the Second World War is upon us. Do you think that perhaps revealing more documents from the archives will end the debate of who started the war, who is to blame, is there anyone who is more responsible, and could anything have gone differently?
Sergey Mironenko: There are two questions here. First, I am thoroughly convinced that the more documents are declassified, especially those related to events that date more than 50 year back, the more clearly and fully history will be able to answer the question. Now the second question, about whether the arguments will stop. No, they will not. Unfortunately, there are people who will stick to their point of view in spite of obvious facts. That, however, is a matter of belief, not scientific knowledge.
If we are talking about scientific knowledge, then, of course, knowing everything about a historical event takes having full access to historical sources.
RT: The Soviet side of course played a key role in defeating the Nazis. Do you think that Stalin and the cult of personality had a lot of influence on that fact?
SM: Well, indeed, the Eastern Front played the decisive role in WWII and in the Great Patriotic War as well. I am very glad we opened an exhibition in Cannes this year, devoted to the Great Patriotic War. As far as I know, the exhibition has been a great success. The role of Stalin? Yes, sure, Stalin was head of the Council of Ministers and chaired the State Defense Committee. He coordinated and managed all military operations throughout the Great Patriotic War. Let's face it, though, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact – whatever one might think of it – postponed the beginning of the war, yet at the time gave Germany the time to mobilize Europe's economy. Sadly, we wasted that time instead of preparing. We could have been better prepared for the war. Stalin did not believe Hitler would ever attack the USSR. Recent publications confirm that 100%.
Just take the report of State Security Minister Merkulov as of June 17, 1941, quoting a source in the Luftwaffe General Staff as saying that “War will begin in five days.” It is only now that we know of Stalin's facsimile resolution that said “Comrade Merkulov, why don’t you tell that ‘source’ to piss off? It's not a source or informer; it's a misinformer.” Five days before the beginning of the war, Stalin still couldn’t believe it would begin. This, I think, explains the depression that he went through in the first week of the war, not even appearing in the Kremlin. When top Soviet officials came to him because they couldn’t imagine setting up a defense without Stalin, he thought they came to arrest him. He uttered his famous phrase, “Lenin left us a great empire, and we f***ed it all up.” Finally, after all, Stalin managed to brace himself and to lead the country in its defense. And his role in the Great Patriotic War cannot be crossed out.
RT: We have a whole period of time in this country that basically carries Stalin’s name, and today many almost draw a parallel between Stalinism and neo-Nazism. Do you think it’s a justified comparison?
SM: Why neo-Nazism? I think it is “Nazism”, isn’t it? Well, the comparison is quite appropriate in my opinion. It is not by chance that the ruling party in the fascist Germany was called the National-socialist party. In the Soviet times, if you remember, it was called “National-Socialistic”, as it was somewhat awkward to use the word “socialism” in the name of a fascist party. There are many parallels. Let's face it, Stalin liked Hitler. He liked his way of getting down with his political opponents. Anastas Mikoyan would tell this story: after that night when Hitler did away with his comrade Rohm, Stalin came to a session of Politburo and said, “That's the way to deal with political enemies!” According to Mikoyan, a dead silence fell in the room as everybody realized what he meant. That, however, is largely the job of historians – to compare those two regimes and figure out what was similar and what was different.
I can say, for example, that comparing Soviet and Nazi concentration camps is an incorrect thing to do, because Soviet camps were not extermination camps, while the Nazi ones were. Well, yes, perhaps more people died in the Soviet camps than in Nazi ones, but extermination wasn’t the goal of Soviet camps.
RT: For many people of the older generation there is a difference in how they react to Stalin. Some believe that he is a hero that won the Soviet Union’s victory in the Second World War, for others he is a tyrant and a despot. Do you think that one of those definitions is more justified than the other?
SM: Well, you know, people are prone to seeking simple answers to very complicated questions. Unfortunately, life is always far more complicated than that. Of course, who would accept the heinous atrocities perpetrated by Stalin? I think nobody in their right mind could do that.
At the same time, we can’t deny that Stalin was at the helm of the Soviet Union in those tough times, and it was he who largely determined our victory. The most important thing is for people to know the truth. Let me give you a small but telling example. Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov was yearning to decorate Moscow streets with Stalin posters in the 65th anniversary of the Victory in World War II.
I think it would be good for him to know that it was Stalin who abolished the Victory Day celebrations in 1947. It was Stalin who issued a decree according to which May 9 ceased to be a holiday. It was him as well who, several months earlier, had cancelled payments for war decorations received by war veterans. Writer Daniil Granin, who I had a chance to talk to, remembered very well what a great insult that was to the veterans. Just why Stalin did that is clear, however. He wanted to make it clear to the victors who had walked across the Western Europe and returned to Russia, “Just keep in mind guys that you are not the main heroes. After you came back to a poverty-stricken country from Western countries, don’t think much about it.”
RT: Many countries in Eastern Europe specifically and many countries in the West now try to rewrite history and change the way their governments and their populations view the Second World War, Russia’s role in it and the historical consequences of that. Why do you think that is and what could be done to stop this?
SM: It is difficult for me to answer this question. There is only one history, but there are quite a few interpretations. The 20th century saw several serious attempts to rewrite history. At first, everything that had happened before 1917 was portrayed as horrible and terrible, then, as film director Stanislav Govorukhin shows in his famous film “A Russia That We Have Lost”, everything became wonderful and remarkable. Sadly, but this has little to do with science. It is related to politics. These are political games, so to speak, if the right term is to be used. But how can we overcome this trend?
I am sure that there is only one way, and that is through joint work by historians from many countries. They should sit down at one table. They should prepare joint publications and try to find points of convergence rather than points of difference. I believe that joint efforts are the right way to help both sides to overcome their delusions.
RT: One of those countries is, as we know, Estonia. It has recently taken down a monument dedicated to Soviet war veterans saying that it symbolized the era of Soviet occupation and is, therefore, not in line with modern policy of independent Estonia. Do you believe that argument or do you think that it’s once again politics meddling in history?
SM: Undoubtedly, it was a political action. But I would like to express my personal point of view on that subject. I think that the Russian leadership made a mistake in reacting to that incident. A Russian delegation should have gone to Estonia. After all, there is nothing terrible in the fact of removing, with all military honors, the remains of Soviet soldiers from the central square and reburying them at a military memorial. I think that it would have been much better for Russia and its international image if it had taken part in that ceremony while remaining committed, in principle, to its stance on World War II.
RT: Staying with Estonia, it has seen recently a lot of neo-Nazi organizations and movements sprouting up. I have been there and I have seen many of their gatherings. They get a lot more attention and public sponsoring than the war veterans movements that exist in that same country. Does that signify a rebirth of fascism in that country?
SM: Well, you know, I cannot say whether it is on the rise or not. The marches of the former Waffen-SS members and all neo-Nazis are deeply disconcerting to me. As a person and citizen, I am greatly outraged by this, and it cannot be otherwise. I would like to repeat that the employees of the State Archives of the Russian Federation in cooperation with other foundations, that have recently emerged, have published several collections of documents, exposing the atrocities committed by those SS units in Estonia and other Baltic States. It would also be wrong to forget that.