Saturday, May 12, 2012

A Disturbing Message from a Noted Former Soviet Dissident

I received this message from noted Soviet-era dissident, Yuri Yarim-Agaev. It illustrates the current "party line" of Putin's KGB state. I cite it below with Yuri's permission:. I and Yuri would appreciate comments.

I recently watched two movies, which you may find interesting. One is an eight part documentary СССР, крушение (The Collapse of the USSR). Another one, Товарищ Сталин (Comrade Stalin) is a four-part fiction, with a claim to historical truth. (Links attached). Both are very biased and promote the current position of the KGB that it was the guardian of the State, rather than of Communism. The positive characters in the second movie, Stalin and Beria, are “protectors of the state” (государственники); the negative characters, Suslov and Khrushchev, are party ideologues.

There are very disturbing episodes concerning Andrei Sakharov in both of these series. At the end of the second part of СССР, крушение, Philip Bobkov, the former head of the 5th Directorate of the KGB, who was responsible for persecuting dissidents, states that they did not exile Sakharov to Gorky, and that it was Sakharov’s own decision to move there. There are several other outrageous lies in the same episode, none of them challenged by the narrator or rebutted by any other participant.

In Товарищ Сталин, also coincidentaly, at the end of the second part, Beria, who at that time headed the A-bomb project, comes to Stalin. Stalin tells him that he received information that the young scientist Sakharov asked to send him 15,000 political prisoners to complete his experiment, and Beria had not provided them yet. Beria complains that he cannot keep up with Sakharov’s ongoing requests for political prisoners whom he disposes like flies in his experiments.

These two episodes are good reminders that the KGB/FSB hasn’t changed much and continues to pursue its propaganda and active measures. The latter includes disseminating false facts, fabricating documents, and embedding their agents in our ranks. 

Have we forgotten that? Sometimes it seems to me that we have become too complacent and lost our scruples when we give too much validity to the archives only because they come from Soviet secret vaults, when we grant too much credulity to testimonies of former Soviet officials only because they occupied high positions, and when we embrace as our peers people from Russia of very questionable background and views. 

 I do not suggest ignoring documents or testimonies. They can provide us with many important facts--as long as we remember their origin and view them in a more general context.


  1. George Orwell's Napoleon used Squealer to amend the commandments and revise the history according to the desire for achieving absolute power. A Redux, or as Yogi said,: "It's déjà vu all over again".

  2. I agree with Yuri.

    We could make a distinction between different kinds of documentation and different kinds of research. The “smoking gun” type of research is very vulnerable to disinformation and fabrication, so context, intuition, and an understanding of who and what makes a forgery are all essential. I learned a lot from Richard Evans’s excellent book on the Irving trial, Lying About Hitler.

    If you work on the everyday life of citizens, scientists, or middle managers, you are reliant more on the mass of documentation so forgery must be less likely (but context and understanding are still essential).

    I had my own brush with a probable forgery which you can find on this page -- Scroll to the bottom and look for a paper on Soviet defence spending, but read the Postscript on the page first. There is a link in the same place to the document itself.

    Mark Harrison

  3. Comment passed on from Steve Kotkin, Princeton


    You are absolutely right. It is a concerted effort in Russia, and it serves a nefarious political agenda.

    1. That is a sad but logical result of unfinished Russian perestroika/revolution. Lustration was not done, thus KGB and communists alike are still in power, rising to the top under Putin, and re-writing the history as they wish. Fortunately, a lie never survives forever, let's just not forget to fix this when the time comes.

      Pavel Ivlev, attorney at law

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  5. We could make a distinction between different kinds of documentation and different kinds of research