Kremlin mulling creation of centre which would provide Russians with “correct” interpretation of history

August 1968, photo: Czech Television

Moscow has accused the West of waging a propaganda war against Russia and is considering setting up a centre where historians who would compile a “correct” interpretation of history as seen by the Kremlin. One of the milestone events which have reportedly been “misinterpreted” is the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia.

August 1968,  photo: Czech Television
Moscow claims to have become victim of an information war in which the West is increasingly twisting and misinterpreting Russia’s role in history to present the country in a negative light. According to the Russian daily Kommersant the target of this propaganda campaign is the Russian public, particularly the young generation which often draws information about their country from foreign sources. As a result, President Putin’s advisory council has proposed establishing a centre where historians who would compile “a true and objective” interpretation of key events in Russian history, including the Bolshevik revolution, WWII and the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. Czech Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek sharply rejected claims that the Czech Republic was spreading false information about this painful chapter of the country’s history.

“I absolutely reject the claim that we are engaged in some kind of propaganda war. Our interest is the truth and our historians have done much good work in unveiling it.”

Lubomír Zaorálek,  photo: Filip Jandourek
Although Russian leaders –Michail Gorbachev, Boris Jelcin and even Vladimir Putin –all distanced themselves from the 1968 invasion, there have been increasing signals of late of efforts to put forward the Soviet interpretation. Štepán Černoušek of the NGO

“Last year in the summer Russian state TV Russia 1 made a documentary movie about the invasion and it just repeated the lies of the Soviet period –that the Soviet army came to Czechoslovakia to defend peace because there were some people preparing a putsch and that NATO forces were prepared on the Czechoslovak-German border.”

Earlier this year, three communist MPs in the Russian parliament tried to get Soviet soldiers who took part in the invasion the status of war veterans and deputies argued that the invasion had “improved Czechoslovakia’s economic potential”.

Although it is not clear what the present day interpretation of the 1968 events would be –or even if a centre for the “correct interpretation of history” will be established, Štepán Černoušek says the latest developments are part of a broader effort of the state, or President Putin to control how Russians perceive their history. He says the target audience is inside the country.

Štěpán Černoušek,  photo: Martina Bílá
“I would not say that this targets the public abroad, this is aimed at the Russian public. I think it is a continuation of the trend that there are enemies all around Russia and Russian society has to defeat them. Vladimir Putin said that the end of the Soviet Union was the biggest geo-political tragedy of the 20th century and there is nostalgia in Russia today about the Soviet Union. Not because people want to go back to communism - this nostalgia is about the Soviet Union as a superpower. And because Putin wants to make Russia a superpower he needs to interpret its history as the history of a peace-maker. That is the reason why the state needs to have control over the interpretation of its history.”