Can the Commissar Vanish in the Age of the Internet? Probably Not

September 2, 2015

Staunton, September 1 In 1997, David King produced his magisterial volume on how the Soviets airbrushed out of pictures disgraced former officials entitled The Commissar Vanishes. But now, many had assumed that in the age of the Internet, no regime would have equal success in destroying information about the past.

Indeed, for all too many, the Internet has become a place where even when the authorities intervene on this or that occasion, changing the content of a particular article or suppressing a site, the original content remains accessible to those who know how to work around such actions or who go to archival sites where almost everything is preserved.

Not surprisingly, the Putin regime which wants to control the past in order to control the future is incensed by this reality and has now moved to block the site which maintains a complete archive of the Internet since 1996 and is an invaluable resource for historians and ordinary citizens.

Russia’s Prosecutor General’s Office yesterday ordered the site blocked on the basis of an August 2014 decision about access to https sites; and users of various Russian providers say that they cannot gain access to — or as it is sometimes referred to the “Wayback Machine.”

Last fall, Russian officials found that was among the sites which had not completely met Moscow’s demands for the removal of a video clip on the Islamic State. That clip had been found extremist by a Russian court. removed some of the links to it but not all of them, so it was still accessible to those who went to that portal.

At that time, the Russian communications supervision agency demanded that a number of sites remove this clip, the first instance, says, when the Moscow agency “independently searched for content included in the Federal list of extremist materials.” Up to then and typically, it “blocked only those links” sent to it by other Russian agencies.

The Moscow agency has been playing cat and mouse with On June 23, it blocked the portal because of a link to an article on jihad, but eight days later, the blocking was lifted. Now, it is trying again; but it is far from clear whether Moscow’s efforts this time around will be successful.

Visitors to the site, points out, “can find in the archive any site which interests them and find out how it looked on any given day since the beginning of the work of the resource.” currently contains links to more than 400 billion web pages, a number that will make it far more difficult for the commissar to “vanish” now.