Staunton, October 5 – The gold standard of Stalin-era claims that Russians had been responsible for everything positive in the world was that “Popov invented baseball.” But now under Vladimir Putin, some Russian writers, one hesitates to call them scholars, have surpassed that with claims about the role of Russia before it even existed in founding the first Rome.
In a commentary on Obozrevatel yesterday, Oleg Panfilov, who ran the Moscow Center for Extreme Journalism between 2000 and 2010 but now is a professor at Ilya State University in Tbilisi, assembles some of the more outrageous claims Russian writers are now making.
But what is more important he points to the role of the Russian government in promoting such claims and the willingness of an increasing number of Russians to accept even the most outlandish apparently because these claims appear to have the imprimatur of the Kremlin and the Russian establishment more generally.
A few days ago, Panfilov writes, he viewed a video in which Svetlana Zharnikova, a Russian ethnographer, suggested that the British had Russian origins. And he discovered that one Andrey Tyunyaev, the president of the Moscow Academy of Fundamental Sciences, has asserted that the ancient Rus were Indo-Europeans who lived “4000 to 1000 centuries before our era.”
Tyunyaev’s institution also employs a certain Valeriy Chudinov who heads its Institute of Ancient Slavic and Ancient Eurasian Civilization. According to him, “the Caucasus in antiquity was entirely populated by Russian mountaineers.” He even explains the origin of the name “Gruziya” by suggesting it came from “Rus” – even though the Georgians call it Sakartvelo!
But Chudinov’s discoveries are not limited to the Caucasus, Panfilov points out. According to the institute director, “the Etruscans were Slavs” from Smolensk, who then “not only founded Rome but were its first residents.” Thus, representatives of the Third Rome somehow ahistorically founded the first one.
Such absurdities would only be amusing were it not for one thing: The authors of these remarkable ideas are receiving grants from the Russian Ministry of Education and Science, and some of them teach in the Russian State University of Tourism and Service or other government-funded institutions.
Tyunyaev who enjoys that support even as the Kremlin is cutting back on scholars at the Academy of Sciences has even offered another “discovery,” Panfilov says. He reports that aliens landed in the area that became Moscow and intermarried with the local earthly population to produce the Rus.
Clearly, Panfilov says, “the authorities need pseudo-historians who will help with their propaganda to produce ‘patriots’ absolutely convinced that ‘the Russians are a great nation’ and even that Jesus was a Russian.” Otherwise how can one explain the fact that the Russian government is handing money to these people and disseminating their views?
Panfilov says that he has “long been convinced that “precisely in Russia are concentrated all the lies of the planet.” It has been that way for a very long time, he suggests. In the 18th century, Russian historian Nikolay Karamzin said that Russia was characterized by the fact that there almost everyone steals – and Panfilov adds, “theft without lying doesn’t happen.”
The Georgia-based scholar recalls that when he visited the Netherlands for the first time, his hosts took him to see where Peter the Great had lived and told him that “the Russian flag had originated from the Dutch one.” Panfilov says that was all fine, but he asked his hosts why they had not explained to Peter that “a normal country can be only a small one like yours.”
Six years ago, when Russia invaded and occupied part of Georgia, Panfilov continues, “a journalist asked a Russian officer why they had come. All Georgia laughed about this answer.” The Russian commander reportedly said “You are Muslims and there are 40 million of you,” a reflection of “the efforts of Russian propagandists and pseudo-historians.”
“Over the course of almost the last 100 years,” Panfilov says, “a completely new type of Soviet and then Russian man, educated by censorship and propaganda to believe in stories and invented histories has appeared.” Such people are prepared to accept the notion put out in one biography of Putin that he descends from nobility, the Rurikides or even aliens who landed in Eurasia 50,000 years ago.
And what if the Russians won’t believe that? Well, says Panfilov, “they will think up another story,” which may have just as much basis in fact.