Whataboutism as State Policy

Portrait of Omar Kipar, a Nogai man, circa 1900. Courtesy of Wikipedia and the Russian Museum of Ethnography

Sergey Abashin
Facebook
October 1, 2016

The Russian authorities do not like remembering and commemorating events that darken and cast doubt on the beatific picture of the country’s past, meaning conquests, mass murders, deportations, and so on. Not only the authorities but also many people who consider themselves intellectuals, thoughtful and knowledgeable people, avert their eyes and turn up their nose when they are reminded of such events. Why stir up problems? they say.

Another argument is that “there” (which usually means “the west”) things were much worse or no better at any rate. That is right, both the fact that memory has often been used to fuel conflict and political rivalry, and that things were no better “there.” But does this mean we should forget history, forget its difficult and controversial chapters, engage in censorship or self-censorship? Would that really help us solve our current problems in the here and now? Would such a simple trick help us feel that we and our history are “righter” than other countries and their histories?

On October 1, 1783, Suvorov defeated rebellious Nogai troops who had refused to abide by the decision to resettle them and their families from the Black Sea region to the Urals. Many of the Nogais who were not killed in battle or hunted down and killed were forced to scatter across the steppes and mountains, to escape to the Ottoman Empire. Thus, one of the most powerful nomadic powers to exist in what is now Russia perished.

Sergey Abashin is British Petroleum Professor of Migration Studies at the European University in Saint Petersburg. His most recent book is Sovetskii kishlak: Mezhdu kolonializmom i modernizatsiei [The Soviet Central Asian village: between colonialism and modernization], Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2015. Translated by the Russian Reader

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