On November 18, 2016, in Moscow and the city of Volokolamsk near Moscow ceremonial events were held in honor of the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the counter-offensive of the Red Army near Moscow in 1941. Vladimir Medinsky, Russian Minister of Culture, opened an exhibition “War and Myths” in Moscow central exhibition hall “Manezh”, and gave a speech before the Russian premiere of the film “28 Panfilov Guardsmen” in Volokolamsk. The film glorifies an act of bravery of 28 Guardsmen under the command of Maj. General Ivan Panfilov on November 16, 1941, that, according to archival documents, never took place. The myth was created by military journalists during the war to encourage the troops. Here are excerpts from Medinsky’s speech:
“The country is proud of its history. Just undoubtedly as if it really happened. The film is not an invitation to discussion. It is a piece of air, which our country breathes, any one of us. But the air does not need arguments and evidence. It just is. As an act of bravery of the Panfilov guardsmen, as unparalleled mass heroism, as the Victory [over the Germans]. We breathe it… Science counts molecules in the air, but we already know that the air is clean and crisp. In this air, in this story [in the film], in this culture there are 28 Panfilov guardsmen.”
If someone doubts that this act of bravery was a historical event, then, according to Medinsky, the person should not “breathe it. But this does not bother us. Do not defile our air with your stench.”
The exhibition and the movie are devoted to the promotion of the myth about the act of bravery of the 28 Panfilov guardsmen. There is no payment for visiting the exhibition, but before leaving the “Manezh,” visitors can buy numerous propaganda books published by Medinsky and the Russian Military-Historian Society that he chairs.
The promotion of propaganda myths instead of history by Medinsky and Minister of Education Olga Vasilieva has provoked comment in Russia. The same day, on November 18, a number of famous Russian writers and journalists published an open letter against the possible introduction of a state ideology. The letter was released on Facebook page of the writer and human rights activist Lev Timofeev and on the Echo Moskvy website.
The authors explained that the reason for the letter was the statement by Sergei Mironov, the leader of the pro-President Putin’s “Fair Russia” faction in the State Duma (Parliament), that an amendment to the Russian Constitution should be made to mandate the introduction of a state ideology. Since March 2014, Mironov is under sanctions by European Union, USA, Canada, Australia and Switzerland in connection with the war in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea.
Presently, the 13th Article of the Russian Federation Constitution states that “no ideology may be established as state or obligatory.” Under current legislation, this chapter of the Constitution may be revised only by popular vote, and not by the State Duma.
According to the signatories of the letter, the introduction of a state ideology is a legal introduction of totalitarianism in the country since Mironov is an “authorized politician, and it is unlikely that he would take such a serious initiative without coordination [with other Russian leaders].”
The replacement of historical events with propaganda myths could be the first step in the introduction of the proposed state ideology.