A Bad Day for Historical Truth in Russia

By | February 10, 2017

Vladimir Medinsky Remains “Doctor of Sciences”

The attempt of concerned Russian historians to deprive Russian Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky of his doctorate degree due to his doctoral thesis, which espouses the view “that historical events and figures should be assessed from the point of view of the national interests of Russia” have failed. On February 7, 2016, the Dissertation Council of the History Department of Moscow State University (MSU) refused to consider Medinsky’s doctorate thesis. The press-service of the Ministry of Culture stated that Medinsky was happy with the decision: “We respect the opinion of scientists. After all, from the very beginning the story looked more like a political action, rather than a serious scientific claim.”

In April 2016, three scientists sent a 21-page-long review of Medinsky’s dissertation to the Ministry of Education. After analyzing Medinsky’s thesis in detail, they concluded that the thesis has nothing to do with historical science, and asked the Ministry to deprive Medinsky of his scientific degree. Later 24 members and corresponding members of the Academy of Sciences joined the critical claim. In October 2016, the council at the Ural Federal University was prevented from considering the dissertation because Medinsky did not come to the Council session. After this the Higher Attestation Commission (VAK) put the MSU council in charge of considering the thesis. The MSU Dissertation Council then reviewed the claim and sent its decision to VAK, which in turn should have made recommendations to the Ministry of Education, to deprive Medinsky of the degree or not. The first meeting of the MSU Council on December 27, 2016, was cancelled. Although the next session was scheduled on January 25, 2017, it took place only on February 7. Members of the Council ignored the complaints that the thesis is not a real historical publication. Instead, Ivan Tuchkov, Dean of the History Department, told the press that the decision to refuse to review the dissertation was made because of the absence of plagiarism in the thesis.

But according to Sergei Mironenko, a member of the Council and former head of the Russian State Archive, at the Council meeting Andrei Golikov, Chairman of the Dissertation Council, announced that the Council had not received the dissertation. The historian Anton Gorsky confirmed this: “The opinion [of the Council members] was divided, some said that since the dissertation was absent, it was necessary to ask for it, but the majority did not support this suggestion.”

One more source explained: “VAK had the wrong address of the Dissertation Council and the thesis was sent to another place. The History Department received the claim only on January 31, 2017, but without a copy of the dissertation.” Later it appeared that the thesis was sent to the Public Administration, not History, Department of MSU. This convenient mistake clearly is a clever solution to the problem that Culture Minister Medinsky has with professional scientists, at least in the short term.

Medinsky’s Doctorate thesis is entitled “Problems of Objectivity in Descriptions of Russian History of the Second Part of the 15th-17th Centuries.” According to experts, the text does not contain a high level of plagiarism. However, the thesis text has nothing to do with science. In the introduction, Medinsky cites Oleg Platonov, the infamous current author of publications on the “Jewish-Masonic conspiracy” [“zhidomasonsky zagovor”]: “The criterion for a positive or negative evaluation – in the words of the famous Russian scientist and thinker O. A. Platonov, – can only be Russia’s national interests. . . Weighing history in the balance of national interests creates an absolute standard of truth and reliability of the historical work.” In addition to all historical mistakes mentioned in the Russian historians’ review, Medinsky included non-existent papers and five monographs that had never been published in his dissertation.

Referring to the situation with Medinsky’s dissertation, Igor Yakovenko, Russian journalist and political analyst, concluded: “It is shameful to be a scientist in Putin’s Russia today. And to be a journalist too. And very, very disgusting.”

Author: Vadim Birstein

Dr. Vadim J. Birstein is a historian and geneticist. He is the author of over 300 scientific papers and books and has written two scholarly historical works, "The Perversion of Knowledge: The True Story of Soviet Science" and "SMERSH, Stalin's Secret Weapon: Soviet Military Counterintelligence in WWII". He received the inaugural "St. Ermin's Intelligence Book Award" in 2012 for SMERSH.

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