Mikhail Berg: Rules for Writing Truth


The classical quotation runs as follows: “Macedonian Alexander is a hero, but why one should break the chairs?” It seems timely in the regard of the ongoing discussion related to Alexander Podrabinek’s article, considered even by the author supporters as unsuccessful and uncharacteristic for Russian culture. Those who would like to put an exclamation mark after “hero” in the abovementioned quotation – the state system supporters and their clients – insist that he is a hero everywhere in the world. Podrabinek, on his part, has put a comma after this word, meaning that at one place he, of course is a hero, at the other place – not so much of a hero, but still at some other place – police should be called and he should be sued.

This position is unacceptable for those who put the exclamation mark. For them, if anyone is a hero, such figure is untouchable, unequivocal and constant: a hero cannot be connected with anything “non-heroic” otherwise he is not a hero. Thereby the comma after the word is mocking, for hero is a sacred term. Attempts to de-sanctify it degrade the abovementioned position and the system based upon it.

Returning to our hero – war veteran, homeland defender, WW II participant – the comma put by Podrabinek does not mean that he deprives the war veteran of his right to be called a hero. While defending his homeland (although totalitarian, but nonetheless the only homeland he had) at Stalingrad or Moscow, if he was not a coward, representative of the KGB predecessor institution NKVD or a soldier subservient to some general, he had a full right to be called a hero. However, if he was not killed near Rzhev, he would have to continue attack after attack along his homeland and next move on westwards. His life was not over when he became the hero; and Podrabinek explains, that at the time when European peoples were liberated from slavery during the battles at Rzhev, even at Warsaw and Berlin, he still could be regarded as the hero, but when he participated in establishing of Moscow pocket regimes on the territories, freed from fascist occupants, in Eastern Europe and the Baltic countries, taking their sovereignty, he could not be regarded as hero anymore. And if those who put the exclamation mark, are convinced that here, too, he is a hero, in this case it is the feature of a different character and degree.

While raping women in conquered Germany, this hero became a criminal not only according to international law, but also according to the Soviet law. And if it is hard to believe the statistic showing of 2 million raped women and 2.5 million newborn in the period of 1945 – 1946, considering these numbers as overestimation, there exists also the other assessment. Although the statistics of that period is still kept secret, it is known that just in January – February 1945, 4 – 5 thousand Soviet soldiers and officers were charged with mockery against local population. Not mentioning the fact that the same heroes raped also Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian and the other Slavic women and girls, including those who had been sent to Germany for forced labour or to concentration camps. This statistics is not publicized in order to avoid “falsifying” of history.

However, the Podrabinek’s comma does not mean that he took into account the numbers mentioned by Antony Beevor, he just wished to say that a hero, after his heroic deed, could become a criminal, as happened with many Red Army soldiers returning from the war. Many soldiers, being accustomed to the black-and-white colours, could not accept the post-war peaceful life. Anyway, glorification and propaganda was unnecessary, it would have to be admitted that, while defending  homeland against the fascist invaders, a hero could become the invader and criminal, which means that the comma after the word “hero” is placed quite correctly. It is also clear that the hero was strengthening the Stalin’s totalitarian regime while defending his homeland. In this regard, neither “Nashi”, nor Surkov, nor Putin or Medvedev can or wish to do anything. The comma is a discussion, the exclamation mark – its refusal.

Continuing the “unsuccessful” part of his article, Alexander Podrabinek decided to put comma not only after the word ‘hero”, but also after the word “enemy”. The supporters of the exclamation mark and black-and-white culture have a clear understanding of their position, unlike the “hero” with an image of enemy. It is obvious – if the enemy refuses to surrender, he loses any human features. However, Podrabinek who prefers grey tones instead of black-and-white colours, says: it is important, from what angle the matter is observed. If Germans could not have heroes as such at that war, what should be done with the Balts, Fins, various Hungarians, Czechs, Poles who did not wish to live in the socialist camp prepared for them by the Red Army troops? For any supporters of the exclamation mark, Soviet and Russian nationalist allies, all those who put obstacles to expansion of the empire at the expense of their homeland are enemies who, if not surrendering, can be deprived of everything. But if we have a look at the same Estonians, Lithuanians, etc. from the other angle, we see that they knew that they homeland had been free, but the USSR and Russia was trying to take that freedom away, and understanding of the status of hero for the freedom fighters became quite complicated.

Not only the history of Soviet slavery, but practically the global history is based on stereotypes: if a country has won a war, the winners are, in fact, heroes, and the losers are not such on most occasions. Which means that, although there exist moral and ideological criteria, nearly always they are derived from old stereotypes. For the ones using these criteria, stating that the anti-fascist coalition members are potential heroes, and the German supporters – traitors, it is difficult to explain why Fins, fighting on German side, are seldom blamed for collaborationism and the other sins, unlike Estonian, Lithuanian or West Ukrainian partisans, not considered as freedom fighters by the public.

So Podrabinek calls the fighters against the Soviet totalitarian regime as heroes, i.e. he does not put a full stop or exclamation mark after the word “enemy”, but he puts a comma and asks – does it mean enemy for everyone, does it mean collaborationist or traitor to everyone? Citizens of the country putting exclamation mark after the words “enemy” and “victory”, used for pure imperialistic goals. Furthermore, Podrabinek has a similar attitude towards the Russian imperialism opponents, saying that the separatist movement members in Chechnya are the enemies of Russian messiah, but, in case Chechnya gains freedom as it was done by Czechs, Poles, Estonians and Lithuanians, everyone who had fought against Russian troops and opposed the counter-terrorism operations in Chechnya would be declared as heroes, being acknowledged as such also by international community.

As regards those who opposed the Soviet regime on the domestic scene, nobody doubts their heroism after they were eliminated by the state, leaving obvious traces of their deeds. Such heroism has been supported since ever the time of Henry Toro and John Locke. J. Locke was one of the authors of the public toleration theory. He writes in his well known work “Treatises to defend the Glorious Revolution of 1688 “ that a coup against the regime or a leader depriving the people of their freedom should be supported, and it is even a citizen’s obligation. Besides, the opposition may be expressed not only as it was done by Soviet dissidents, sacrificing themselves, but weapons should be used thereby demonstrating an uncompromised dedication to democratic values in principle.

Toro, probably the main teacher of Russian Tolstoy, says approximately the same thing, just regarding the different topic. He to some degree continues the previously made statement that Russia’s stupid decisions are compensated by lack of their fulfilment. That is a Russian specific opinion: don’t do anything, everything will settle by itself. Everything will not settle, states the American Toro insisting that unjust laws restricting freedom cannot be observed, and a responsible opinion of a citizen, not court (often hopeless) can provide criteria of injustice.

Supporters of the exclamation mark, the adepts of the black-and-white option of history, disagreeing to the author’s so called anarchism, should take into account that opposition to puppet-like majority in the Putin’s – Medvedev’s Russia is rather a heroism than it was during the period of infamous Soviet Union. It is not easy everywhere and at any time, for in such cases expression of tonality is in contradiction to destructive simplifying, and the fact is positive that Alexander Podrabinek has said the most difficult for Russia’s citizens words which will not disappear, for he put the comma, not a full stop.