People’s nicknames are usually true to life in however tangential a way (mine is mercifully only based on my surname). But the true meaning of a nickname may vary depending on who’s talking.
For example, a member of the Petersburg KGB gang, otherwise known as Russia’s government, recently wrote a gushing article about the gang’s chieftain.
Among other sentimental recollections he divulged that back in the old days Putin was “affectionately, lovingly nicknamed ‘Stasi’.” Now you may remember that the Stasi was East Germany’s secret police that was second only to the KGB in murderous efficiency.
Without doubting for a second Col. Putin’s entitlement to that nickname, one may still marvel at the degree of sycophancy required to describe it as affectionate. One doubts that, for example, any EU functionary would be happy to be called ‘Gestapo’, even if he felt he merited such a moniker.
Now Ca’Foscari University of Venice has awarded an honorary doctorate to Vladimir Medinsky, Putin’s Culture Minister and, by all accounts, former colleague in the KGB’s First Chief Directorate (Foreign Intelligence).
Some feel the award may have had something to do with the university’s brand-new Centre for the Study of Russian Art, financed by Putin’s government, but you and I can’t possibly countenance such cynicism.
Dr Medinsky is widely known in Russia as ‘Putin’s Goebbels’, which is terribly unfair – to Dr Goebbels, that is. At least Hitler’s propagandist got his PhD from Heidelberg University fair and square in 1921, long before he acquired any political weight.
By contrast, Dr Medinsky, who fancies himself as an historian, was awarded his first doctorate in 2011, when he was already Putin’s top mouthpiece. Thus the academic council had to overlook the inane and largely plagiarised contents of Medinsky’s dissertation Problems with Objectivity in Covering Russian History in the Second Half of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries.
Mr Medinsky, as he then was, proceeded from the scholarly proposition that history is nothing but retrospective politics. Since his political job involved shilling for Putin, he treated history exclusively in that light.
To that end Medinsky based his treatise wholly on foreign sources, which he divided into two sharply demarcated categories: those that said nice things about Russia and those that didn’t. The first were all true, the second all false – hence the eponymous ‘problems with objectivity’.
Of course some of his sources presented a balanced view, pointing out both positives and negatives. This created a bit of a conundrum, which Medinsky handled with characteristic élan: “The same source may contain both true and false information on various subjects.”
Unfortunately, the same mental agility didn’t come through some of his other narrative. To wit, “Mounted warriors making up the Russian army were unable to run, they had to ride”.
Or else these two sentences, of which the first is factually wrong and the second is a rank non sequitur: “The Russian army had no common soldiers, it only included noblemen. Also the tsar did not wage lengthy wars in wintertime.”
Among other startling discoveries, one has to be thankful to Dr Medinsky for bringing objectivity to the historical reputation of Ivan IV, known (affectionately?) as The Terrible. Putin’s Goebbels argued that historians have given Ivan a bum rap.
He claimed that Ivan, who only ever laughed when watching people being fried or flayed alive, and whose murderous war on his own country is amply documented by every contemporaneous chronicle and eyewitness account, was in fact a humanitarian. With Ivan as the reference point of moral rectitude, Putin, who so far hasn’t killed or tortured many people, positively seems like Archangel Gabriel. QED.
To be fair, one can’t accuse Dr Medinsky of inconsistency: his other pronouncements faithfully maintain the same level of scholarly integrity.
For example he describes as a malicious lie any suggestion that Russia has a strong history of anti-Semitism – this in spite of such rather unpleasant historical facts as the Pale of Settlement, numerous ghettos, pogroms, Stalin’s attempt at a ‘final solution’ only thwarted by his death, percentage quotas in Russian and Soviet universities.
In case you don’t know, the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact that pushed the button for the Second World War was “a very timely solution thanks to which we overtook everyone else by half a length on a curve.”
Following the secret protocol of the pact, Soviet troops occupied and thoroughly purged the three Baltic states, the eastern half of Poland and big chunks of Finland and Romania – none of which ever happened according to Dr Medinsky.
Following Stalin’s groundbreaking declaration that “there are no Soviet POWs, there are only Soviet traitors,” the Soviets shot or imprisoned thousands of returning POWs – but not according to our doctor honoris causa.
The Russian historical mission, as he defines it, is “to reconstruct a single, united space if only on the basis of an economic union and maximum political integration of Russia, the Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan.|”
This mission is currently being fulfilled, which is excellent news not only for the Ukraine, but also for the world at large. After all, according to Dr Medinsky (and, not in so many words, our own Peter Hitchens), Russia is the last bulwark of true culture and Christian values.
And oh yes, it’s malicious Western slander that Tchaikovsky was a homosexual. Tchaikovsky was good, Putin says homosexuality is bad, ergo Tchaikovsky was straight as an arrow.
It’s to the credit of Ca’Foscari’s faculty that 100 of its members wrote an open letter, protesting the decision of their Senato Accademico. Italy still being a marginally free country, the University cancelled the award ceremony, ascribing the cancellation to “the Minister’s busy schedule.”
Russia’s leading academics, writers and artists have issued a similar letter of protest. However, Russia being Putin’s fiefdom, the letter was ignored and the ceremony is to go ahead in Moscow today.
Since my invitation was lost in the post and I wasn’t even informed of the exact time of the festivities, I fear that my congratulations to Putin’s Goebbels may be belated – but none the less warm for it.