This interview originally appeared on Myśl Polska. You can find it here.
Myśl Polska: You have recently expressed the opinion that we cannot succumb to hatred in Polish-Russian relations. Why such an appeal?
Sergey Markov: Because of a few reasons. First of all, I am generally a supporter of peace in favour of a humanistic approach. I think that the more understanding between nations and the less conflicts between them, the better. There are certainly too many conflicts between Russia and Poland and it is worth reducing them. We now have a sharp historical and political discussion. In this discussion, the Polish side talks about Russia only badly, and the Russian side talks badly about Poland. And this is not right; you have to talk about bad things, but also good things. That is why I wanted to initiate a completely new space for discussion. We should confess some offenses to each other. We should also talk about what Poles have done good for Russia . It would also be good for Poles to mention what Russia has done good for Poland, for example by handing her over former German territories.
MP: Is this your opinion only or do you express the view of a larger group of people close to the ruling elite in Russia?
SM: Different views are presented in Russian public opinion. Some believe that Russia is always right, these are the great ultrapatriots. There are also those whom we call the fifth column and who say that Russia is never right. Now they support Poland’s position, but they do it only to refuse Russia’s position. Thanks to this they gain certain benefits; money, social status, lectures at universities, publications. They were only given one task: to oust Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin’s position is centered. It is usually based on the belief that we should defend our arguments, but at the same time ensure good relations with other countries. Of course, my view is closer to Vladimir Putin’s position than the other two camps.
MP: Have you read the answer of Polish experts and political scientists to your appeal?
SM: I don’t know Polish, I haven’t read it – I only know its summary.
MP: The Russian ambassador to Poland, Sergey Andreyev, believes that Poland should be ready to engage in dialogue. Do you share this view, or do you think that Russia should change its narrative?
SM: All sides constantly modify their positions. Life is dynamic by nature, so I’m sure that both the Polish and Russian sides will change their positions. The problem is only in what direction will these changes go. It would be worth preventing further radicalization. I would like Poland and Russia to get closer to more balanced opinions. For this you need a dialogue. If we start it, our positions will be approaching. It seems to me that Poland should change its position a bit more than Russia’s. Poland has departed from the truth further than Russia. What are the reasons for this? Elections are approaching in Poland and politicians want to use some nationalist stereotypes. In Russia, it is unnecessary to anyone, we have the presidential election behind us.
MP: Which forum would be best for dialogue? At present, nobody wants to reactivate the “Polish-Russian Group for Difficult Matters”…
SM: This group worked quite well. I worked for many years in the anti-falsification group of the president’s administration. Later, the format of these activities was changed and the cases were transferred to other institutions. We came to the conclusion that there are two historical messages: one from book publications, the other from cinematography. There is a lot of factual material in scientific works, there is no general message. Historians go into detail, but often lack the ability to convey the general sense of specific events. Meanwhile, this version of history which is transmitted in the media, films and history textbooks is not so overloaded with factography, but explains the history in a way adapted to millions of recipients. The Group For Difficult Matters worked at the level of historiography filled with factography, devoid of myths. Nations experience history primarily through myths. Speaking of myth, I do not mean anything bad, but I use this word in the understanding of ancient Greece as a general picture of the world. We need dialogue at the level of this story told to millions, at the level of the meaning of historical events. Therefore, it is not about dialogue between history professors, but between political and social activists who have an understanding of history.
MP: Why did the Group that you mentioned was dealing with falsified history so quickly cease operations?
SM: As I said, this group worked quite well, but at one point the sphere of its activity went directly to the scope of duties of the president’s administration. Therefore, it developed certain concepts and programs, on the basis of which the presidential and governmental administration subsequently worked. So it ended its activity because it had fulfilled the task it was called to carry out.
MP: What kind of government institutions are currently dealing with these matters in Russia?
SM: Today this is one of the key policy areas of the Russian state. Why? Because in this direction we have the most dangerous attacks against Russia. Contemporary politics is, to a large extent, an identity policy. Once dictatorships used violence. Today, new dictatorships, including the dictatorship of globalism, seek to change public awareness. So what is the main direction of the strike against Russia? First of all, they want to take our part of the great victory over the greatest evil of the 20th century, i.e. the Nazism of Adolf Hitler. We defeated them and saved Europe from him. They want to take away the feeling that we have stood on the side of good. Demonization of Russia is to serve as a justification for a large-scale violation of human rights against the Russians, preparation of genocide, and the liquidation of the Russian people. Just as anti-Semitism was the preparation of the genocide of Jews, so Russophobia is the preparation for the future genocide of the Russians. Secondly, it is about Ukraine. Ukrainians are Russians, 80%. A simple example, the Yandex search engine and social media – 80% of Ukrainians use the Russian-language version. Another example, a man using an ATM. Selects the language in which it is supported. The ATM gives him a choice: Russian, Ukrainian, English. 95% of Ukrainians choose the Russian language. Next case: surveys. Interviewers ask respondents in which language they want to talk to them. 80-85% say they want to speak Russian. 80-85%, Crimea excluded, which means that Ukraine is Russian. Faking history means talking about some Russian occupation of Ukraine. If we examine historical sources, we will find that there people have always identified themselves with Russianness, even in the parts that belonged to Poland – Poles called them Russians. The plan to attack Russia is to turn Russian citizens of Ukraine into Russophobe enemies of Russia who are ready to declare war on Russia. By stopping falsification of history, we want to prevent this war. There are other elements of falsifying history, but two of its goals are the most important – World War II and Ukraine.
MP: Is there awareness in Russia that some of Russia’s recent statements may hinder dialogue and put in a difficult situation these circles in Poland that called for Polish-Russian cooperation?
SM: Initially, the situation in Poland was not followed closely in Russia. From our point of view, Poland, Sweden, Hungary, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic are small European countries. This means that we can not pay too much attention to them. We focus on relations with China, the United States, Japan and Turkey. Indonesia, for example, may not matter much to you, but it is large for us, since it is a large importer of weapons produced by us. At some point, however, we noticed that many Polish politicians are striving to become leaders in the field of falsifying history. How is faking history done? You know that the Red Army and the Soviet Union played a key role in the victory over Nazism and saving Europe from it. I don’t want to praise the Soviet system here, I’m not saying that he always brought liberation to everyone, but he gave freedom from Nazism. But if opinion polls are now being conducted, for example in Poland or Italy, we are increasingly hearing from respondents that Americans have liberated them. This is the process of falsifying history. It runs quietly, does not take place with the help of thick books, but through film productions, the Internet, television programs and newspapers. Therefore, when we became convinced that Polish politicians went further than others in this area, the president decided that they should be reminded of some matters. Many walked away from the truth, 100-150 meters away, but some went one and a half kilometers further. It is obvious that people who heard this felt offended. They thought that no one would notice that they departed from the truth in the direction of a lie. And our president noticed it. In addition, the Law and Justice party now needed to be turned into anti-Russian hysteria machine for electoral use.
MP: Politicians speak on both sides in this dispute. Would it not be better, after all, to leave these matters to professional historians?
SM: I will say again: there are two understandings of history. One level is the work of history professors, authors of thich books full of facts, which do not present the general significance of historical events. And there is the level of history for the millions; in textbooks, in films, the Internet, television and newspapers. Less facts and more general sense. There is no point in showing learned historians to the millions, because these millions of people will simply not understand a professor of history. Scholar historians simply need to be given funds for research and publications. Politicians, social activists, art people, filmmakers, and authors of popularizing works such as Vladimir Mediński are to participate in this discussion for the millions. We cannot confuse these two levels of history and mix them together. Disputes of professional historians are quite simple, because they do not discuss the general significance of events. When discussing factual details, it is not difficult to reach a compromise. But when the dispute concerns great historical meanings, the matter is much more difficult.
MP: Is Russia ready to discuss the Polish-Bolshevik war of 1920, whose centenary is this year?
SM: Russia is ready for such a discussion, but – to be honest – we do not see similar readiness on the Polish side. I see several reasons here. First, there is a noble sense of honour, a conviction in one’s infallibility that comes from the past nobility. Secondly, they want to take over Ukraine. I understand that this is the Międzymorze project, according to which Poland would become the dominant force of the European Union thanks to the establishment of a confederation which would include Ukraine, Belarus, and maybe other countries; they are not talking about “Two Seas” version anymore but about “Three Seas”. Above all, however, they need Ukraine. They want to subjugate the Russian element in Ukraine, which they have already succeeded in. Someone who wants to subjugate others will never be ready for dialogue. I think these are the two main reasons for not being prepared for a discussion. In Russia, the situation is also not perfect in this respect. I have a positive attitude towards Poles and I believe that rational dialogue with them is possible. However, many are skeptical and believe that any dialogue with Poles is meaningless. They think that Poles will never understand anything and that’s why it’s a shame to waste time on it. Such views also exist in Russia.
Sergey Markov is a political scientist and a former lecturer at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations and the Moscow State University. Member of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy, head of the Institute of Political Research. Member of the Social Chamber. Due to his views, he gained persona non grata status in Estonia, Moldova and Ukraine. In the years 2007–2011 he was a member of the State Duma for ‘United Russia’.
This interview was conducted by Agnieszka Piwar