Edited by Gavriel D. Rosenfeld

Edited by Gavriel D. Rosenfeld

Friday, June 24, 2016

With Friends Like These...: Vladimir Putin Endorses Counterfactual History

As if counterfactual history did not have enough critics, Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent endorsement of the field will surely discredit further by associating it with the stigma of authoritarianism.

In a new article published in the Russian News Agency, Tass, Putin was quoted at a meeting of the All-Russia Historical Assembly on Wednesday saying some positive things about historical “what ifs.”

After stressing the importance of history for the nation’s identity he observed:

"Some say history admits of no ‘what-ifs’. This is very true. The same applies to politics. But there is a place for such speculations in science, and this may be of great importance and interest."

The article goes on to note that Putin “shared some impressions of a recent meeting with a German friend of his,” noting: "You’ve just said it is crucial to know the atrocities the Nazis committed on our soil. That German friend of mine has read quite a few historical documents and he paid attention to what Hitler had planned to do, in case of victory, to the Russian people, and where the Russian people would’ve found themselves then - far away in Siberia, where they would’ve been doomed to extinction."

Putin went on to observe that such facts "should be known to everybody, including those who have been trying to re-evaluate what happened in the past and to make conclusions nobody is in the position to make today to condemn somebody."

"It’s worth taking a look at what would’ve been in store for us, had we suffered a defeat. This is very important," Putin said. In his opinion from the standpoint of science "all aspects are of interest - what really happened and what could have happened."

Counterfactual history as a mode of analysis is politically neutral.  But its embrace by Putin may solidify the suspicion of left-liberal critics like Richard Evans that it inherently expresses a right-wing sensibility.

While it may be true that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, there’s no denying that counterfactual history now has another hurdle to surmount in its bid for mainstream acceptance.

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