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It was supposed to be a regular PhD defense, of interest only to a handful of historians. Instead, Kirill Alexandrov’s dissertation became the talk of the town and sparked fear and fury in academic circles.
Alexandrov’s dissertation topic is “Generals and Officers in the Armed Group Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia 1943-1945.” It is a detailed look at the individuals and motives behind the short-lived anti-Stalin military group created by Nazi Germany under the command of Andrei Vlasov, a talented Soviet general who turned traitor after his capture in 1942. After the war ended, he was convicted of treason by a Soviet tribunal and hanged.
The customary small-print public announcement of the March dissertation defense drew unprecedented crowds to the Russian Academy of Sciences’ History Institute in St. Petersburg. The local prosecutor’s office was asked by “concerned citizens” to review the presentation for extremism, and a local lawmaker’s staff appealed to the FSB, saying that the defense should not be held at all. “I just don’t want any dissertations like this,” explained Anatoly Artyukh, an aide to lawmaker Valery Milonov.
A month after the defense, protesters were still gathering outside the History Institute, waving Communist flags and accusing the historian of Nazi propaganda because he did not unequivocally declare Vlasov a monster in his scholarly work.
Vlasov – the man himself and his act of treason against the Soviet Union – are reviled in Russia, but does a scholarly examination of his activities deserve to be made the subject of denunciation and prosecution?
St. Petersburg’s scholarly community has answered with a resounding “No.”
“The science of history does not and should not have any forbidden topics or preconceived conclusions,” the Union of Scientists in St. Petersburg said in an official statement, which called attempts to report Alexandrov to the security services and pressure the institute’s leadership “categorically unacceptable.”
But Alexandrov’s case shows that the study of history in Russia has become increasingly dangerous for anyone who fails to stick to official narratives.
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