By Georgiy Mirskiy, honored historian and science worker
Translated and edited by Voices of Ukraine
I was thirteen when Stalin began the war with Finland. The Red Army crossed the border, and the next day the Soviet people heard on the radio: “In the city of Terijoki [in Russia, renamed Zelenogorsk in 1948, on the shore of Finland, 50km NW of St. Petersburg], insurgent workers and soldiers have formed the Provisional People’s Government of the Finnish Democratic Republic.” My father said: “See, no country can go to war against us – a revolution will happen immediately.”
I am not lazy – I took out a map, looked at it, and said: “Dad, but Terijoki is right next to the border. It seems that our troops entered it on the very first day. I don’t get it – what revolt? What provisional people’s government?” And it soon turned out I had been absolutely right: one of the boys in my class had an older brother, who had been in the NKVD army, and a few months later he told my classmate a secret – that he’d been among those who’d brought comrade Otto Kuusinen, the leader of the Finnish Communist Party, to Terijoki in the wake of the Red Army infantry. Later, all this became widely known. That’s when I, almost still a child, but apparently with some budding political understanding, had thought for the first time: “How can our government lie so much?”
And a little over two years later, after Hitler attacked, I, already a fifteen-year-old teenager, had been working as an orderly in the evacuation hospital on Razguliai street, near the Bauman metro [in Moscow]. I had long talks with the wounded who were brought in from Rzhev (not one of them had been on the front lines for more than five days, not one), and what they said about was how the war was going differed so much – especially in losses – from official propaganda that my trust in the government had completely disappeared. Many decades later I learned that out of the boys born in 1921, 1922, and 1923, who had been mobilized and sent to the front lines in the first year of the war, only three out of every hundred came back alive and healthy. By the way, our historians and generals are still lying through their teeth, greatly downplaying – what for, one asks, why? – our losses.
And twenty years later, it was the Cuban missile crisis. In the tensest days I had been working as a personal assistant to the director of an institute, Anushevan Agafonovich Arzumanyan, and he was Mikoyan’s brother-in-law, and Mikoyan had been entrusted with the Cuba problem by Khrushchev. So I was in the middle of the action and guessed from some of the director’s comments that we really did have missiles in Cuba. But how incredibly outraged had been our usually calm minister Gromyko, who almost shouted while debunking the “vile lies” of the Americans about Soviet missiles allegedly imported into Cuba! How our ambassador in Washington, Dobrynin, lost his temper out of indignation when he was asked about the rockets, how our TV anchors, famous throughout the country, had been practically hysterical, crying: “How can even a single person in the entire world who knows the peaceful policy of the Soviet government believe we brought missiles into Cuba?” And only when President Kennedy showed the entire world aerial footage with clear and obvious shots of our beloved missiles, only then did we have to back out. And I remember the look on Arzumanyan’s face when he told us that his high-ranking brother-in-law is flying to Cuba to convince Fidel Castro not to oppose the humiliating removal of our rockets. And later – did anyone apologize or admit it? No, nothing of the sort.
A few years later, our tanks rolled into Prague, and I remember how the Communist party district committees gathered lecturers, propagandists, and proselytizers throughout Moscow to give them the official party line: our troops had beaten the NATO troops in entering Czhechoslovakia by a mere two hours. Incidentally, they’d say the same thing later about Afghanistan. Several months ago, a taxi driver, an Afghanistan veteran, said to me: “And yet, we didn’t enter Afghanistan in vain – the Americans were only a few days away from coming in themselves.”
And I remember the story of the downed South Korean airliner, in which hundreds of people were killed. The official version was that the plane simply fell into the sea, and all who travelled abroad were strictly ordered to keep to this version. And Chernobyl, when ordinary Soviet people who believed the official line (that it was “just an accident”) wrote letters of protest to the “Pravda” newsletter. Protest against what? Against being brought to a nuclear power plant disaster? No, of course not! Protest against the unconscionable slander of Western media, yammering away about radioactivity, about a threat to people’s lives. I remember a photograph in one of the newsletters: a little dog wagging its tail and the caption: “This is one of the houses of Chernobyl. The owners left temporarily, and their dog is guarding the house.”
I have lived in the kingdom of lies for exactly 65 years. I had to lie myself, too, there was no way around it. But I was lucky – I was an Orientalist, I specialized in Eastern history, I could mostly avoid subjects requiring “disclosures of the West.” And now, when my students ask me, “Is it true that the Soviet system was the most brutal and bloody in history?” I answer: “No, for there was Genghis Khan, and Tamerlane, and Hitler. But there has been no system that lied more than ours in the entire history of mankind.”
Why do I remember all this now? I don’t know, really. Maybe because somewhere flashed some information about some “unidentified military personnel?”