Falsification of history
Falsifying history is one of the widespread propaganda methods when, in order to achieve political goals, an interested party denies historical facts and revises the past. To this end, historical documents, statistics and sources are falsified while questionable sources are presented as legitimate. The goals of manipulating history are mostly political – mobilization of the public, creation of the image of the enemy, demonization of the adversary, creation of the illusion of power and others. Academics call this method “negationism”, “denialism” and “revisionism”.
Historical revisionism (negationism)
Historical revisionism is an attempt to re-write history and interpret it anew by means of denying, downgrading or negating significant historical facts.
Four main categories of manipulating history can be identified:
Denying or justifying crimes committed by authoritarian regimes;
Idealizing/romanticizing authoritarian rulers;
Stirring up historical traumas;
Evoking nostalgia for the past.
Denying or justifying crimes committed by authoritarian regimes
Denying crimes committed by authoritarian regimes is the main direction of historical negationism. This method has been used not only by contemporary propagandists but also by dictators themselves. No authoritarian ruler has ever wanted the information about mass atrocities to be disseminated. The denial of history does not concern solely the events of the past, such as, for example, the denial of the Holocaust. Questioning the fact of a chemical attack carried out by Bashar al-Assad against the civilian population in Syria is also an example of such denial.
1. Denial of the Holodomor;
2. Falsification of the Katyn events;
3. Denial of the use of chemical weapons by al-Assad.
While certain groups deny mass atrocities and try to erase their traces from history, there are people who do not deny such events but justify them for various reasons. Whataboutism and trivialization are also part of this method.
Whataboutism is a technique which, instead of responding to accusations or complex issues, either makes counter-accusations or move the focus to a different issue, thus trying to shift the attention from the object of criticism and/or justify this object by using inaccurate comparisons and manipulative moral discourse.
Trivialization implies devaluation/diminishing the significance of an occurrence.
1. Justification of Stalin and the 1937 repressions;
2. Justification of the occupation of Lithuania by the Soviet Army;
3. Justification of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.
Idealizing/romanticizing dictators and authoritarian regimes
Dictators as well as authoritarian regimes are frequently idealized. This is characteristic not only of propagandist groups but also of popular culture when, for example, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Communist symbols are romanticized in various form, be it T-shirts, seeking visual resemblance or other. Romanticizing Soviet leaders is characteristic for the Georgian reality.
1. Presenting Stalin as a builder of churches and a religious person;
2. Idealizing Lavrenti Beria;
3. Idealizing Muammar Gaddafi, claiming that he created a welfare state.
Stirring up historical traumas
Psychologists and sociologists define historical trauma as a multigenerational trauma experienced by a specific cultural group. Historical trauma is cumulative and collective, and manifests itself emotionally and psychologically in various cultural groups. In addition to a psycho-social dimension, historical trauma is also characterized by a political dimension when historical traumas of specific groups are stirred up to achieve political goals. The target of this method are all the countries where there is a fertile ground for creating distrust and tension between them.
It is typical for stirring up historical trauma to place the events and problems of the past into the contemporary context and incite hatred against a specific ethnic or national group or a state, based on emotions. Hate speech and shifting the attention from real problems to the past are often used in such cases, and the public is mobilized against a specific group.
Examples of narratives for stirring up historical trauma:
1. If Georgia joins NATO, Turkish Army will be deployed in Samtskhe-Javakheti, causing conflict between ethnic Armenians and Turks;
2. If Russia is an occupant, so is Turkey;
3. The Kars Agreement expires in 2021, Russia will stop being a guarantor of Georgia’s territorial integrity and the territory of Ajara will once again become part of Turkey;
4. Eastern Carpathia [Zakarpattia Oblast] should not be part of Ukraine and should therefore be autonomous;
5. Ukraine is Poland’s historical enemy. There is rampant fascism in Ukraine today, and descendants of the people who perpetrated mass killings of the Poles are in power there today
Evoking nostalgia for the past
Evoking nostalgia for the Soviet Union and creating an inaccurate image of it by means of falsifying historical facts is one of the methods of propaganda used especially actively in the countries with the Soviet past, including Georgia. Part of this method is presenting the Soviet Union as powerful and discussing its totalitarian leaders only in the context of the socio-economic reforms that they carried out, idealizing these reforms. The idea being promoted is that Georgia was a strong and developed state when it was part of the Soviet Union. At this time, the facts and statistical data are being negated or presented to the audience out of context.
1. Stalin was the most democratic ruler;
2. Freedom of speech was protected in the Soviet Union;
3. Stalin built Chiatura.
How to identify and verify the cases of falsified history
In order to identify and verify the cases of falsifying history, it is important to critically analyse the sources provided in a piece and to evaluate the credibility of these sources. As a rule, the authors of such pieces are either 1) using unreliable sources or 2) manipulating the interpretation of authentic sources out of context.
The resources of unknown origin, lacking established reputation and especially created ones are used as unreliable sources. Despite the fact that Wikipedia is quite a well-known and established online encyclopaedia, given the format of this platform, it cannot be considered a reliable source since anyone can edit a Wikipedia article at any time. Due to this circumstance, Wikipedia itself indicates on its page that it cannot be considered a reliable source since the information published there could be in the process of being edited or may not be true. It is noteworthy that Wikipedia is a volunteer project and is not subjected to constant control. As a rule, Wikipedia articles have footnotes indicating sources for each piece of information. Follow these links, check their reliability and make sure that the information is accurate.
It is often the case that the historical sources or documents indicated in a given piece are authentic but their analysis and interpretation is manipulated and the context is distorted, or the information is presented in a biased manner. One of the examples is the denial of the Great Famine (Holodomor) artificially caused by the Soviet government in Ukraine based on the fact that the number of deaths recorded by the public registry (ЗАГС) does not correspond to the number of famine victims and is considerably lower. This assertion is made without considering the fact that ЗАГС records were not complete and that Mikhail Kurman, deputy head of the Population Department of the Central Directorate of Statistics, was arrested in 1937 and sent to a concentration camp for 10 years by Stalin for falsifying the census.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum published brief guidelines on how to evaluate historical sources [and] the use of primary and secondary sources when describing historical events. When analysing them, the attention should be paid to three aspects: 1. Reliability; 2) Context; and 3) Perspective.