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Ivan Datsenko from Ukraine is the leader of the Indians and the agent of the Soviet intelligence service

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Nicolas Werth: “The history still plays the big role!”

The French historian Nicolas Werth visited his colleagues in Novosibirsk. He is the professor of history of Institute of modern history at the National Centre of Scientific Researches of France, the known expert in socio-political history of the Soviet Union.

In the 90th years he was the attache on culture in Embassy of France in Moscow, now he is the member of editorial boards of editions «The twentieth century. Historical magazine» and «Writing-books of the Russian world». His books are known for that who is interested in national history — they are published in our country.

In Novosibirsk Nicolas Werth met specialists of Institute of History of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Science and students of humanitarian faculty of the Novosibirsk State University, answered the questions of «Big Novosibirsk»:

Why I began to go in for history of the Soviet Union?

Certainly, there was an influence of family circumstances, influence of the father. He was from Baltic Germans who settled in St. Petersburg long ago. My grandfather was the large official at Witte, was related to Trans-Siberian Railway construction. In 1918 the family emigrated.

The father whom called Alexander, appeared in Scotland, became the quite famous journalist. On July 3, 1941 he arrived with the British mission to Moscow where worked as the correspondent till 1948. He wrote the book «Russia in War»; it was published in the USSR in 1967. Thus the chapter about Katyn was withdrawn … The father transferred me the love to Russia, interest to modern Russian history. I continued his issue.

About what are my books?

I was interested in local cells of communist party in Smolensk region in 20−30-е years: social psychology, micro-history of ordinary communists. My first book was called «To be the communist in the Soviet Union. 1920−1930 years». I tried to understand all complexity of social psychology of rural ordinary communists. And I understood that I will be engaged in crossing of mechanisms of social and political history to show all complexity through daily occurrence of life!

In the 80th years I began to go in for history of the peasantry of the 20th years, wrote the book «Daily occurrence: the peasantry from revolution before collectivization». I participated in a five-volume edition «The Soviet village by the eyes of VChK -OGPU-NKVD». Together with the Russian historians I participated in projects on stories of repressions of the Stalin period («Mass repressions in the USSR. Volume 1»). I was among the authors of «Black book of communism», left in 1997 and having a huge resonance. It was translated into 32 languages and left with a general circulation more than two million copies. In Italy Berlusconi bought 10 thousand copies of this book and distributed to members of the party. Generally, round this analytical, scientific book there was a politicized atmosphere. In Russia it, by the way, left in small publishing house and small circulation …

The pursuit of sensations isn’t necessary — very long, laborious work in archives is necessary. The communication with the Russian colleagues is very important. My book «Cannibal Island» is about the Nazino tragedy. I never could write it if there were no fundamental works of the Russian historians. When I began the career of the historian, there was an opposition between the western and Soviet historiography. But for the last 20 years, the surprising, unique convergence in the field of research of socio-political history turned out. It is the real dialogue! And after all there was very strong ideological opposition … Now we learned to cooperate really!

About the united history textbook

There is no such concept as the united history textbook at schools and higher education institutions in France. It can’t be — there is no tradition … I can tell that we have about 20 various history textbooks; the teaching collective chooses them every year democratically.

For publishers it is big profit. All of them time try to republish and publish new textbooks. Each two-three years! It costs much: one textbook costs 20−25 Euros. Thus, we have problems purely economic, instead of political.

And in higher education institutions there are not the textbooks, but books which give a general view for students. They aren’t recommended by any ministry — they are represent by the Academic council of university and teachers.

France has own painful points

The most painful point for us, probably, is the Vichy regime, collaboration. The American historian Robert Buxton turned the traditional concept in the late seventies. And before, the French historians didn’t want to consider that it was caused not by submission of France to Germany, but that the most part of ruling elite went intentionally on it. Question of Holocaust, of destruction of a third of the French Jews … It was the matter of French after all. And all these questions were a white spot.

Other point is the colonial wars of France. There was a destruction of tens of thousands of people in Algeria, on Madagascar. Silence was very long while the new generation of historians didn’t start writing about it.

It is possible to take our school textbooks and to look that it was written about Vichy 30 years ago and now. The difference, of course, will be big! Researches of professionals gradually take root into training, this process goes.

About Stalinism

There was a huge imbalance between Stalinism and Nazism history because historians had access to archives of Nazi Germany and had no access to the Soviet archives prior to the beginning of the 90th years. Later important works on this subject began to appear. The majority of historians consider that the totalitarian system was a useful concept for political scientists, but for historians it is necessary to go more deeply and to show that actually everything was much more difficult.

It was the period of huge repressions and there was a period of formation of the empire too. There was a Victory … There are pluses and minuses — it is very difficult memory. We know that now it goes towards plus though it is impossible to tell that in textbooks nothing is spoken about GULAG at all. But after all there is more a power towards positive in this period.

Lenin considered that the policy is a war form. We will tell this very important change in the status, sociological tradition of the XIX—XX centuries. Because one matter is to write about political struggle, and the other is to consider that a policy essence is the war against enemies! That is, not society reconciliation, but, on the contrary, continuous war! I saw it when re-read Lenin.

There is a classical political science approach which was invented not by historians. It means that suddenly after World War I there were three absolutely new forms — not similar to something: Italian fascism, national socialism and Bolshevism and Stalinism. It was shock for classical western political science for whom there were dictatorship, despotism and democracy as categories of thinking since ancient times. And suddenly there are new, enormous forces.

The historians — experts of empiricism consider that, probably, there are more distinctions, than similarity between these regimes. And what unites them— antidemocratic, anti-liberal character. It is the program at least as though; and if to look more deeply, there is a mass of divergences. But one of the main levers in these systems is that the world shares on friends and enemies.

Russia is studied less now

In the West less means are allocated, less students go in for modern Russian history. Probably, it is not the priority any more. Today Russia isn’t the most important factor in world history as it was after the war. In the USA everything depends on the international environment: the researches became less, there are no departments of the Russian political history already at several universities. For example, at the Colombian university there is only a political science. In a number of universities where there were serious departments of the Russian language, there are only 10% of them.

The history is still important!

Responsibility of the historian? In France hardly would ask such question! I am not sure that it would sound so. I would tell the following: certainly, the historians are necessary to any country! It is the most important component of culture for understanding the last and today’s. The history still plays big role.

Viewed : 2240   Commented: 0

Author: Vladimir Kuzmenkin

Publication date : 17 February 2014 21:10

Source: The world and we

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