Forum starts in

5.8. Revisionism in History: How Not to Cross the Red Line

Wednesday, 15 May
17:30 - 19:00

Hall #5, General Staff Building (6-8, Dvortsovaya sq.)

The academia insists that history is a constant dialogue between the past and the future. No description of any historical event is free from a certain bias informed at least by personalized connotations of the offered evidence. The new sources that never fail to appear bring in their own revisions to the treatment and description of our past.

However, the bygone events never remain just facts of the past. Many of them influence the current world perception of the humanity, comprise the national narrative of states, and mold the national identity.

It is often difficult to differentiate between the revisionism permissible in the historical studies as manifestation of a scholastic freedom, and negationsim, which is unhealthy in the academia world, and positively dangerous in the public space.

The attitude to landmark historical events propagated in the media, official sources, or textbooks, the language standards employed in their description, its correlation with the constitutional rights, including the freedom of worship, speech, and information, the tools and the limits of statutory regulation with respect to the issues of the institutional history have repetitively become a stumbling block for many a state.

The key legal argument against such statutory regulation lies in ambiguous nature of the body of evidence that rarely meets the standard of proof in court proceedings, since the legal circumstances in such matters are usually replaced with historical facts, reducing the whole dispute to the battle of expert opinions.

As a result, numerous States take another approach in their legal assessment of sensitive or controversial issues of their own history – without prohibiting expression of any opinions, they restrict their external manifestation in official or public sources, both in the form of figures of speech and in the form of symbols.

As part revisionism bans, many States impose linguistic restrictions on description of certain historical events in public sours and impose official requirements on the coverage of the same.

Thus, for instance, the mere caste distinction made between Hutus and Tutsis after the Rwandan genocide is treated as its justification. However, human rights activists all over the globe are talking about the ‘genocide ideology dictatorship,’ when the extremely controversial 1994 events accompanied by almost complete destruction of many government institutions including the adequate judicial system resulted in a new form of government. Notably, “anti-revisionism laws” are considered to be used against ideological adversaries.

The anti-revisionism laws exist in many countries including Russia. Depending on specific features of the legal system, they are combined with, or distinguished from, anti-extremism rules.

Do these provisions cross the red line? How could the society protect its own interests? If there is a ‘language of hatred,’ could there be a ‘language of historical enmity’? Is it possible to find a balance between collective memory preservation and the right to freedom of belief and freedom of speech?


Natalya Shatikhina

Managing partner, CLC law firm


Sergey Belov

Dean of the Law Faculty, St. Petersburg State University

Sunil Gadhia

Partner, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP

Sergey Kuznetsov

Director of the center of communicative competences, St. Petersburg state University

Mikhail Piotrovskiy

General Director, State Hermitage Museum

* The Programme may be subject to change