Amid increasingly vocal calls to criminalise interpretations of World War II history that question the role of the Soviet Union, President Dmitry Medvedev has set up a commission to investigate and analyse attempts to "falsify history against the interests of Russia."
Over the course of 40 years studying Russia, I have noted the prevalence of stereotypes about the country and its people. In carelessly-researched books, five words are prominent: "medieval," "feudal," "backward," "barbaric" and "exotic." These assumptions arise from pure ignorance, with the result that Westerners are often as wrong about Russia and the Russians as Europeans were in the 16th century, when it was widely believed Russians worshipped a golden woman and the country was full of strange creatures like the "baronet," a vegetable lamb. Stereotypes, however farfetched, may sometimes contain a grain of truth - but far more often they blind us to reality.
Gogol could probably never have imagined that 200 years after his birth he would be fought over by the two peoples to which he belonged naturally and organically. He himself answered the question that is today of such political, not historical and cultural, significance: "I will say a word about what I am in my soul, Ukrainian or Russian. I myself don't know what I am in my soul. I know only that I would never give preference either to a Little Russian over a Russian, or to a Russian over a Little Russian. Both natures are too generously endowed by God and, as if on purpose, each taken separately contains what the other lacks: a clear sign that they must complete each other."