Vienna, September 19 – In yet another disturbing echo of Soviet times, Russian President Vladimir Putin is overseeing a massive rewrite of Russian history, one explicitly designed to portray Stalin’s crimes as less important than his contributions and to suggest that freedom and human rights now are less important than sovereignty.
This week, the Russian Federation’s Academic Educational Association of Humanitarian Knowledge approved two new textbooks to be used to retrain educators over the next several years about the country’s past and present, Moscow’s “Gazeta” newspaper reported yesterday (http://gzt.ru/education/2007/09/18/220222.html).
In contrast to most of the 27 Russian history textbooks now being used in teacher training institutions throughout the country, the two new ones – “Contemporary History of Russia, 1945-2006, A Book for Teachers” and “Social Studies: The Global World in the XXI Century” – contain major innovations in interpretation.
Indeed, Deputy Education Minister Isaak Kalin told the newspaper in words that recall commentaries on the constant rewriting of texts in the Soviet Union, the changes introduced by these next textbooks ”are much greater than in more stable areas of knowledge such as mathematics and physics.”
Two of the changes in interpretation, one about Stalin included in the first book and the other about the hierarchy of values in the Putin era featured in the second, are certain to generate controversy. The excerpts published by “Gazeta” are translated in full below:
On Stalin as a Leader: “Of course, the particular features of Stalin’s personality lent drama and tension to the Soviet period. … However, the impact of his personality on the political-economic development of the country was of only secondary importance compared to objective circumstances.
“The achievement of the acceleration of the modernization of the country required a corresponding system of power and the formation of an administrative apparatus capable of realizing this course. To a large extent, these causes explain the character of the massive revolution ‘from above’ that Stalin carried out.”
On the Hierarchy of Values in Russia Now: “ In recent times, sovereign democracy has become a significant element of the conception of state security. This means that Russia does not simply recognize such values as freedom, human rights, private property, elections and the subordination of the organs of power to the people but considers them as an inalienable aspect of the Russian multi-national state.
“However, it is a matter of principle that the organs of power are formed exclusively by the [non-ethnic] Russian nation. Thus, Russia refuses to yield even part of its national sovereignty for economic and technological preferences or in response to promises to include Russia in the semi-mythical ‘club of genuine democracies.’”
On the one hand, as “Gazeta” properly notes, it would be a mistake to make too much of this as far as Russia’s schools are concerned. There is still a long way to go before these ideas are in fact presented to students, and both other influences and a lack of money for such new textbooks are likely to delay any massive introduction.
But on the other, as the paper also suggests, these textbooks for teachers represent one of the clearest indications of the direction the thinking of the Russian leadership under Vladimir Putin is going, a direction that those appalled by Stalin’s crimes or hopeful that Russia will institutionalize democracy cannot but regret.