Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Window on Eurasia: School Texts in Post-Soviet States Present Russia as the Enemy, Study Finds

Paul Goble

Vienna, December 1 – With the exception of only one country and the partial exception of a second, ten post-Soviet states are now using textbooks that present Russia in all its historical forms as the enemy of the peoples of these countries, a pattern that is likely to make it more rather than less difficult for these countries to cooperate in the future.
That is the conclusion of a 391-page report released today in Moscow on “The Treatment of the General History of Russia and the Peoples of the Post-Soviet Countries in the History Textbooks of the New Independent States” (www.nlvp.ru/reports/doclad_hist_02_light.pdf; a summary is available at www.news.km.ru/v_shkolax_sng_iz_rossii_delayut).
Supported by a grant from the Government Club Foundation to the Moscow Center of Social Technologies, a group of researchers examined 187 school history textbooks and teacher guides from 12 non-Russian countries (books from Tajikistan and Turkmenistan are not included) to see how schools in each are presenting both Russian and national history.
The scholars concluded “with regret” that “except for Belarus and (to a lesser degree) Armenia, all the remaining countries have moved to present the rising generation with a nationalistic view of history, based on myths about the antiquity of one’s own people, about the high cultural mission of its ancestors and about ‘the cursed enemy’” – the Russians.
Often, these textbooks present these messages together. In an Azerbaijani history textbook, for example, there is a report that in 914, “Slavic militias” for months “without stopping” attacked and despoiled “population points on the Azerbaijani shores of the Caspian Sea … killing peaceful residents and taking women and children prisoners.”
And in a history textbook for Estonians, students learn, the authors of the Moscow text say, that “the Baltic crusade was part of a conflict between East and West, between the Catholic world and Orthodox Byzantium and Rus,” adding that by not pressing its advantage against Rus at that time, the West “missed a chance” to change the world in a positive way.
Alternatively, they separate these issues but place primacy on the way in which Russia and Russians were and are the enemy. A Georgian textbook says that “enemies did everything to sow hatred between the Georgian and Abkhazian peoples with the goal of taking Abkhazia away from Georgia.”
But some of the most problematic passages of the textbooks, the authors say, concern efforts to promote the antiquity of nations, many of which most historians say emerged far later. Thus, an Estonian textbook traces that nation back to “the stone age,” and an Azerbaijani one suggests that Azerbaijanis descend from the Sumerians.
More recent history, the Russian authors of this study say, is even more distorted in an anti-Russian direction. One Georgian text they cite says that “the final goal of the colonial policy of Russia was the weakening and destruction of anti-Russian forces sin Georgia,” the takeover of Georgia’s natural wealth, and “the assimilation of the Georgian people.”
After 1917, this same text continues, “Soviet power pitilessly struggled against the national movement, attempting by all means to reduce Georgian national self-consciousness and deprive Georgian culture of its uniqueness and nationality,” a program that provoked rather than stilled the national movement there.
And as for World War II, the Georgian text says, “the majority of people conceived the war as a patriotic one. But another part of the Georgian people recognized perfectly well that in this case, Georgia is a conquered and dependent country, that namely Russia had deprived the Georgians of their state independence and … forcibly united it into the Soviet Union.”
But according to this new study, “the Soviet version of history” is mostly being driven out of the minds of young people mostly by neglect. Thus, according to a poll they cite, 58 percent of young Uzbeks have not heard about the 20th Congress of the CPSU, and 50 percent of young Armenians do not know anything about the February 1917 revolution.
The figures for other countries are even lower, and as the authors say, these figures are what the students in these countries claim. The real figures, the study concludes, are 10 to 20 percent lower, and suggest that it is clear that in many of these countries, eliminating any positive memory of the Soviet past is “one of the tasks of the national school.”
“If these tendencies continue,” the new book concludes, “then after 15 to 20 years, the events of the 20th century will be completely forgotten by the population. In the consciousness of the peoples of the former USSR will be formed an image of Russia as an evil empire which for centuries destroyed, oppressed and exploited them.”
(What this study does not do is focus on how some Russian texts are doing exactly the same thing, blaming all the problems of Russia on others and projecting Russian history implausibly back. To give but a single example of this: one new book traces “Russian” history from the time of Noah (traditciya.ru/e-store/books/98/422/).)

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