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Sunday, July 08, 2007

Annals of Neo-Soviet "Education": Russia Tries to Whitewash its Past

The Wall Street Journal reports (continuing a theme opened by La Russophobe last week):

A new manual for Russia's history teachers succinctly distills President Vladimir Putin's drive to rekindle patriotism, retelling events of the past six decades according to the Kremlin's preferred storyline: Russia is a great power that shouldn't be ashamed of its past.

Backed by support from the president himself, the book, which rails against U.S. hegemony, is raising fears among some historians that the Kremlin is -- quite literally -- trying to rewrite history in a way that risks breeding ultranationalism and whitewashing the darkest chapters of Russia's past.

Mr. Putin gave the manual a presidential boost last month, inviting its author along with a number of historians and teachers to his residence to talk history. Though he said students should be allowed to draw their own conclusions, he made clear that events should be portrayed in a way that fuels national pride.

The manual's publication comes as the Kremlin is trying to restore Russians' sense of pride after the anarchic 1990s. In recent years, celebrations marking the Red Army's victory over Nazi Germany have been cranked up, the authority of the Czarist-era Orthodox Church has been boosted and patriotic youth groups have become increasingly vocal about Russia's resurgence.

The moves have complemented an increasingly assertive Kremlin foreign policy and a flat rejection of Western criticism that Moscow is moving to undermine democratic institutions. The new teachers' manual is the clearest sign yet that the drive to inculcate the Kremlin's view of the world is reaching Russia's millions of schoolchildren.

"We are forming...the worldview of a nation, of how Russians see themselves and the outside world," Leonid Polyakov, editor of the new manual, told Mr. Putin at last month's meeting, according to a transcript released by the Kremlin.

The book, aimed at teachers of students who are in their final year of high school, reads like a hymn to the Putin era, echoing the president's own rhetoric. Far from offering contrasting interpretations, it toes the Kremlin line: Mr. Putin's statement that the demise of the U.S.S.R. was "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century" is stated as historical truth rather than opinion.

The book claims that the U.S. and Britain's obsession with fighting terrorism risks turning them into totalitarian states, and accuses Washington of trying to build "a global empire" under the guise of spreading democracy.

It also offers a point-by-point defense of the policies that have earned Mr. Putin criticism in the West, such as clamping down on nongovernmental organizations and abolishing direct regional elections.

Another teachers' guide getting Kremlin support, meanwhile, recasts key elements of Soviet history. Dictator Josef Stalin is described as "the most successful Soviet leader ever," for building industry and leading the country to victory in World War II. The guide explains his purges and the system of camps for political prisoners as a function of his desire to make the Soviet Union strong.

Mr. Putin himself echoed that view at the meeting with teachers, saying Stalin's "Great Terror" of 1937 -- during which at least 700,000 people were executed -- wasn't as bad as atrocities other nations had perpetrated, such as the U.S. use of the atomic bomb.

"What is happening now is historical revisionism," said Irina Scherbakova, a historian and expert at Memorial, a human-rights group here. "It's dangerous and it's harmful."

Aleksander Tsipko, a senior academic at Russia's Academy of Sciences, agrees. "If you deprive someone of a complete account of history," he told Russian radio, "it means you don't trust them."

The Kremlin insists it isn't trying to rewrite history, just correcting the overly negative tone of many of the texts of the 1990s -- a time when Russia was weak and criticizing the Soviet era was fashionable among the ruling elite.

"Views on history that engender self-respect...are very popular in any country that respects itself," Vladislav Surkov, deputy chief of staff of Mr. Putin's administration, told a teachers' conference last month. He would know; the term he concocted to describe Russia's brand of democracy -- "Sovereign Democracy" -- is given pride of place in Mr. Polyakov's manual.

Mr. Polyakov, a professor, who didn't respond to interview requests, told Mr. Putin at their meeting that 1990s textbooks were outdated. "In 1990-91, we disarmed ourselves ideologically," he said. "In return we only got a certain abstract recipe: become democrats and capitalists...and we'll control you."

For now, the Kremlin doesn't mandate which textbooks are used in Russia's decentralized system, identifying recommended texts but leaving local schools latitude to choose. But the new manuals clearly enjoy high-level support, having been explicitly requested by Mr. Putin's entourage. Their state-owned publisher says a "serious" percentage of the country's teachers will have the books by the end of this year, and that they will form the basis of a new text for students.

At his meeting with Mr. Polyakov and the teachers, Mr. Putin criticized textbooks funded by foreign foundations, most of which were written in the 1990s, saying they distort history.

"Many textbooks are written by people who are working for foreign grants," Mr. Putin said. "So they're dancing a polka ordered by whoever is paying."

One of the manuals' co-authors, Pavel Danilin, said there is nothing sinister about the project: "Imagine in the U.S. you were told that all your history was awful and nightmarish. I'm sure you'd change the way history was taught, too."

That view is shared by Education Minister Andrei Fursenko, who told the daily Izvestia newspaper that he is "absolutely convinced" there won't be a return to the Soviet practice of having just one mandated text book. But he argued that some degree of standardization is legitimate.

16 comments:

Adam said...

"Imagine in the U.S. you were told that all your history was awful and nightmarish. I'm sure you'd change the way history was taught, too."

This is moral relevancy and is dangerous. The US is taught about US history as a whole, learning about evil things US has done and also the good things that the US has done and are free make their own conclusion. Thus we have groups in the US are so Anti US because of politically correct education, that if the same groups operated in Russia they would be arrested. This environment of honest discussion and debate about US history is what separates the Western world from Russia. The US ask questions and take lessons from its history, Russia just rewrites its history to the determent of itself.

It is also help that US history is not a big black tale like Russian modern history is. We have blemishes and grave sins but they are nothing compared to Russia crimes against the world and against it citizens. Just using the simple calculation of number of citizen killed and number of foreigners killed directly by Russian chauvinism objectively verifies this.

Instead of learning from Russia past blunders, Russia just rather pretend they don't exist in typical authoritarian fashion. This is troubling for victims of Russian aggression and also for its own citizens. This is why East Europe is pissed. How can Eastern Europe move on if Russia doesn't acknowledge its past crimes?

La Russophobe said...

You're absolutely right, Adam, thanks for the thoughtful analysis. And the most horrifying thing isn't even that they are doing this, but that they have done it before and are doing it AGAIN. It's as if they can't release the idea that the Soviet model didn't work, and think that they can just tweak it by reducing the communism component and then everything will be great. Truly, pride goeth before a fall. It makes you wonder what will replace Russia, as Russia replaced the USSR.

Perhaps even more horrifying, though, is our slowness to realize and respond to what is going on there, since we too have been down this road before.

Kirill said...

La Russophobe, can you please explain to me which parts of "Mr. Putin's" textbook you disagree with specifically?

La Russophobe said...

KIRILL:

Russia is NOT a great power and SHOULD be ashamed of its past. It's not that we disagree, it's that Mr. Putin, educated with Soviet propaganda and lies, is WRONG. Worse, he's a LIAR.

The Soviet government was the worst killer of its domestic population in human history. Today, the Russian population loses 1 million each year from its population and the average Russian earns $3 an hour. AIDS is rampant, as is alcoholism, heart disease, smoking, drug abuse, and the average man does not live to 60. The Russian economy is 1/12 the size of America's and is based solely on the random price of oil.

Russia has "elected" a proud KGB spy, a perfect representation of its failed past, and he has abolished local government elections, murdered his political rivals, destroyed opposition political parties and independent media coverage, exactly the things that destroyed the USSR. Meanwhile, he's provoked the world's most powerful nation into a new cold war. Russia stands utterly alone in the world, without credible allies, faced with massive territorial expansion by China in the East.

To the rest of the world, especially Europe, America and China, Russia is a ridiculous joke of a nation, an utter failure, populated by violent racist maniacs, "Zaire with permafrost." But Russians don't know this, don't know their own history, just as in Soviet times. Just as in Soviet times, they're being told Russia is a great nation that doesn't need radical change. The USSR was utterly, literally destroyed by that arrogant, childish attitude. Russia will be to.

Kirill said...

La Russophobe,
Apparently you are unable to name any part of the book that you disagree with. Perhaps you are forgetting how World War II would have concluded had Russia/the Soviet Union folded like the pathetic country that it is. I am pretty sure the thousand year Third Reich would not approve of people having blogs.

I also fail to see how "destroy[ing] opposition political parties and independent media coverage" led to the downfall of the Soviet Union, considering that it never had either. I do not wish for a return to Soviet Union (The free market is far more efficient than a command economy, and Russia does not need to drag Central Asia and such fine countries as Georgia and Moldova on its back, as it did for 70 years.), and I do feel an independent media is needed. However the USA would not allow newspapers and TV stations to be owned by bin Laden, just as Russia shut down only media owned by such fine people as Berezovsky and Gusinsky.

A man with a consistent 70%+ approval rating does not need to kill political opponents, especially ones as pathetic as the Russian opposition. Just as nobody is surprised if someone who was in a gang gets shot and killed by his own "friends", it should come as no shock that people who associate with the likes of Berezovsky and Western intelligence agencies end up with a meal of Polonium or shot in an alley.

The list of problems that you listed has no bearing on previous history, and all have improved under Putin, other than AIDS. Perhaps you are unaware that the birthrate is currently rising, and average wages have grown several times since 2000 (aka the year when Russia decided to pursue a domestic and foreign policy that was not dictated to it by the West.) Unfortunately for your arguments, anyone who has ever watched a speech by Putin or Medvedev knows that the Russian leadership is far more open about Russia's problems and their solutions than say the U.S. government is.

The rest of the world seems to think of the U.S. as a greater danger than Russia, and the China that you listed has an even worse poverty problem than Russia.

Let us not list the histories of some of the countries that you listed as the rest of the world, as by your Russian history criteria, they shouldn't even be allowed to have history books.

La Russophobe said...

KIRILL:

You are a mendacious liar. Putin's approval was below 50% when the killings began.

http://russophobe.blogspot.com/2007/04/march-1997-to-march-2007-brief-history.html

Moreover, your implication that Russians always act rationally is entirely crazed and totally detached from any vague conception of reality.

Why won't you answer our question about how many people read and take seriously YOUR blog?

La Russophobe said...

KIRILL:

We've gone out of our way to engage with you and give you a forum. In response, you've displayed appalling dishonesty and total ingratitude and lack of respect. If you think we'll allow that to continue, think again you pathetic loser.

The manual states that Russia is a great power and does not need to be ashamed of its past. We clearly explained above why we disagree with both points, and there are many others; if you think you're important enough to motivate us to write a treatise just for you, you're completely demented.

If just once more you mischaracterize what we've written or ignore our response in this way, you'll be permanently banned from commenting on this blog. If you don't value your ability to comment then get lost, idiot. If you do, alter your outrageous conduct.

Get it, you freak?

Kirill said...

I'd like to know how I disrespected you in any way, other than in my first post, which I apologized for, and which was an unfortunate mistake on my part. On the other hand, you seem unable to say something without a rather poor insult attached to it.

Speaking of mis-characterizations, that link you provided refers to ONE (1) poll, taken in the most liberal region of Russia. The same article states that his satisfaction rating in other places is "around 80 percent". Perhaps it is you that is mis-chararacterizing facts.

I am going to assume you think that the USA is a great country (which it is). I would make a short list of things all Americans should be ashamed of in their past, but I do not want to insult the intelligence of your readers, as they already know what this list would consist of (certainly some things much worse than those you listed about Russia). Should Americans not be proud of their history?

I realize that you explained your reasons for disagreeing with the textbook. I am merely commenting that you either a) as a true Russophobe have different standards for Russia, or b) fail to realize that the criteria you set out would preclude any country from being great or proud of its past.

The reason I do not have a "#1 English-language Russia politics blog in the world", is because I do not feel I have the time, or interest to devote enough time to it. I do salute you for keeping your blog current and responding to your commenters, as I do not feel I would be able to do it. However, if you do not wish to hear comments on your writings from such scum as me, perhaps you should disable commenting entirely? That way nobody could mis-characterize or twist your great writings, and they would stand as an immortal monument to the evilness and stupidity of Russians everywhere.

I do realize you could ban me at any moment, but I would think that you, as any intellectual should enjoy an opposing viewpoint. If you were to ban me, I am sure that at least a tiny portion of your readers would be able to draw their own conclusions. It is rather ironic that you rail against Putin for his alleged "authoritarianism", then threaten to ban anybody who disagrees with you under the guise of "mis-characterizing" your facts and "disrespecting you".

La Russophobe said...

KIRILL:

You are a mendacious liar. The poll

http://www.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2003/5/19/165610.shtml

was a NATIONAL poll.

You simply can't tell the truth or be fair, can you? You're a pathological lair and a totally crazed Russophile slob. It's really very ironic. You attack this blog for being to one-sided and hard on Russia, yet you do EXACTLY the same thing to us. Your remarks are TOTALLY one-sided in attacking us and defending Russia, not blended 50-50 agreement and disagreement as you seem to expect from us.

Kirill said...

You are correct I made a mistake. I must have missed the national part and gotten the Moscow part from
"But another poll of 300 Muscovites conducted by the Media Research Center of Radio and Television indicated the dangers of presidential over-exposure in the media, with 49 percent saying Putin was the politician who most irritated them with frequent broadcasts of his statements." mixed up with it.

The rest of my comment still stands.

You want to hear criticism of Putin? Here we go, I have a lot of it.
-Chechnya should be given its independence, but every single Chechen should be deported from Russia. Putin seems to favor leaving Chechnya with us, thus creating a huge money hole. If we were to give Chechnya independence on historical grounds (give them the mountains where they came from and wall them off and refuse to allow anything to cross the border on the Russian side).
-Withdraw from the treaty on CFE immediately rather than make promises that I am afraid will go unfulfilled. NATO has been violating the treaty since 1991, it is not worth the paper it is written on.
-Some members of the cabinet need to be dismissed immediately (Zurabov for example).
There is much more, but I chose a rather bad time to start writing this, so I can post more later if this list is found to not be long enough.

La Russophobe said...

KIRILL:

You've gotten confused. We didn't ask for your criticisms of Putin, we asked for your POINTS OF AGREEMENT WITH THIS BLOG. You attack us for never agreeing with Putin, yet you never agree with us. It's hypocrisy.

But as you volunteer to criticize Putin, we are glad to respond. What you've said is not criticism. All you've said is that Putin doesn't quite go far enough in neo-Soviet frenzy as you prefer.

If you feel Chechnya should receive independence, then do you believe it was a mistake for Putin to order an attack on Chechnya, which cost tens of thousands of Russian lives?

If you feel cabinet members should be dismissed, do you blame Putin for selecting them?

Do you seriously think Russia can prevail in Cold War II with NATO an the U.S.?

Kirill said...

Yes, I believe it was a mistake to attack Chechnya in the way that it was done. The Chechens should have been driven into their ancestral homelands (shouldn't have been hard, since there would have been no need to worry about collateral damage), and every Chechen deported from Russia. Obviously, before this would have been done, they should have been warned of what would happen, and allowed a chance to depart to historical Chechnya peacefully. I would have been happy to remain as one country, as it had been for many years, but apparently there are irreconcilable differences between Chechens and Russians. They would have had their independence, and we wouldn't have them in our country. Everyone would have been happy, other than the Chechen apologists that masquerade as "human-rights" activists.

Yes I feel Putin made mistakes in appointing certain people.

We are not starting a second cold war (apparently you can read Russian, so read http://rian.ru/authors/20070621/67564124.html)
, but rather reacting to NATO aggression on our borders. As long as we continue to have a capable nuclear deterrent (Something that I feel Putin is working on in a correct manner), we have nothing to fear. It was not the Cold War that destroyed the Soviet Union, but rather how the Soviet leadership dealt with it.

La Russophobe said...

KIRILL:

We fail to see how you can have any problem with this blog if you admit that Putin's wrong policy caused tens of thousands of Russians to be killed. Frankly, we'd think you would be calling on us to be far tougher with Putin than we are, since NOBODY in the state-controlled Russian media is expressing your point of view. You should be calling for Putin's ouster and replacement with a hard-liner just as we call for his ouster and replacement with a liberal. Instead, you repeatedly defend Putin's Russian and attack this blog. That's just plain psychotic (though, granted, it's normal self-destructive behavaior afor a Russian).

You can blab all you like about your motivations in provoking the US, but you don't get to decide whether the US has the right to be provoked or not. The Soviets said exactly the same things about how they were innocent and America was guilty, and where are the Soviets today? If a nation with 300 million couldn't beat the US, how can Russia imagine it will do so? Do you really think you can "get it right" this time and win? If so you must be very deep inside a vodka bottle. What you are suggesting is as if, ten years after losing in Vietnam, the US decided to go do it all over again. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on ME.

You are allowing your crazed neo-Soviet arrogance and ego to be more important than Russia's survival. That makes you a traitor to Russia.

Kirill said...

You know, some of us are familiar with the concept that we can disagree with our elected officials on one issue, but be in agreement on most. There is no politician in Russia that expresses that point of view on Chechnya AS WELL AS all of the things on which I am in agreement with Putin. I merely see that the combination of positions that Putin brings to the table is the best available. Name one official, U.S. or Russian that you agree with 100% La Russophobe.

Don't try to compare Vietnam to the Cold War. Vietnam was an actual war, while the Cold War could easily have been stalemated by the Soviet Union with an effective nuclear deterrent. Putin is doing just that, as he is increasing the nuclear potential, while keeping spending reasonable. (Source: The graphic you published earlier, showing that defense spending as a function of GDP went down)

La Russophobe said...

Gee let's see if we understand:

(1) You don't like it when we use the word "we" to represent the dozens of people who are responsible for the content in ths blog, but you have no problem using "us" when you are totally alone.

(2) You have no problem supporting Putin even though he's a mass-murderer of Russians by your own admission, yet if we simply criticize him relentlessly you calls us names and spurn us.

(3) You think Putin is "stalemating" the West. Odd, since NATO is aggressively moving to incorporate Ukraine, Georgia and other post-Soviet space and installing a new missile defense system in Eastern Europe.

You're really channeling Putin. He too believes that minor mistakes caused the downfall of the USSR and that he will avoid them and cause it to dominate the globe. Interestingly, that's EXACTLY what the Bolsheviks said about the Tsar. You Russians are so clueless it would really be amusing if you weren't engaged in the most egregious ongoing mass murder the world has ever seen.

Go on in your dreams, and keep repeating them in the grave as your ancestors are now doing. And by all means don't read a story called "the Emperor's new clothes."

The US economy is 12 times larger than Russia's, and that's not even counting NATO. By mere economic warfare alone, Russia will be extinguished -- that is, if the Chinese don't simply grab it, as did the Tatar hoard.

Kirill said...

1) When using us I am referring to Russians. Additionally, I though probability was against there being more than one person on this earth as "unique" as you, so I guess I'm wrong.

2)By your definition, any leader is a mass-murder, as any leader could have made better decisions that would have led to better lives for those of his countrymen. Once again, a case of La Russophobe setting standards that are impossible to achieve in order to criticize someone. Name a leader you admire, and we can pick apart what he could have done so that he wouldn't have been, as you so eloquently state, a "mass-murderer".

3)As we all know, the Ukrainians are getting tired of their marionette government. Soon Ukraine will either ally with Russia outright, or split into two countries. Georgia wasn't exactly a friend to begin with (Too bad they're gonna lose Abkhazia and South Osettia). I'm glad that we agree that NATO is engaging in aggression against Russia, as that's definitely some progress on your part.

All of her history, Russia has been fighting off those who felt that Russians were undeserving of space in this world. Every time, we cam close to the brink of defeat, but won out in the end. God willing, we will survive again.

I do not understand why the powers of this world cannot be respectful of each others sovereignty. Let the Russians decide who is to lead them. If they are too stupid and weak to do what is right, that is their problem. Almost all of the problems in this world come from people who shove their noses into other people's business. Take care of your own home, and let the Russians worry about theirs.