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.