Saturday, February 24, 2007

Lies for the Youngest

Lies for the Youngest

Yezhednevniy Zhurnal

December 25, 2007


What is it they say about great events? First time as tragedy, second time as farce. And indeed, everything is being repeated: already we have almost Soviet rhetoric, almost the same “enemies of the people” [dissidents], almost the same Oktobryata [“children of the October Revolution] in the “mishki” [Nashi’s new patriotic organization for children], and now there will be an almost Soviet version of history. It is now clear that the authorities have no intention of limiting the distribution of pseudo-historical propaganda through the central channels of power. The Ministry of Education and Science is expected to approve a new list of high school textbooks for the coming school year. According to the newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta, among these new textbooks will be the infamous “Russian History, 1945-2007”, developed on the basis of Aleksandr Filippov’s “Book for Teachers”.

The textbook has already been published in a first run of one thousand copies. After approval by the staff of the Ministry of Education it will be sent to no less than five regions, where it will undergo a one-year trial period. At the end of this period it will be officially recommended to schools. Filippov is deputy directory of the National Center for Foreign Policy, which is associated with Gleb Pavlovskiy’s Foundation for Effective Policy [a well-known Kremlin think tank]. It should be noted that the most scandalous chapter, “Discussion of Stalin’s Role in History”, in which the Great Purges are presented as “the formation of a new ruling class, adequate to the tasks of modernization in conditions of resource shortages”, was not included in the textbook. But the portion concerning “The Putin Era” remains. As in the teacher’s edition, the replacement of directly elected regional governors with appointed ones is presented as having been due to the “unpreparedness of the regional executives to effectively deal with crisis situations”- as demonstrated, in the opinion of the authors, by the Beslan hostage crisis. The “Yukos affair”, the authors believe, “decisively buried the oligarchs’ hopes of preserving their control over the Russian government.”

December 26, 2007

Irina Karatsuba, Historian:

This past summer I read this textbook in detail and took part in a round table discussion organized by the journal “Bolshoi Gorod” in which the textbook was discussed. After studying Filippov’s textbook and discussing it with the authors, I came to the inescapable conclusion that this was without doubt a paid-for textbook, written on someone’s orders, phony all the way through. It is based on one very dangerous idea, which can be summed up succinctly as, “The State is everything, the individual nothing.” Regarding the current regime, the textbook is absolutely servile, stating simply that Putin is the second most effective leader the country has ever had, after Stalin. And this is the crowning glory - there is nowhere higher to go. For this reason, of course, its introduction into schools in any capacity (and I think it will be introduced, as the leading textbook) can bring only harm.

The textbook automatically brings to mind how we all once studied. Soviet textbooks contained not a word of truth, of course, and no one took them seriously, nor did they expect to learn anything from the subject of history, but searched for the truth instead on their own. I recall how a textbook I was once studying (I graduated from high school in 1977) said that “the careerist Ezhov and the political adventurist Beria, using some of Stalin’s personal marks, fabricated accusations that resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Communists.” Reading this, at age 16, I thought to myself: But how could these two people, with the help of a third, kill tens of thousands of people… What kind of regime was this? I think this is about the line of thought that will be followed by those who study from Filippov’s textbook.

But for me, as a professional, this is of course sad, because it is not just a step backward, but ten steps backward in comparison with the textbooks that were written at the end of the 1990’s and the beginning of this decade. And I am very bitter about how the textbooks of Dolutskiy and other authors are being replaced with nonsense like this.

This event is not, of course, unique. It is part of a general process of searching for a new Russian identity. A reconsideration of the Soviet period is taking place, expelling the odious waste of “the terrible 1990s” (although the current occupants of the our political Mount Olympus during the same 1990s all occupied high-profile posts) - this is all part of the creation of a myth about ourselves. But this myth is phony through and through, and worse than that it is immoral, because it sanctifies the spilling of blood and use of violence. It just perpetuates a falsehood. All of which brings to mind the words of the 16-th century Russian essayist Ivan Peresvetov, who wrote to Ivan the Terrible, “In Russian czarism there is belief, but no truth. But God does not love belief. He loves the truth.” Immortal words.

I would also recall the words of Petr Chaadaev, who wrote in 1837 that “The era of blind belief has passed. I think that now the truth is our greatest obligation to the Motherland.” Alas, this was such a premature hope, because even today this “now” has not yet arrived. But what will become of our Motherland, and of the truth, if this “now” never arrives?

Of course, the universities cannot be separated from society as a whole, and this false conception of history is beginning to penetrate them as well. One of the authors of the textbook, Leonid Polyakov, is professor of at the Higher School of Economics. This is a person who has said the most incredible things lately, such as that “we really never know what happened in the past”, and we need a positive myth about ourselves… In other words, we should just make ourselves look good, tell ourselves falsehoods - that this will help us. I do not understand how it is we can build something on falsehoods that will help us. But beyond this it becomes an issue of individual honesty, and I cannot believe that the majority of my colleagues, in either the universities or schools, will be inclined to teach according to the Filippov textbook. On the contrary, I have seen only shock, deep shock, in reaction to this textbook. The academic and teaching communities will oppose this textbook; they are already opposing it.

Irina Karatsuba is an historian and associate professor in the Department of Regional Studies at Moscow State University.

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