A new Russian manual for teachers could well have been dictated by Vladimir Putin himself.
Covering the period between 1945-2006 the text idealizes Josef Stalin’s victory in the Great Patriotic War and Putin’s later triumph, glorifying all who have contributed to Russia’s return to superpower status, condemning those who helped in its temporary demise. It admits that the Soviet Union wasn’t a democracy, but for millions was “the best and most just society in the world.” The USSR completed a social revolution, which forced the west to honour human rights.
The schoolbook doesn’t deny Stalin’s atrocities but rather justifies them. Stalin’s ruthless grab for power was an undeniable necessity of the times and beneficial for the state. It was the Cold War that prevented Stalin from democratizing.
In writing about the text Russian journalist Arkadi Ostrovski states that it is easy to condemn Moscow for manipulating history for ideological purposes. But the majority of Russians (one poll indicates 77%) support the reinstatement of the Soviet national anthem (by Putin’s decree in 2000). Over half see Stalin as a positive historical figure.
Ostrovski observes that the new text in essence affirms Putin’s victory over the liberal intelligentsia. Russian liberals presented a more resolute protest voice during the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia than the current attack against Georgia.
The reintroduction of Soviet-era icons like the anthem are not statements about revolution or communism, but rather the return of Russia as an imperial power, says Ostrovski. The textbook states, “Stalin’s super state, the Soviet sphere of influence were larger than earlier Euro-Asian empires, even larger than Genghis Khan’s empire.” Stalin assumes his rightful place alongside Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great and Vladimir Putin.
The textbook denounces the indiscriminate use of the term “totalitarianism.” “A doctrine which finds similarities between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany is a weapon of ideological warfare, not a tool of science.”
Early in 2007 Vladimir Putin organized a conference of history teachers, where he promoted the new textbook to clear the “muddle” in teachers’ heads. He admitted that Russian history had “some problematic pages” as do the pages of other great countries. But the new text, Putin stressed, contains fewer of those pages than other countries’ texts. No country can impose a sense of guilt on Russia, Putin vowed.
One of the most discussed books in 2007, the manual has received Putin’s fervid endorsement. Even though Russian schools are purportedly allowed to choose their own texts, it is unlikely that many will bypass the version of history as proclaimed by the Kremlin. Russia’s return to Soviet greatness will deny such freedom of choice.
Russian history text affirms Putin’s historical and future vision of empire