New Manuals Push A Putin's-Eye View In Russian Schools

By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, July 20, 2007

MOSCOW -- With two new manuals for high school history and social studies teachers, written in part by Kremlin political consultants, Russian authorities are attempting to imbue classroom debate with a nationalist outlook.

The history guide contains a laudatory review of President Vladimir Putin's years in power. "We see that practically every significant deed is connected with the name and activity of President V.V. Putin," declares its last chapter. The social studies guide is marked by intense hostility to the United States.

Both books reflect the themes dominating official political discourse here: that Putin restored Russian strength and built what the Kremlin calls a "sovereign democracy" despite American efforts to isolate the country.

The principal author of the history manual -- "The Newest History of Russia, 1945-2006" -- is Alexander Fillipov, deputy head of the National Laboratory of Foreign Policy, a research institute affiliated with the Kremlin.

Putin, who succeeded the ailing Boris Yeltsin in 2000, demonstrated that "when a healthy and energetic person got this position it became obvious how vast presidential power is," the manual states.

"Sovereign Democracy" is the title of one of the history manual's chapters. The term was coined by Kremlin strategist Vladislav Surkov, who attended the launch of the two books at a teachers' conference in Moscow last month. Supporters of the president use the phrase to describe the centralization of power under Putin as essential to the building of a stable Russian state, free from outside interference.

But critics say the term is a self-serving veil for unchecked executive power, which has led to the disempowerment of parliament, the judiciary and many media voices in Putin's Russia. That viewpoint finds no place in the manuals.

" 'Sovereign democracy' is a political slogan, and it's unethical not to point out that there are other political parties and other points of view that believe it is part of the authorities' myth-making," said Vasily Zharkov, a history lecturer and deputy director of the Institute of Eastern Europe, who attended the teachers' conference.

Other events, such as the so-called Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004, in which hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians overturned the official results of a presidential election they believed to be fraudulent, are explained as largely American-inspired plots.

"Tension was built up artificially in Ukraine, and a 'revolution' scenario was readied," the history manual states. Supporters of the pro-Russian candidate, Viktor Yanukovych, "were stripped of their victory," it says.

The social studies manual, "Social Studies: The Global World in the 21st Century," observes that "from the beginning of the 1990s, the U.S. tried to realize a global empire. The basic political principle underpinning any empire is divide and rule. Therefore one of the U.S. strategies was to isolate Russia from all the other former Soviet republics."

But the United States may be near "final collapse," according to the manual, because "America can no longer integrate into a single unit or unite into a nation of 'whites,' 'blacks,' (they are called African-Americans in the language of political correctness) 'Latinos' (Latin Americans) and others."

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