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."
The manuals, which run to several hundred pages each, will serve as guides for the drafting of new textbooks to be introduced in September 2008.
"We are developing a national ideology that represents the vision of ourselves as a nation, as Russians, a vision of our own identity and the world around us," said Leonid Polyakov, a professor of political science at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow and editor of the social studies manual.
Polyakov was speaking at a meeting Putin held with high school teachers and academics after the teachers' conference last month.
"Teachers will then be able to incorporate this national ideology, this vision, into their practical work in a normal way and use it to develop a civic and patriotic position," Polyakov said, according to a Kremlin transcript.
Russian officials said the guides would not be mandatory for teachers and insisted that they did not represent an attempt to impose a single version of history.
"We must see the dark moments of history and its problems," Surkov said at the conference. "But I presume that it would also be wrong to go as far as to completely deny the successes and achievements of our great country. . . . Without answering the questions of who we are, how we should live and what we are living for, effective political work and an effective economic system are impossible."
Some educators said that any material that comes with a Kremlin stamp of approval is likely to sideline other curricular material.
"The scariest thing, and the fact that makes me really sad, is that these manuals and any new textbooks will be seen not as a recommendation or a choice for teachers, but as an order," said Galina Klokova, who specializes in the teaching of history at the Russian Academy of Education.
The author of the "Sovereign Democracy" chapter in the history guide said as much when he responded on his blog to criticism from teachers that parts of the book were little more than crude Kremlin propaganda.
"You will teach children in line with the books you are given and in the way Russia needs," wrote Pavel Danilin, a 30-year-old editor at the Effective Policy Foundation, a consulting firm that works for the Kremlin and is headed by Kremlin loyalist Gleb Pavlovsky. "To let some Russophobe [expletive], or just an amoral type, teach Russian history is impossible. It is necessary to clear the filth and if it doesn't work then clear it by force."
The teaching of history has always been a charged subject in post-Soviet Russia, especially when it touches on the rule of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, whose purges led to the deaths of millions and the notorious gulag system of labor camps.
A textbook that took an unflinching look at Stalin's policies, including his nonaggression pact with Nazi Germany in 1939 and the mass deportation of Chechens and other Caucasians during World War II, was pulled by education officials in 2003.
That book also suggested that students discuss whether Putin could be considered "authoritarian," a term his domestic and Western critics often use to describe him.
According to the new history manual, Stalin was brutal but also "the most successful leader of the U.S.S.R."
"As for the methods of coercion used toward the ruling bureaucratic elite, the goal was to mobilize the leadership in order to make it effective in the process of industrialization, as well as in rebuilding the economy in the postwar period," the manual states, while providing few details on the scale and horror of Stalin's totalitarianism. "This task was fulfilled by means of, among other things, political repression, which was used to mobilize not only rank-and-file citizens but also the ruling elite."
To historian Nikita Sokolov, the manual is so equivocal on Stalin's terror that "his crimes are being taken into the shadows."
"A very dangerous thing is happening," said Sokolov, co-author of the book "Choosing Your Own History."
"They want to take us back to unified thinking. The president and the presidential administration believe we lack the national self-confidence to confront and debate the past."
But Vladislav Golovano, a middle school teacher in the Siberian republic of Yakutia, disagreed, saying, "Our history should not be cause for self-flagellation," according to the Kremlin transcript of Putin's post-conference meeting with teachers and academics.
Putin told the group that "we must not allow others to impose a feeling of guilt on us," according to the transcript. "We do have bleak periods in our history, just look at the events starting in 1937," he said, referring to the beginning of the Stalinist atrocities known as the Great Terror. "And we should not forget those moments of our past."
The president went on to say that "in any event, we have never used nuclear weapons against civilians, and we have never dumped chemicals on thousands of kilometers of land or dropped more bombs on a tiny country than were dropped during the entire Second World War, as was the case in Vietnam. We have not had such bleak pages as was the case of Nazism, for example."