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In the new school books of some former socialist countries and CIS states Russia appears in a most unattractive light

The beginning of the new school year is not far off. This year in a lot of CIS countries it could bring some surprises for the children as well as for the parents. There will be cardinal changes in history teaching and, the most important thing, a new evaluation of the role of Russia. The young inhabitants of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldavia will be taught that their neighbor land for many years brought them only harm and still now is close to being the enemy ¹ 1. This educational conception has already been run in the Baltic States for a long time. Also in Russia school books are being rewritten, the officialdom is obviously not pleased by the pluralism in the evaluation of historic events that are going on in the country.

History is written by the vanquishers. This conventional wisdom is supported by the events in Ukraine. Beginning with this school year, Ukrainian children will study a totally different version of history, in which Russia does not have the most decent role, “Novye Izvestiya” correspondent Yana Sergeevna tells. “The integration of the Crimea peninsula in the Ukraine was an attempt to shift the weight of the moral responsibility of the deportation of the Tartar population to Ukraine and force it to assume the obligation of reestablishing business and cultural life on the peninsula” – this is a quotation from a 5th class’ history school book recommended by the Ukrainian Ministry of Education. “The school book is not at all solely valued”, a history teacher of a Kiev school told “Novye Izvestiya”. “In my classes I will place the emphasis in this topic a little bit differently. I will point out the role of Khrushchev as a collector of Ukrainian property. He did not want to enclose Kholmshchina with Ukraine for nothing.”

In the same school book it says that that famine of 1932-1933 was organized by Moscow to suppress the Ukrainians’ will to be independent”. There is not a single word about the fact that terrible famines at that time likewise dominated the Volga region and the Caucasus. Ukrainian historians agree with this evaluation. They even suggest that the famines in the Volga region and in the Caucasus pursued the same aim. However, the sensational affirmation of the textbook authors that the Ukrainian rebel army under Stepan Bander until 1943 “had freed the majority of Ukrainian cities from the Germans” leads to apparent confusion.

The most interesting part is the one about the orange revolution. The officials from the Ministry for Education and Science think that “finally our history will be perceived as something personal”. At the same time they affirm that “in these books there is nothing political”. Yet political scientists do not agree on that. As an example they picked out the following sentence: “His (Yushenko’s) victory is a victory for the whole Ukrainian people who want to live a rich and happy life.” Such a theory does not only take the present opposition by surprise, but also many Ukrainians that did not vote for Yushenko, but against the old authorities.

“This history includes everything: from the ancient world until today”, Elena Radzivill, deputy chief editor of the publishing company “Geneza”, which won the competition of the Ministry for Education, told “Novye Izvestiya”. “It also contains the whole elections collision, so it is impossible not to mention the names of many politicians. The names of the main candidates of the second ballot are pointed out, as well as Yuliya Timoshenko as head of the new government”. Asked about objectivity, Radzivill remarked that the author tried not to be biased, “but these events are very recent, and this impedes”.

“Stopping Georgia’s way to freedom”

In the school book “History of Georgia” (year 10 and 11) Russia is presented as an empire which shows a predatory attitude towards its neighbor, Irina Baradmize told the “Novye Izvestiya” correspondent. The evaluation of Russia’s actions in the various periods of Georgian history practically does not change. In one textbook from the year 2003 a simple conclusion is drawn: “Russia, like any other country with predatory efforts, did not need a united and strong Georgia”.

Further the textbook describes how in the course of the 18th and 19th centuries Russia subordinated several kingdoms and principalities in the territory of Georgia and set up an occupational regime. The authors write about the Russian colonial policy, as a result of which Georgia lost its nationality. Representatives of the imperial family, the Bargationi, were chased, the autonomy of the Georgian orthodox church was abolished, demographic and social expansions followed. Representatives of other nationalities were resettled on Georgian territory. “The heads of the Russian colonial policy were very aware of the fact that the other nationalities living in Georgia will always be Russia’s support”, the historians conclude.

The activities of Russia in the latest history are evaluated in a similar manner. A year 1 school book quotes the “Act of the National Independency of Georgia”, which was passed April 9th 1991. In this act it is said that “in February/March 1921 Soviet Russia roughly violated the Georgian-Russian peace contract of May 7th 1920 and by means of an armed aggression occupied the territory of the Georgian state, whereupon the factual annexation followed”. The act also says that “the whole period that Georgia was part of the USSR was marked by bloody terror and repressions… The hidden war against Georgia is still going on today. Its aim is to stop Georgia’s movement to freedom and democracy…”

There are no bad Romanians

Today in Moldavia children do not study their own history, but Romanian history. As correspondent Irina Mishina tells “Novye Izvestiya”, without strong reservations it is not possible for a normal person to read these school books. Some common postulates: Romania is the best of all existing countries in all periods of time. There is no better nation in the world then the Romanians. Russia, on the contrary, has been a monster in all epochs, a country of scoundrels and occupants. This is a rough outline, but one gets the idea. Everything is discussed in accordance with this, notwithstanding the historical truth. Since there is no such thing as a bad Romanian, Marshall Antonesku, for example, whom Hitler in person thanked for his radical solution of the Jewish question, was a great liberal and democrat.

In these textbooks the Second World War is presented in a similar manner. For example, the school book “The History of the Romanians. Newest history”, written by G. Palade and I. Sharov: “Moldavians from Transdnistriya (that is how they call Pridnestrove in Kishinev) had no other social problems than the oppression by the Russians.” Why did Romania ally with Hitler? The answer is easy: “Since Romania was situated between two empires and had lost the support of the Western countries, it became a possible object for an attack either by the USSR or by another neighbor country. There was a real danger to territorial unity.”

It is no wonder that children, at least in Russian schools, less and less often choose history as a course in which to write exams (they have such a right).

“Fighters for freedom” from the SS

Since the reestablishment of independency in Latvia there have been published some history school books. Of course, the mutual relations between Latvia and Russia could not be not reflected upon in those books, as our correspondent Konstantin Kasakov says. According to the program that has been approved by the Ministry for Education and Science, today Russia is only rated in the context of world history.

As the Latvian historian Oleg Pulyak told “Novye Izvestiya”, at the moment the history of Russia is only dealt with in fragments, there is not a whole picture of the country’s development. However, this is very strange and short-sighted, considering the tracks that Russians left in Latvia. “Of course, the pupils are informed about the most important events connected with Russia, like, for example, the Northern War, but we do this without unnecessary detail.” Regarding the history of the 20th century, Pulyak declared that when dealing with the pre Second World War period, the school books focus not on the Munich Agreement, but on the pact between Molotov and Ribbentroop.

In addition to school history books, in the Baltic republic, the book “The History of Latvia. 20th Century” was published. In spite of the fact that this book is meant for a “wide circle of readers” and that it is not obligatory for use in school classes, many teachers, especially in schools where subjects are taught in Latvian, hold their classes on the basis of this book. The publishing house immediately gained scandalous fame because of the ambiguity of the book’s contents. The period from 1940 to 1991 is called “occupation”, and SS officers are declared to be “fighters for freedom”.

“On June 17th 1940 more than 100,000 Red Army soldiers entered Estonia. People were looking silently at the marching troops. Many had tears in their eyes… now there were no doubts anymore: Estonia was occupied by foreign forces.” In such a dolorous way an Estonian history school book for elementary school describes the events of 1939/1940, as correspondent Il’ya Nikiforov tells “Novye Izvestiya”. Fifth grade students in Estonia are also obliged to know about the Molotov-Ribbentroop pact, the forced treaty about Soviet war bases, the ultimatum of June 16th 1940, the forced integration of Estonia in the USSR and, of course, about the fact that “immediately after the Soviet troops’ arrival the political terror in Estonia began”.

The 800-year history of the relations between Estonia and Russia, Estonians end Russians, is described as a constant sequence of wars and invasions, in which little Estonia always plays the role of the victim. After an enumeration of burned cities, killed farmers and ruined enterprises, in the conscience of the student appears a thousand-year-old conflict of civilizations and the conviction that the geo-political and cultural roots of this conflict have not vanished.

“Novye Izvestiya” correspondent Viktor Shan’kov tells us that it was already well-known in Soviet times that “Polish forces took Berlin”. Yet back then this was understood as a joke on the Polish set of mind, a joke “of the jolliest barrack in a socialist camp”. Sixteen years after the beginning of the social and political transformation in Poland, however, this kind of humor has gained a totally serious shape. The whole history of Poland, beginning with its fusion with the Great Lithuanian Principality and the confederated state speech in 1596, has been rewritten from the start.

It is interesting and strange how Polish historians started treating the war and post-war period after 1989. It turns out the turning point of the Second World War was achieved only thanks to Polish troops, moreover, on the Western front. The events on the eastern front did nothing more than assist it. The whole post-war period is presented as the hard, dark time of Soviet occupation. At the same time, the occupation under Hitler is also treated as a hard time, but a time not without hope which cannot be compared to the falsehood of the Soviet occupation. There is not a single word about the fact that if the Red Army had not freed Poland, according to Hitler’s plans about 85% of the Polish population would have been annihilated.

The maxim “Russia is the enemy” is hammered into the impressionable heads of Polish teenagers, and the perplexity of Polish political scientists at the results of a public opinion survey showing that more than 50% of Poles consider Russia to be an enemy is a mere simulation.

A historical meeting at the Ministry

At the same time in Russian schools the usual examination of school books has also begun. According to an unfortunate tradition, the command “Ready, Set, ...” was given midsummer. On a meeting with the docents and faculty heads of the history faculties of the classical universities, the Russian Minister for Education and Science, Andrei Fursenko, expressed his discontent about the fact that single periods and facts are not illuminated, but only the system as a whole. “At the moment, regarding history teaching in school we are moving in a circle. Since there is not anything new added at every step, the classes cause rejection among the pupils. They are being explained the same thing over and over again.”

So this is where everything led to. In academic circles already for some years there has been talk that history teaching in school is proceding quite wretchedly. First, there is a large surplus of school books, and as is well-known, quality can suffer from an excessive quantity. Secondly, already at the time of Minister Vladimir Fillipov, has begun a process of “cleansing” of school books that are doubtful from a patriotic point of view. The scandal in teacher circles led to the removal of the Ministry’s “Recommended”-stamp from the school book “Russian History of the 20th century” by Igor’ Dolutski, written for tenth and eleventh graders. For ten years this book was published with a print run of half a million copes. Suddenly someone in officialdom noticed that in the latest edition the publicist Yuri Burtin characterized the Russian state structure as an “authoritarian dictatorship”. There was also the statement of the “Yabloko” Party leader Grigori Yavlinski that “in 2001 Russia became a police state”. The author of the textbook suggested that students either refute or to verify these points of view on the basis of facts. Dolutski’s fearless references to Trotsky, who said that love for one’s own country should not be confused with love for the current Party Secretary, and to Chaadaev, who admitted to being unable to love his country with closed lips and eyes and saw it as his duty to articulate bitter truths, were futile. The attempts by venerable colleagues to defend the book were also futile. The Director of the Moscow school ¹ 109 and Distinguished Teacher of the Russian Federation, Evgeni Yamburg, evaluated the “rebellious” school book as follows: “It is written from a very personal point of view. When a book has no personal character, it is harder to read it to children. Moreover, this book was written by an author who expounds on the principles of democracy. This, as well as the fact that he is now banned is very serious.” The pedagogic innovator added that he fears for the worst – that only a single school book, released “from above”, will emerge: “It is possible to use textbooks that have no stamp, but for the majority of people in charge, the stamp means that they can shirk responsibility. This is not only about Dolutski’s book – really no author who respects himself would write a school book under the circumstances we have today.”

“The Dolutski case” caused such a storm in the sphere of teachers and scientists that Vladimir Putin was forced to express his opinion: “In another time historians emphasized negative aspects because the task was to destroy the old system. Today we have another, a constructive task. We have to take away all the hull and foam that has been accumulated in these years. School books should present historical facts, they should teach the youth to be proud of their history and their country.”

“Shut up!”

Can a direct link between the “retributive action” of the former Minister Fillipov and the statement of the “Head of the Schools” Fursenko be found? There is not any need to really look for it, according to the president of the Association of Democratic Schools in Russia and executive director of the scientific-pedagogical union “School of Self-Determination”, Aleksandr Tubel’ski. “In short, there is a battle going on about the schools. In the mid-nineties there were many different school books, for every taste, but no one in our wise ministry said: “First, there should not be more than three textbooks on one subject, and second, all of them should be examined by the Academy of Science.” It looks like the Academy won’t stop at this. Maybe they will pass us some objective textbook, from their point of view, but there is no such thing as objective history, especially not regarding newest history. History is always influenced by politics. The point is that members of the Academy have no idea about school teaching, and this changes everything. That is their biggest mistake. You have to teach a child to have an open mind in relation to the past, and not only to fill his or her head with facts and dates… There was a very interesting situation at a conference in New York. Children from different countries were asked to write on an empty sheet of paper words which their teachers tell them when they are not satisfied with something. In Chinese, Japanese, Polish and Russian the words “Shut up!” were written down. This is exactly the attitude we have to change: “Shut up, nobody’s asking you. Speak only to answer us with what we want to hear.” Yet here the attempts to shut the children up are even more are obvious, while there is no trace of the desire to awake in them the will to think independently.”

Where could be a more suitable place to think freely than in a history class? Every attempt to teach this takes years, and every attempt to prohibit independent thinking throws the country decades back. The situation is very alarming: the benefits of the education in the 90ies have given little sprouts, so far. Vlad, a boy who this year graduated from one of the best schools in Nizhni Novgorod and was accepted at a prestigious Moscow university, told “Novye Izvestiya,” “In school the history teaching was objective, without any personal evaluations. It was like, ‘That is was happened, and if it was good or bad is none of your business.’ But then in the courses preparing us for university one graduate student that trained us in history simply shocked us. He said that the 75 years of Soviet power were enslavement. We were all stunned. About the Yeltsin era, he said that it was a bloody regime. Furthermore, he told us that we don’t live in a democratic, but in a liberal country. This is because democracy means that freedom is proclaimed and guaranteed, whereas in a liberal country they only proclaim it. When I told my dad and granddad about this, they told me to forget all of this. They said if I say this during the course of my exams, I’ll definitely fail…”


Source: Novye Izvestiya

© 1993-2003

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