Monday, July 30, 2007

Textbooks Rewrite History To Fit Putin’s Vision

MOSCOW, Russia -- As Russia flexes its foreign policy muscles against the West and President Putin enjoys record approval ratings, the Kremlin is turning its attention to schools to instil a new sense of nationalism in children.

Russia's ex KGB President Putin

Two new manuals for teachers have been accused of glossing over the horrors of the Soviet Union and of including propaganda to promote Mr Putin’s vision of a strong state.

One, for social studies teachers, presents as fact Mr Putin’s view that the Soviet collapse was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century”.

It describes the United States as bent on creating a global empire and determined to isolate Russia from its neighbours.

Many of those behind the second book, a history of Russia from 1945 to 2006, have close links to the Kremlin.

Its final chapter is titled Sovereign Democracy, a term coined by a key Kremlin aide, Vladislav Surkov, as an ideological justification for Mr Putin’s authoritarian rule.

The chapter quotes Mr Surkov repeatedly and praises Mr Putin as the man responsible for “practically every significant deed” in Russia since 2000, when he became President.

Mr Putin’s most controversial actions are shown in an approving light, including the destruction of the Yukos oil company and the imprisonment of its chairman, Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

The book describes this as an “unambiguous message” to business to “obey the law, pay your taxes and don’t try to put yourselves above the Government”, adding: “They got the message.”

Mr Putin’s support for Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine’s rigged presidential election of 2004 is also defended.

Mass protests in the Orange revolution eventually brought his pro-Western rival, Viktor Yushchenko, to power, but the manual states: “Yanukovych was the only candidate capable of truly resisting Yushchenko. So Russia’s choice was clear.”

The book describes Josef Stalin as “the most successful Soviet leader ever” and dismisses the prison labour camps and mass purges as a necessary part of his drive to make the country great.

The manuals are intended to serve as the basis for developing new textbooks in schools next year, though Education Ministry officials insisted that they would not be compulsory.

Mr Putin gave them his seal of approval at a conference he hosted for teachers at his presidential dacha last month.

He described Stalin’s Great Purge of 1937, in which 1.5 million people were imprisoned and 700,000 killed, as terrible “but in other countries even worse things happened”.

Discounting the Soviet Union’s long history of oppression, he said: “We had no other black pages, such as Nazism, for instance.”

Leonid Polyakov, editor of the social studies manual, told Mr Putin that Russia was “disarmed ideologically” after the Soviet collapse, leaving other countries to judge whether it was a democracy.

He said: “We are developing a national ideology that represents the vision of ourselves as a nation, as Russians, a vision of our own identity.

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.”

Pavel Danilin, who wrote the chapter on Sovereign Democracy, told The Times that it explained the “core transformation” of Russia under Mr Putin.

“We understand that the only guarantee for our democracy is our sovereignty, our strong state, our strong army, our strong economy and our strong nation,” he said. “It is not an ideology. It is just common sense. And my intention was to explain that common sense to teachers.”

Mr Danilin, 30, is a projects manager at the Effective Policy Foundation, a think-tank with close links to the Kremlin.

He was more blunt about his intentions on his web blog in response to criticism from teachers that much of the book was simply Kremlin propaganda.

“You will teach children in line with the books you are given and in the way Russia needs,” he wrote, adding that schools had to “clear the filth and if it doesn’t work, then clear it by force”.

Alexander Filippov, who edited the history manual, is deputy head of another research institute linked to the Kremlin.

He told The Times that the book was a response to the poor quality of existing textbooks and that “sovereign democracy is not proposed as the national ideology for schools”.

Source: Times Online

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