New Russian History textbook in the works

The new Russian history textbooks are expected to reflect the emerging trend toward promoting conservative values, which has been taking hold since the beginning of Vladimir Putin's third term in power. Source: Source: PhotoXPress

The new Russian history textbooks are expected to reflect the emerging trend toward promoting conservative values, which has been taking hold since the beginning of Vladimir Putin's third term in power. Source: Source: PhotoXPress

Government calls on scholars to prepare a new comprehensive textbook. Experts feel the book will aim to uphold conservative values in society.

It is possible that, in just one year's time, Russian secondary school students will be learning their country's history from a single textbook, Russia's Education and Science Minister Dmitri Livanov said.

This follows President Vladimir Putin’s call for the need to develop single textbooks in Russian history for secondary schools. 

According to the Russian president, the new textbook must “be based on a single concept, drawing on the same logic of continuous Russian history, on interconnection between all its stages, and respect for all its milestones.” The textbook must also be free of any “internal contradictions” and should not allow “different interpretations.”

So why is a single concept of a school history textbook even necessary? Supporters of the move point to the current 82 history textbooks recommended for schools by the Education Ministry, even though some of them cite unverified facts and controversial concepts regarding the history of Russia. This argument is championed by, among others, Director of the Institute of Universal History of the Russian Academy of Sciences Aleksandr Chubaryan. He has expounded on his so-far failed attempts to get authors of existing textbooks to reconcile their differences in the way they treat the origins of the Russian state (in this respect, historians have been debating the extent of the Scandinavian influence on the establishment of Russia's national identity continuously ever since the 18th century), the Great Patriotic War (with the key controversies here being the characterisation of Soviet foreign policy following the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Non-Aggression Pact, as well as the beginning of the Great Patriotic War, sometimes aggravated by purely statistical differences in, for instance, the overall death toll) and, finally, the post-Soviet phase (where assessments may be grounded in mass media reports and op-ed articles with varying degrees of bias).In other words, authors of the numerous school textbooks in Russian history have struggled to agree on how this history even started, where it has arrived, and what the last great war meant for the country.

Some moves Putin made during his first two presidential terms, reinstatement of the Soviet anthem with different lyrics among them, clearly sent the message that the President was willing to make the Soviet period a respectful part of Russian history.

Meanwhile, the desire to take the edge off some turning points in the recent past is also obvious: take, for one, the public holiday celebrating the anniversary of the October Revolution. The holiday, albeit under a different name – the Day of National Unity and Reconciliation – was still there on the calendar up until 2005, when a different historical date in early November was offered: liberation of the Kremlin by a popular uprising from Polish-Lithuanian invaders in 1612. “The idea of a single history textbook stems from a desire to bring the society together around a certain symbolic centre”, says Aleksei Titkov , Associate Professor at the Department of Political Theory and Political Analysis of the Higher School of Economics. “A centre that would justify the existing state of affairs,” he adds.

According to Titkov, there was no urgency in such projects during Vladimir Putin's first and, to a certain degree, second stints in power. “After the crisis of the 1990s, most of the population thought they were fortunate to have Putin anyway. By now, they have grown accustomed to him, so other methods are needed to persuade them that the existing state of affairs is the best possible option,” Titkov says. “The main ideological message is also quite discernible: unconditional respect for any regime that ruled Russia during various periods of its history, mingled with respect for the traditional family and religion.” 

Elena Galkina, Professor at the Faculty of History at Moscow State Pedagogical University points out that this is far from the first attempt by the Russian authorities to commission a history textbook satisfactory for their purposes. In 2007, such a textbook was actually written, effectively to the order of the then deputy head of the Presidential Executive Office Vladislav Surkov, who was responsible, among other things, for ideology. “The textbook provoked an outburst among professional historians but eventually failed to make its way into schools, mostly because it was not written properly,” Galkina said.

She expects the new textbooks to reflect the incipient trend towards promoting conservative values, which has been taking hold since the beginning of Vladimir Putin's third stay in power.

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