The History of Russia: Putin’s Version, by Krystyna Nyemchynova

In November 2013, President Putin authorized a working group under the supervision of academician Alexander Chubaryan, Director of the Institute of World History, to unveil a new concept of history teaching in Russian schools, according to which the assessment of historical facts has to become objective and unified.

According to Putin, most of the textbooks in history contained lots of so-called “ideological garbage”, and misrepresented certain historical events. Thus, the achievements of the Soviet army in the struggle against fascism during WWII were, in Putin’s opinion, understated. The President also claims that the common approach to history teaching does not mean a state-owned, semi-official, and ideological like-mindedness. On the contrary, under the unified concept he understands the unified logic of teaching, and breeding patriotism in younger generations.

One of the main ideas of the concept should be the refusal of further approaching the history of Russia as a political process – the way it used to be in the USSR. The working group emphasizes that the history of religions should also be taught systematically, and fundamentals of Orthodoxy have to become the core of the new concept.

The unified textbook is supposed to be released in July, 2014, whilst the Unified State Exam, which will be held in May, should already be based on the new teaching approach. Students in Russian schools will be supposed to study history according to the new standards in order to pass the Exam, using the yet non-existing textbook.

All other textbooks in history will be examined for compliance with the federal list of permitted textbooks.

The unified concept is, undoubtedly, contradictory.

Firstly, a teacher will be denied the possibility of using his or her own standards of teaching and, thus, academic freedom. Secondly, the introduction of a single textbook for every school can lead to a split in society because of the one-sided assessment of important historical events, which might not be warmly welcomed by people with different political views. Indeed, the availability of several proper textbooks is of a great necessity, while a single one might return historical education back in the Soviet days.

The authors of the concept should also think about synchronizing the course of Russian history with the standards by which it is taught in Russian universities.

Basically, what the authors did was narrowing and unifying such provocative and ambiguous issues as the formation of the ancient Rus’ state, collapse of Russian monarchy, the rise to power of the “Bolsheviki”, causes of Stalin’s repressions, etc.  

One should take into consideration that the concept of teaching Mathematics has already been introduced in Russia before. The problem of reforming Literature study was also raised last year. They all failed. No educational issue, be it teaching methods or studying approaches, in terms of one subject can be solved without a general reform of the school system. It is an unreachable goal. Moreover, this goal is false.

The new textbook will omit opposition in the history of modern Russia, the protests of 2011 and 2012, in particular. Putin’s main critics, such as M. Khodorkovsky and B. Berezovsky, are not included in the new curriculum, either.

The working group, however, did not forget to mention Stalin’s provocative figure, still admired by the elder generation, and his efforts in making the USSR an industrialized state. It does not, however, explain why the USSR collapsed so quickly in 1991. The textbook will also describe how Putin stabilized the country after the 90s, and his establishment of the “vertical of power”, nonetheless, it omits the terrorist attack in Beslan of 2004, the sinking of the submarine Kursk in 2000, the monopolization of the economy, and mass corruption in modern Russia.

The history, indeed, repeats itself. In the 1930s Stalin personally edited history books, giving his own interpretation and terminology, because if there are way too many versions of history, why not offer your own? The question is, whether this approach is applicable in modern transnational times, and whether the new concept of teaching will end up being the unifying one, considering the harsh reactions it had caused. Again, history will be the answer.


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