Russian textbooks attempt to rewrite history

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A new Russian history book for schools, approved by the Putin Government, glosses over Stalin’s Terror and other truths.

Now you see him, now you don’t. Stalin was a past master at the art of airbrushing. In one classic set of photographs, there Stalin is with his secret police chief, Nikolai Yezhov — and in the next photo, there Yezhov isn’t (he was executed in 1940, with his boss’s approval). And now, in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, the airbrushing of history seems to be all the rage again.

If you look hard enough — and we travelled for 5,000 miles around the former Soviet Union — you can find old Soviet airbrushing in concrete. Not far from the railway station in Volgograd, formerly Stalingrad, are three giant faces on the frieze of a building: Marx, Engels, and Lenin. Next to them is a strange shadow, a memory of a fourth face no longer there. Stalin’s visage was chiselled off, sometime after Nikita Khrushchev’s “secret speech” of 1956, in which he denounced Stalin to a closed session of the party congress.

But that is in the sticks, where folk are behind the times. In Kursk underground station in Moscow, a frieze saluting Stalin was removed after the “secret speech”. This summer, after an absence of half a century, it mysteriously reappeared. Stalin is back, his name high above the heads of Muscovites heading down into the underground, with a line from the old Stalinist Soviet anthem: “Stalin brought us up and inspired us to carry out heroic deeds.” Russia seems to be not de-Stalinising but re-Stalinising.

In Russian schools, something even more troubling appears to be happening. They call it “positive history” and the man behind it is Putin. In 2007, the former secret police chief told a conference of Russian educationists that the country needed a more patriotic history. Putin condemned teachers for having “porridge in their heads”, attacked some history textbook authors for taking foreign money — “naturally they are dancing the polka ordered by those who pay them” — and announced that new history textbooks were on their way. Within weeks, a new law was passed giving the state powers to approve and to disallow history textbooks for schools. What does Igor Dolutsky, the author of a history textbook that has been dropped by the Kremlin, make of “positive history”? “It’s an appalling idea which hinders proper teaching in schools. School history should not create patriots, it should teach children to think. Putin’s task is to rule a state edging towards totalitarianism.”

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