May 26, 2024

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Russia’s new history textbooks teach the alternate reality of Putin

RIGA, Latvia — When classes begin next month, Russian high school students will get to rewrite their new history textbooks to relay Kremlin-approved narratives about the “military special operation” in Ukraine and rivalry with the West — as part of a broader government effort to shape how younger generations think. Of the Russians in the war and Russia’s place in the world.

The new manuscript—which is intended for 17-year-old graduate students and covers the time period from 1945 to the present—blames the United States for the ongoing war in Ukraine and includes a quote from President Vladimir Putin wrongly asserting that: “Russia has not initiated any military actions.” But she’s trying to finish it off.”

It includes narrative sections ranging from “Confrontation with the West” to “Ukraine is a Neo-Nazi State” to “Russia is a Country of Heroes,” according to a survey of the new book published by Russian state media.

The book, along with an edition for 16-year-olds in grade 10 covering World War II, was officially presented Monday by Education Minister Sergei Kravtsov and will be made available to schools by September 1. It has been adjusted for the 2024-25 school year, Kravtsov said.

History lessons everywhere are rarely excluded from national ideology, and other countries are often viewed through the prism of the country that prints the books. But the radical shift in Russia’s portrayal of Ukraine and the rest of the world illustrates Putin’s fierce determination to put aside the dark pages of Russia’s past, and write himself into history as the victor.

It is also part of the extraordinary gassing campaign in which Putin has tried to convince his people – and the world – that Russia is a victim in Ukraine rather than an aggressor, and that the West is at fault in a war Putin has chosen. It was unleashed and had already killed tens of thousands.

“Here again history is used by the authorities to push a certain agenda, to solve some political problems,” a history teacher at the school told The Washington Post on condition of anonymity because critics of the Russian government often face reprisals. “We must understand that this is broader than schools – universities will be next, so they will clamp down on historical education, and their decline will not bring anything good.”

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“History is part of the human development of society and it can be used in different ways,” Al-Moallem added. “Imagine you have a hammer — you can use it to drive nails, or you can use it to smash someone’s head, like with history.”

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A chapter devoted to the war in Ukraine, which the Kremlin and the new book call “Military Special Operation,” reads like a propaganda brief, intertwined heavily with direct quotes from several revisionist speeches Putin has made over the past two years — fervently anti-Western and laden with conspiracy theories.

In this chapter, the authors seek to justify the war, by citing Putin as saying that Russia never started a military conflict. The book defines Russia’s war goals as “protecting the Donbass region and providing Russian preventive security.”

The chapter blames the US for the conflict by repeating another talking point popular in the Kremlin: the US is “determined to fight this war to the last Ukrainian war” by providing military assistance.

“As Americans say: nothing personal,” the book concludes. “It’s just business.”

The chapter goes on to praise the war as the glue that “united Russian society,” and plays on the trauma of the millions of Soviet dead during World War II, which Putin also exploited to justify his harsh domestic policies.

The book says about Russian soldiers in Ukraine: “They, like their ancestors, fight side by side for good and truth.” The book says: “They blow themselves up with the enemy, they pull out wounded comrades from under the fire, they fight in burning tanks, they lead their units to the last breath.” “The courage and courage to give up your life for the Motherland is something inherent in a Soviet Russian soldier.”

In a section titled “Faking History,” the book says that the United States and the European Union “went so far as to ‘reboot our brains’ by writing history textbooks whose goal was to convince Russians of their country’s ‘eternal aggressiveness and colonial nature.'”

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The text also urges children not to trust independent journalists and “Western social networks and media” – an apparent attempt to undermine allegations of war crimes committed by Russian forces in Ukraine.

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“Whenever you learn any information about Ukraine online, remember that the global industry for producing fake skits and photos works non-stop,” the book reads. “Be vigilant and think why some” opposition activists “, “bloggers “, “opinion leaders “work on some news? In whose interest is this being done? Think – and you will not fall victim to cheap manipulations.

The book also covers current events—to the chagrin of independent historians who say it is impossible to objectively describe recent events such as the withdrawal of foreign companies from Russia in response to the invasion, which the authors paint as an opportunity for Russian companies. which students must seize.

“This isn’t history,” said the history teacher, “political science deals with things like that.” “History is useful for understanding the origins of what is happening now, but it does not describe the now, and there is certainly no clarity about how any of this will end, and so it has nothing to do with history.”

After each class, students are asked leading questions: Why did the absolute majority of Russian citizens support the special operation? Why did Russia have to start the process?

The chapters covering the 1970s through the 2000s have also been completely rewritten, with the new version teasing former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who died last year, and his rapprochement with the West.

The books were edited by Vladimir Medinsky, an ultra-conservative nationalist who served as Minister of Culture and as a negotiator in short-lived talks with Ukraine during the early days of the Russian invasion.

Medinsky’s work was criticized by historians, but he found a receptive audience in Putin, who took a keen interest in historical revision and appointed Medinsky to head the Commission on History Education.

Russian officials praised the new textbook, describing it as a tool for protecting Russian traditions.

Describing the book, Vladislav Kononov, a historian and official in the presidential administration responsible for policy issues related to history and the humanities, said when describing the book: “Our understanding of our history should give us the right to interpret our history ourselves, without any prompting from the outside.” At this year’s forum, local media reported.

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Once finalized, the new texts will be the culmination of Russian bureaucrats working to address Putin’s criticisms of outdated textbooks that were first voiced a decade ago.

In 2013, Putin realized that textbooks were full of “internal contradictions and ambiguous interpretations” and proposed creating a single approved text, similar to the Soviet curriculum, and eliminating the academic pluralism that emerged in the 1990s.

“It is necessary to show, using concrete examples, how the fate of Russia was created through the unity of different peoples, traditions and cultures,” Putin said then, adding that textbooks should be based on “respect for all the pages of our past.”

The following year, after the illegal annexation of Crimea, Russian history textbooks—particularly the chapters on Ukraine—received their first major ideological update. The process accelerates after the invasion of 2022.

The slow counterattack darkens the mood in Ukraine

The Washington Post has reviewed Russian history books from the past decade to track how the portrayal of Ukraine and its relationship with Russia has changed.

Over the years, the sections on the history of Ukraine have dwindled, along with references to common roots and Kievan Rus, a medieval Slavic state that included parts of modern-day Ukraine and Russia. This term has largely disappeared and has been replaced by terms such as “Old Russian state” or “Feudal Russia”.

By contrast, Malorossiya or “Little Russia”, an archaic term used to describe regions of modern Ukraine that many Ukrainians consider derogatory, has gained prominence. In earlier texts, Ukraine was “reunited” with Russia, and now it is described as becoming “part of” Russia.

“Most likely, this trend will continue and more propaganda versions of history will be written and published,” said the teacher. “And wild things will continue in him, but of course a lot will depend on how everything that happens now ends up.”