Rewriting Russian History: A Disgraceful Scandal

Earlier this week we posted an exclusive translation of an article from Nezavisimaya Gazeta on the Kremlin’s controversial history textbook – the following is the second article in the series from journalist Oleg Kashin. (there is also good coverage from WaPo today).


“I would very much not want my name to be associated with this disgrace” Work on the new history textbook has decisively turned into a squabble By Oleg Kashin, Nezavisimaya Gazeta The scandal around the new school textbook of the recent history of Russia (see «NG-politika» of 3 July) continues. As became known to «NG», professor of the Russian State Service Academy Oksana Gaman-Golutvina, who, as was assumed, was supposed to head the new collective of authors of the textbook, refused to take part in further work on the book. Just as a reminder, during the time of the All-Russian Conference of Social Sciences Instructors, A Book for the Teacher (A Contemporary History of Russia 1945-2006) was presented to its participants. It had been written by a group of political scientists close to the Kremlin, and a school history textbook was supposed to be created on its basis. Written to order for the administration of the president, the book was issued by the «Prosveshchenie» [Enlightenment] publishing house, and, according to one of the authors, Foundation for Effective Politics scholar Pavel Danilin, was supposed to “set certain guideposts for the instruction of history” and become “a first try at calling for an historic civil peace in our country against the background of that chaos that is taking place in the interpretation of historical events”.. However, judging by the reaction of the conference participants, instead of putting an end to the “chaos in the interpretation of historical events”, the book became a new wave of it. The most controversy was caused by the last chapter of the book – “Sovereign Democracy”, dedicated to the period of the rule of Vladimir Putin, consisting of the sections “The course of president V.V. Putin towards the consolidation of society”, “Domestic policy at the beginning of the 21st century – the restoration of the state”, “The course towards sovereign democracy”, “The restoration of Russia’s position in foreign policy”. The content of these sections boils down to the fundamental theses of modern-day Russian official propaganda. For example, A Book for the Teacher writes about the «YUKOS affair» that its sense “was in that a strengthened state sent big business a clear message: obey the law, pay taxes and do not try to place yourself higher than the state. The message was heard.” On the elections in the Ukraine: “Yanukovich was the only candidate capable of truly standing up to Yushchenko. Therefore Russia’s choice was obvious.” On elections by party lists: “Political science and political practice categorically assert: elections by party lists allow the nuances in the political preferences of voters to be reflected more precisely than by majority districts”. Among the participants in the discussion of the book at the instructors’ conference were assistants of the president Vladislav Surkov and Djakhan Pollyieva, as well as minister of education Andrey Fursenko. Summing of the discussions, Djakhan Pollyieva admitted that the textbook turned out uneven, because it had been “written by authors of various levels” and that this level must be “levelled out”. In the words of the deputy director of the Institute of Eastern Europe, Vasily Zharkov, who participated in the conference, it was specifically after this discussion, as the result of which A Book for the Teacher was not supported by the teachers and instructors, that authors Alexander Filippov, Pavel Danilin, and others were not invited to a meeting of historians with the president in Novo-Ogarevo. Vasily Zharkov reported likewise about how Alexander Filippov had been taken off the work on the textbook, while the leadership of the authors’ collective was offered to professor of the Russian State Service Academy Oksana Gaman-Golutvina. However, yesterday Oksana Gaman-Golutvina, having confirmed that she had “officially been offered the leadership of the authors’ collective”, declared about her refusal to participate in this work. “I categorically refuse to be the head of the authors’ collective of this textbook”, declared Gaan-Golutvina in an interview with «NG». “The acknowledgement directed at me that stands on the cover page has to do with the fact that I had consulted the authors of the book on questions of relations within the leadership of the USSR of the times of Stalin, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev”, says the historian. “Furthermore, what was ultimately written on this topic in the book appeared without me having a chance to approve it, and doesn’t at all look like what I had written. Therefore I ask that you not even consider me a co-author of this textbook. I don’t even know messrs. Filippov and Danilin. I once saw Filippov, already after the book came out, before the conference, and right there I voiced my negative attitude towards the contents of the book. I would very much not want my name to be associated with this disgrace.” In his turn, Pavel Danilin, commenting on this declaration, told «NG» that “Gaman-Golutvina actively participated in the work on the book and even went to the president specifically as a co-author of the book.” An «NG» interlocutor in the administration of the president, who had participated in the organization of the work on the book, expressed regret with respect to the fact that the discussion about the textbook had come out into the public space and had acquired the character of an open squabble. “This took place due to the low communicative abilities of Filippov and the juvenile maximalism of Danilin, who, having felt his closeness to something great, started up an idiotic din on the internet”, considers the official. In the administration, they are inclined to write off the causes of the conflict as the economic interests of the parties. “It is necessary to understand that the authors wrote this book at their own risk and peril for paltry remuneration, while titled historians, whom we also approached, immediately demanded that we name precise sums and print runs, which nobody knows, because nobody knows whether the book will receive the approval of the ministry”, says the employee of the administration of the president, adding “Any talk about allocations of state budgets is complete delirium; not one kopeck was spent on the book from the budget.” Indeed, according to the information of «NG», all expenses for the publication were taken up by the «State club» foundation, which funds a series of youth projects, including the «Nashi» movement. The director-general of the «Prosveshchenie» publishing house, Alexander Kondakov, who will now have to quickly put together a new authors’ collective (it was initially assumed that the new history textbook for the 11th grade would come out by 1 September of this year), refused to comment. “The discussion about the history textbook has turned into an inter-personal confrontation”, asserts Kondakov.