The Politics of History

As Grigory Pasko has written on this blog, in Russia only the past is unpredictable.  Here Karina Korostelina from the Kennan Institute reviews a book about the role of history education in Russia and Ukraine.

Korostelina analyzed the three generations of Russian history textbooks published since 1991. She said that the first generation possessed a humanistic approach, encouraged critical thinking, and aimed to help in the formation of responsible citizens. The next generation of textbooks, in existence from1993-2006, promulgated the notion of the “nation” as the pivotal idea. These textbooks presented Russia as a unique nation, all of whose actions, including wars of expansion, serfdom, etc., were justifiable by political expediency. The books also depicted the Soviet period negatively and gave World War II an unfavorable assessment. Finally, the third and current generation of textbooks, including Alexander Filipov’s recent book, is based on the idea of Leonid Poliakov, a dean of history at the Moscow State Pedagogical University, that textbooks should present “a positive unity with past.” According to Poliakov, remarked Korostelina, 90 percent of students are not meant to be tasked with thinking critically about history, but need only to be presented with one, simple, positive narrative. In this approach, for instance, the USSR is positively assessed and October Revolution is compared to the French Revolution. According to Korostelina, this third generation of textbooks promotes an authoritarian regime, the primacy of the state over the individual, and strong central power, while reducing the agency of citizens.