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Putin seeks to rewrite Russian history in favor of his war in Ukraine

They praise the then Soviet Union, even under Joseph Stalin – whose image as a brutal dictator was rehabilitated under Putin – and portray its collapse as a great tragedy, just as Putin does. The Russian leader is portrayed as the man who saved the country from ruin and must now defend it against the same enemies who threatened the USSR, she added.

“And so the children are led” to “the propaganda that hits you in the face,” said Eidelman, who left Russia after the invasion and now lives in Portugal.

The chapter on the war in Ukraine repeats the Kremlin’s rhetoric that it had to attack its neighbor to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO and risking a wider conflict.

“That might be the end of civilization,” the manual says. “It couldn’t be allowed.”

He accuses the West of instigating the war and trying to destroy Russia economically, while reiterating the existence of Ukrainian neo-Nazism. The chapter also features profiles of Russian soldiers who fought or died in battle, but does not mention how many died.

Students are advised against consuming online information about what is happening in Ukraine to avoid being “manipulated” by what they call a “global industry” of counterfeits.

“It has nothing to do with history. This is hard-core, Soviet-era propaganda,” said a former history teacher, who did not want his name published for fear of repercussions for his family back in Russia.

He said he was “shocked” after reading the manual, the tone of which often matches that of Putin’s speeches.

“This is not just an attempt by the Kremlin to influence young minds, but pure indoctrination of the younger generation,” said the teacher, who left Russia at the end of the year. last year and now teaches in another country. “It’s their way of forming a society loyal to Putin.”

Trace a line

The authors, including Putin’s aide and former culture minister Vladimir Medinsky, readily admit that the manual reflects the Kremlin’s view of history.

“The handbook presents the view of the scientific community through the prism of the state’s position on current events,” Medinsky said at a news conference introducing the new handbook in Moscow last month.

The aim of the textbook was “to teach students to think,” Education Minister Sergei Kravtsov said. also said at the event.

Putin’s portrait adorns the new Russian textbook which mentions the country’s ongoing military action in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea in 2014.Yuri Kadobnov/AFP via Getty Images

But Eidelman said that fails badly because he only gives one point of view.

In previous years, there were several textbooks a teacher could choose from, said Nikita, a history teacher from St Petersburg, who only wanted to be identified by his first name for fear of losing his job and out of concern for his job. family safety. Some of them even contained opposing views from historians, exposing students to a plurality of opinions, he said. The new textbook contains only one such section: the one on Stalin’s legacy.

He doesn’t ask questions, Nikita said, but “answers them immediately without allowing everyone to argue.”

Putin has used his interpretation of Russia’s imperial past as a pretext to invade Ukraine – a topic Pope Francis sparked anger over last week. A modified schedule was therefore a natural next goal, Nikita said.

“I would have been surprised if this kind of manual had not been created,” he added.

Ukraine denounced the use of the new textbooks in the occupied regions, accusing Russia of “using education as a weapon”. The new textbook represents “a new level of militarization of education and war propaganda among children”, added Ukrainian human rights ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets.

The war had a heavy impact on the education of Ukrainian children. UNICEF reported on Tuesday that “children across Ukraine are showing signs of ‘widespread learning loss.’

Denis Kotenko, a history teacher in the Siberian city of Barnaul, said in an interview that he considers the new textbook a “success” in many ways: using QR technology to link to documents from archives, with a significant focus on modern history and a balancing act between recognizing both the good and the bad during complicated periods of Russian history.

History textbooks from his youth felt like they were “forcing the Russian people to repent” and be “ashamed” of their Soviet past, said Kotenko, 35, who has been teaching history for 11 years. “There is none of that in the new manual. It is an exploit. It’s good. It does draw a line,” he added.

He admitted that some sections seem politicized and that the manual is sometimes “carried away” in its language, but he said this was “unavoidable” in the current geopolitical climate.

Of course, Russia is far from the only country to let politics influence the way history is taught in the classroom.

The teachers told NBC News that many other countries approach history education from a nationalist or imperialist perspective and that absolute neutrality is impossible because people, not robots, write the textbooks. ‘history.

No country looks at history objectively, but it’s different because “what they do is they say: it’s either that or prison”.» said Nina Khrushcheva, a professor of international affairs at the New School in New York and great-granddaughter of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, whose time at the helm is also described in the playbook.

“That makes it a Stalinist version of history,” she said.

Eidelman expressed concern that her colleagues are staying in Russia because they might share her moral opposition to the new manual, leaving them “in the most difficult of circumstances.”

Putin seeks to rewrite Russian history in favor of his war in Ukraine

The history professor who left Russia last year and wished to remain anonymous also said he feared many would have to swallow their professional pride unless they were willing to risk be dismissed or prosecuted.

“There are fewer and fewer teachers willing to oppose the system,” he said. “Many have left the country and those who remain are really scared. »

OVD-Info, a Russian organization that tracks political and war-related persecution, has documented cases of Russian teachers being fined, fired, or even criminally charged for expressing opinions in their classes that did not coincide with the Kremlin’s speech on Ukraine. Some have been reported to the authorities by their own students.

Yet teachers said a textbook is just a study guide and a good teacher can shape what happens in the classroom. Some have referred to an old Russian saying for teachers: “Write a lesson plan and the rest is up to you.”

Those still in Russia said they plan to use the manual as a guide while encouraging discussion in their classrooms.

“Teachers who understand what this is about will abandon politics,” the leaked teacher said, “and just teach historical facts instead of propaganda.”


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