Putin's Textbooks; or, Why Russians Should Embrace Russophobia
By Bryan Caplan
Putin’s backing new textbooks for social studies and modern Russian history, and they sound awful. The Times says that the social studies book:
…presents as fact Mr Putin’s view that the Soviet collapse was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century”.
Frankly, even on Putin’s own terms, I can’t see why the Russian Revolution wasn’t a bigger catastrophe – and why the Soviet collapse wasn’t a necessary precursor for Putin’s “Sovereign Democracy.”
The history text sounds even worse:
The book describes Josef Stalin as “the most successful Soviet leader ever” and dismisses the prison labour camps and mass purges as a necessary part of his drive to make the country great…
Mr Putin gave them his seal of approval at a conference he hosted for teachers at his presidential dacha last month. He described Stalin’s Great Purge of 1937, in which 1.5 million people were imprisoned and 700,000 killed, as terrible “but in other countries even worse things happened”. Discounting the Soviet Union’s long history of oppression, he said: “We had no other black pages, such as Nazism, for instance.”
The manual informs teachers that the Great Terror of the 1930s came about because Stalin ‘did not know who would deal the next blow, and for that reason he attacked every known group and movement, as well as those who were not his allies or of his mindset.’
It stresses to teachers that ‘it is important to show that Stalin acted in a concrete historical situation’ and that he acted ‘entirely rationally – as the guardian of a system, as a consistent supporter of reshaping the country into an industrialised state.’
I guess Stalin’s alliance with Hitler was a clever ruse to provoke the Nazis into invading Mother Russia so the Red Army could destroy them.
In fairness, some people in the comments claim that The Times mistranslates key passages. (Any EconLog readers care to weigh in?) According to one Russian, the text reads:
The person of Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin is one of the most controversial in the politics and the history of our country. It’s hard to find any other figure in the history of Russia which brought about such controversial opinions during his rule as well as after his death. For ones he is the hero and the organizer of the victory in WWII, for others – the personification of the evil.
Frankly, this is still pretty bad. But it’s about what I’d expect from modern Russia. Lending credence to the absurd Stalinist line that he was just murdering would-be traitors is disgraceful even by Putin’s standards.
Putin’s backers unsurprisingly argue that the new history text is an antidote to neighboring countries’ “Russophobia”:
“I have analysed books on Russian history in neighbouring countries and came to the conclusion… that our neighbours excel at educational Russophobia,” the editor, Alexander Filippov, was quoted as saying.
“The Russian people is presented as a source of all evil. It was necessary to respond,” he said.
When Russian nationalists take offense at their neighbors’ “Russophobia,” it reminds me of reckless drivers who curse everyone else on the road as “idiots.” The sad truth is that an honest history textbook would turn even the Russians into Russophobes. The Revolution, the Civil War, the terror-famines, the Purges – the greatest murderers of Russians have long been… other Russians.