Putin as Narratological Node in Russian History

I was hoping to get to the controversy over the new strongly suggested for the Russian classroom, Noveyshaya istoriia Rossii 1945-2006. Kniga dlia uchitelia (A Contemporary History of Russia 1945-2006. A Book for the Teacher) and Global’nyi mir v XXI veka (The Global World in the 21st Century), but time did not allow it.

Kommersant had a long article in its weekly Vlast’ magazine detailing how the texts were basically funded by the Office of the President. Among other things were orders handed down “from the administration” on how the texts should evaluate Russian historical figures. According to an anonymous co-author:

“Stalin is good (He strengthened vertical power, but there wasn’t private property); Khrushchev is bad (He weakened vertical power); Brezhnev is good by the same criteria as Stalin; Gorbachev and Yeltsin are bad (They destroyed the country, however under Yeltsin private property arose); Putin is the best ruler (He reinforced vertical power and private property)”

Luckily for all of us, Robert Amsterdam has done us the best service. He’s provided a translation of two articles on the subject from Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Oleg Kashin’s “In Search of a ‘Short Course’” and “I Would Very Much not Want my Name to be Associated with this Disgrace” They lay out the necessary particulars better than I can.

The Washington Post has a long article on the controversy as well. It appears the texts take Russian historical memory further down a path I’ve thought it’s been going down under Putin: a movement away from the history produced in the 1990s which looked to damn the Soviet system in toto to one that reconciles Soviet and post-Soviet history in some sort of grand, and mostly uncritical, continuum. As russkii Karl Rove, Vladislav Surkov, told the pedagogical conference where the texts were introduced, “We must see the dark moments of history and its problems. But I presume that it would also be wrong to go as far as to completely deny the successes and achievements of our great country. . . . Without answering the questions of who we are, how we should live and what we are living for, effective political work and an effective economic system are impossible.” The answer to these questions of national identity lie in the ideological hegemony that all past roads lead to Putin, and all future ones will emanate from him.

One of the first signs of any stable state is when it endeavors to create a history of itself and for itself.

Update: Now you can also test your knowledge of Russian history. Kommersant has provided a short quiz where the answers are based on the next textbook. Test your knowledge.

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