While 1917 saw a cultural flowering in Russia, the post-Soviet intelligentsia has failed to articulate a liberal vision and produced only shallow art. Little wonder that Putin has been able to exploit nostalgia for Soviet "greatness"by Arkady Ostrovsky / September 28, 2008 / Leave a comment
Click here to discuss this piece at First Drafts, Prospect’s blog
“Dear friends! The textbook you are holding in your hands is dedicated to the history of our Motherland… from the end of the Great Patriotic War to our days. We will trace the journey of the Soviet Union from its greatest historical triumph to its tragic disintegration.”
This greeting is addressed to hundreds of thousands of Russian schoolchildren who will in September receive a new history textbook printed by the publishing house Enlightenment and approved by the ministry of education. “The Soviet Union,” the new textbook explains, “was not a democracy, but it was an example for millions of people around the world of the best and fairest society.” Furthermore, over the past 70 years, the USSR, “a gigantic superpower which managed a social revolution and won the most cruel of wars,” effectively put pressure on western countries to give due regard to human rights. In the early part of the 21st century, continues the textbook, the west has been hostile to Russia and pursued a policy of double standards.
Had it not been for Vladimir Putin’s involvement, this book would probably have never seen the light of day. In 2007, Putin, then Russian president, gathered a group of history teachers to talk about his vision of the past. “We can’t allow anyone to impose a sense of guilt on us,” was his message.
The 1990s were largely ideology-free in Russia. The country was too weary of grand designs and too preoccupied with economic survival. When Putin came to power in 2000, he said Russia’s national idea was “to be competitive.” But then, as the price of oil climbed and Russia started to feel important again, the need for ideology became more urgent. Unable to offer any vision or strategy for the future, the Kremlin looked, inevitably, to the past.
The textbook covers the period 1945-2006, a suggestive choice: from Stalin’s victory in the “great patriotic war” to the “triumph” of Putinism. It celebrates all contributors to Russia’s greatness, and denounces those responsible for the loss of empire, regardless of their politics. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 is seen not as a watershed from which a new history begins, but as an unfortunate and tragic diversion that has hindered Russia’s progress.
The whole postwar period in Russian history is viewed through the prism of the…