Sunday, April 13, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Russian Textbooks Must Be Common for All ‘Except the Retarded,’ Duma Deputy Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 13 – Irina Yarovaya, the chairman of the Duma Security Committee,says that “the task of the state is to ensure unity of education ... and [thus] a single cultural space,” with “variations” allowed only for those children who are mentally handicapped, an attitude that threatens the development of Russians and non-Russians alike.

            Her words at a hearing on “the Russian Historical Tradition: The Content of the History Textbook” are the latest indication of the direction Russian officials are proceeding on the basis of Vladimir Putin’s statements that existing textbooks are full of “ideological trash” that “spits in the face” of the Russian people (

            Putin has called on officials to come up with a single Russian history textbook reflecting a single view of Russia’s past, one that celebrates it rather than opens the way to criticism.  As so often happens, the officials are over-fulfilling the plan, even though they have not yet been able to agree to the text.

            But their approach so far, Aleksey Obukhov, an educational psychologist at the Moscow State Pedagogical University, “distorts the understanding of patriotism to a caricature” of the real thing. And now that is being exacerbated as some officials try to ensure that mathematics textbooks also produce “patriotic” feelings.

            What is most disturbing about this effort is not that it will cut Russian children and Russian society off from broader international trends, impose a straightjacket on thinking there, and deprive the various nations and regions of the Russian Federation the opportunity to study various subjects from their own perspectives.

            Rather the most worrisome thing is that this drive seems to be animated by a fear that such a unified approach is needed because without it, Russian residents will soon lose their “connections” to the past and be on the way to the disappearance of their culture and nation, becoming “’a phantom of the global world.’”

            This paranoia appears likely to inform Moscow’s approach “not only to school textbooks” but to “the cultural policy of Russia as a whole,” one that will now focus if last week’s Duma discussion is any guide on ensuring a uniformity of information and ideas across the Russian Federation.

            According to Russian news reports, a Kremlin document calling for that has been prepared by a commission chaired by Sergey Ivanov, head of the Presidential Administration, and based according to one commission members on “the numerous statements of President Vladimir Putin over the last two years.”

            The draft document specifies that Russia “must preserve its unique state-civilization, its moral and spiritual foundations” and be ready to share them with the world but not to be affected by that process lest the future of the nation and the state be threatened with disintegration and decay.

            Consequently, the draft continues, “the goal of today’s Russian state is proclaimed as ‘the return of a strong and united Russia, independent in all respects,” something that can be achieved only by “establishing a special system of education and enlightenment,” all words that echo the ideas propounded by Soviet leaders in the past.

            How far the Kremlin can and will go in this direction remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: many groups, including many of the country’s most educated people and the non-Russians will find such a straightjacket unacceptable and will seek ways to escape it, particularly via Internet “samizdat” and even more radical forms of exit from Russia.

            Consequently, and again as has been the case so often in the past, the Kremlin’s efforts to impose uniformity, as powerful as they may appear initially, are certain to prove counter-productive and to produce exactly the opposite effect that Putin hopes for, with this unity drive over time promoting more disunity than ever before.

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