Minnesotans for Better Education, Standards and Testing

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8/22/2004

In Russia, the Maple River Coalition types won.

It is as if the Claremont institute, Heritage Foundation and the Maple River Coalition have counterparts in Russia.
Were critics of the new Soviet whitewash accused of a "hate Russia agenda?"

In Russia, sometimes you can tell a book by its cover

Maria Danilova,

Associated Press

August 22, 2004

MOSCOW -- If you can judge a book by its cover, then the "History of Russia and the World in the 20th Century" tells students the Soviet past was all pride and glory -- three of four cover photos invoke Soviet propaganda images.

That goes for what's inside, too. The textbook for Russian high school seniors touts the Soviet system's achievements -- but treads lightly, if at all, on its failures and abuses.

Three of the four photos on the cover carry propaganda images of Moscow's soaring "Worker and Collective Farm Girl" statue, a World War II poster reading "The Motherland is Calling" and the Soyuz-Apollo space docking. The fourth is a shot of the U.N. headquarters.

It is virtually mute on the deportation of ethnic groups under Josef Stalin that left hundreds of thousands dead and sowed the resentment that exploded in Chechnya a half-century later. The Gulag labor camp system gets scant attention and anti-Semitism even less.

President Vladimir Putin -- a former KGB officer who has resurrected such Soviet symbols as the anthem and the military's red star -- is a strong proponent of instilling Russia's young people with national pride. But critics warn that sanitizing Russia's tormented history will leave students unprepared to cope with the challenges they face in the post-Soviet era.

"The Gulag is given minimal coverage in textbooks. Yet without the Gulag, they cannot understand the history of the Soviet Union and Russia. Without these pages, their education will not be complete," said Semyon Vilensky, a 76-year-old survivor of the Gulag system who heads an association that documents the horrors of the Stalin era.

The textbook, by Nikita Zagladin, is not the only one rife with such gaps, critics say.

Most 20th-century Russian history school textbooks fail to emphasize the mammoth human rights violations committed by the totalitarian Soviet state, a survey commissioned by the Andrei Sakharov Museum found.

"In the majority of textbooks, this period and the aspect of violence as the main method of implementing Soviet ideals is either addressed extremely briefly or, even if in greater detail -- it is completely void of any historical, political, and ethical judgment," said Yuri Samodurov, the director of the museum named after Sakharov, the late Soviet dissident and nuclear scientist who won the Nobel Peace Prize.

One textbook that did highlight crimes committed by the Soviet state was pulled from schools late last year in a move critics said smacked of politics.

The seventh edition of Igor Dolutsky's "National History: 20th Century" -- which invited students to discuss whether Putin could be considered an authoritarian leader -- was stripped of its Education Ministry license days before the December parliamentary vote.

Unlike many other books, Dolutsky's emphasizes crimes the Soviet state committed against millions of its own citizens and insists on the importance of the Allied participation in World War II.

The book earned mixed reviews from educators and historians, but it offended a group of war veterans who complained to Putin that it was unpatriotic.

The complaint was in line with Putin's directive to historians last year: "Textbooks should provide historical facts, and they must cultivate a sense of pride among youth in their history and country."

Soon after, the government decided to vet the flood of textbooks published after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Some historians say many of the textbooks that appeared in the past decade have been of questionable quality or too opinionated -- but critics of the government fear that culling books will leave only books that whitewash the Soviet era.

Some also say the textbooks are reluctant to address anti-Semitism. A series of seminars for school history instructors held by the Holocaust Foundation showed that many schools resist telling students about the killing or imprisonment of Jews by the Nazis and the Soviets, said Alla Gerber, the head of the foundation.

Zagladin said it would be unfair to give children "an entirely negative view of the Soviet era as the time of terror and darkness."

"Approximately 18 million people suffered during the wave of mass repressions. ... No doubt, this is a great tragedy," the textbook author said. "But at the same time, we cannot ignore the fact that during the same time period the lives of a great number of people drastically changed for the better."