It continues to amaze me how destructive it is for we as humans to confuse good and bad with who is a representative of our ethnic/racial group or our nation state, and who is not. It distorts all understanding of the past, the present and the future. And it destroys all ethical categories. There is not a nation in the world where this does not happen to some degree.
© Marc Gopin
Last year, a controversial teachers’ manual described him as an “effective manager.” Now a new manual explains that Soviet dictator Josef Stalin acted rationally in conducting a campaign of terror to ensure the country’s modernization.
The new manual, titled “A History of Russia, 1900-1945,” is part of a series of education materials the authors say will help promote patriotism in young people. Critics have taken exception, however, to numerous excerpts, which they say are essentially attempts to whitewash Stalin’s crimes.
A textbook to accompany the teachers’ manual has not yet been finalized, so it will not be in the classroom when the school year begins Monday. The textbook is expected to be completed in March and there is no guarantee that the assessment of Stalin will remain.
Hundreds of thousands of people were executed and millions imprisoned in gulag camps under Stalin.
But the manual says 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.”
The manual, which the authors have posted on the Internet, 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 industrialized state.”
Although a teachers’ manual last year described Stalin as an “effective manager,” this was eventually removed from the final version of the textbook, “A Modern History of Russia, 1945-2006,” said Larisa Alexeyeva, a senior editor with the Prosveshcheniye publishing house, which is printing the textbooks.
That book, Alexeyeva said, will be available for teachers to use in the classroom Monday and does retain a chapter on “sovereign democracy” under former President Vladimir Putin — now the powerful prime minister.
Kremlin deputy chief of staff Vladislav Surkov — known as the Kremlin’s chief ideologist — is credited with coming up with the term “sovereign democracy.”
The editor of the new book, Alexander Danilov, defended characterizing Stalin’s actions as “rational.”
“We are not defending Stalin,” Danilov said. “We are just exploring his personality, explaining his motives and showing what he really achieved.”
Prominent Russian historian Roy Medvedev said, however, that such an approach “only formally appears to be objective.”
“It is, in fact, falsification,” Medvedev said. “Stalin by no means acted rationally all of the time, and many of his actions damaged the country.”
Before World War II, he said, “many in the military ranks were arrested — like my father, for example — and their children, little boys, were sent to the front.”
According to an editor of the manual, Anatoly Utkin — who is director of the Center for International Research at the Institute of U.S.A. and Canada Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences — Stalin made several ingenious decisions during World War II, including moving Soviet war factories east, out of the reach of invading Nazi forces.
“I have no personal affection for him, but I am a historian and I work with facts,” Utkin said.
Students should learn of all aspects of Stalin’s personality, like the fact he had 10,000 books in his library that he had personally marked up. “Can you tell me of any other leader, an American president, for example, who read 10,000 books?” Utkin said.
Alexander Kondakov, head of Prosveshcheniye, said modern educational standards “demand the whole of society have its say about the most painful pages of our history,” adding that the authors were “bold” people for putting forth such controversial theses.
Alexander Kamensky, head of the history department at the Russia State University for the Humanities, said the manual was, “sadly,” a sign that teaching history in schools has become “an ideological instrument.”
Meeting with a group of history teachers in June 2007, Putin said that while Stalin’s purges were one of the darkest periods of the country’s history, “others cannot be allowed to impose a feeling of guilt on us.”
While he did not directly name the United States, Putin made an obvious reference to the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and cited the Vietnam War in defending Russia’s past.