Monday, April 13, 2009

On Putin vs. the Truth

In the current issue of the New York Review of Books is the article “Putin vs. the Truth” which is loosely built by Orlando Figes upon a review of Inside the Stalin Achieves: Discovering the new Russia.”

Notice Putin’s view of historians who won’t be taking up Putin’s partisan banner: “Oh, they will write, all right. You see, many textbooks are written by those who are paid in foreign grants. And naturally they are dancing the polka ordered by those who pay them. Do you understand? And unfortunately [such textbooks] find their way to schools and colleges.” There is no rough and tumble scholarly debate in Putin’s cosmology. If you discover something untoward in Soviet history then you are obviously dancing the polka ordered by some organization like Yale. Clever people those Yale administrators to know what they want even before researchers have discovered it.

And Putin takes a very different view from mine. I have argued that historians have been very soft on Stalin and Soviet history – well, not soft enough to suit Putin: “As to some problematic pages in our history—yes, we've had them. But what state hasn't? And we've had fewer of such pages than some other [states]. And ours were not as horrible as those of some others. Yes, we have had some terrible pages: let us remember the events beginning in 1937, let us not forget about them. But other countries have had no less, and even more. In any case, we did not pour chemicals over thousands of kilometers or drop on a small country seven times more bombs than during the entire World War II, as it was in Vietnam, for instance. Nor did we have other black pages, such as Nazism, for instance. All sorts of things happen in the history of every state. And we cannot allow ourselves to be saddled with guilt....

One of the most remarkable items in this article is in reference to a new teacher’s handbook that prescribes how to teach Russian history:

"The Modern History of Russia, 1945–2006: A Teacher's Handbook had been directly commissioned by the presidential administration itself, which had issued the following guidelines to the textbook's authors about how they should evaluate the leaders of the period:

"Stalin—good (strengthened vertical power but no private property); Khrushchev—bad (weakened vertical power); Brezhnev—good (for the same reasons as Stalin); Gorbachev and Yeltsin—bad (destroyed the country but under Yeltsin there was private property); Putin—the best ruler (strengthened vertical power and private property)."


Ah, Putin, you scoundrel you. You had better put my blog on your forbidden list.

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