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Work on standard Russian history manual proves really daunting task

The section on Russia’s modern history will cover two presidencies of Vladimir Putin and contain a mention of Mikhail Khodorkovsky

MOSCOW, September 26 (Itar-Tass) - Russia’s scientific and academic community keeps working on a really daunting task President Vladimir Putin identified early this year - writing a standard Russian history manual for secondary schools. It has turned out that even some events of one thousand years ago are still the focus of heated debate. Let alone the developments the country saw over the previous one hundred years.

Possibly, the term Tatar-Mongol Yoke will be removed from the Russian history curriculum. The section on Russia’s modern history will cover two presidencies of Vladimir Putin and contain a mention of Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The word Opposition will be used only as a reference to the critics of reforms by Emperor Alexander I, and not the events of 2011-2012.

The bureau of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ history and philology branch discussed the concept of Russia’s unified history manual on Friday to start the procedure of on-line discussions of the document by teams of specialists that will last till September 27. The concept of teaching the trickiest of all school subjects will first be made public and then presented to the president for signature on November 1. After that the Education and Science Ministry will declare a contest for writing a unified history manual. Russian book authors will be invited to participate.

In a word, Russia’s school students will start studying history on the basis of new manuals as of 2014. The key message of a yet-to-be written manual is We Are Citizens of a Great Country with a Great Past.

President Vladimir Putin last February said that writing unified history manuals for Russia’s secondary schools was a vital need. They are to be written “in good Russian and be devoid of internal contradictions and dual interpretations.” Putin explained that he would like such manuals to be addressed to different age groups but fit in within the framework of one concept, the continuous logic of Russian history, the inter-dependence of all of its stages and respect for all chapters of our past.”

Russia’s State Duma Speaker Sergei Naryshkin, who is also chairman of the Russian History Society, is in charge of supervising this ambitious work. The historical and cultural standard the concept of a future manual is to rely on was published in the summer of 2013. The Russian History Society has published a list of 31 problem questions the authors have come across. For instance, “the causes, effects and evaluations of the single-party dictatorship and Stalin’s authoritarian rule” and “the causes, effects and evaluation of stabilization of Russia’s economic and political system in the 2000s.” Also, the list of personalities who are hard to understand includes Soviet leaders Nikita Krushchev and Leonid Brezhnev.

After a wide public debate the document has been fundamentally reworked, Naryshkin said. The upgraded text of the concept of Russia’s modern history ends with the election of Vladimir Putin as president in 2012.

Naryshkin said one of the key changes Russia’s schools should be prepared for when the document has been adopted in the final version is the return to what he described as “linear” instruction throughout the school years. (Currently the whole history course is over by the 10th year of instruction and then it is repeated again for the last two high school years). Also, instruction in domestic history will be synchronized with world history classes.

The very concept, as follows from what the science chief of the working group, Director of the Universal History Institute under the Russian Academy of Sciences, Aleksandr Chubaryan told the daily Moskovsky Komsomolets, has not only outlined the range of personalities, dates and events school students will be briefed on, but also identified the most controversial aspects of the country’s history that are the hardest to understand, let alone to explain.

The representatives of Academic Institutions have been insisting that Russia’s history in schools should be taught in a way that would let the students know the history of territories and the origins of Russian statehood. Also, historians are very critical of the presentation of modern events.

Possibly, the national history course will no longer mention the Tatar-Mongol Yoke - the term that has traditionally been applied to the system of political and tributary dependence of Russian lands first on the Tatar-Mongol khans and then on the Golden Horde’s khans in the 13th-15th centuries. This is what historians in Tatarstan have long pressed for. However, the draft standard does mention the seizure of ancient Rus by the Mongol Empire. Also it reflects the emergence of the Golden Horde, Russian uprisings against it and the eventual defeat of the Golden Horde by Khan Timur.

In today’s Tatarstan the Golden Horde is regarded as an empire, and Genghis-Khan, not as a conqueror, but as a “reformer,” says the vice-president of Tatarstan’s Academy of Sciences, Rafael Khakimov, the current head of the republican History Institute. Also, he suggested discarding the Eurocentric approach, because “Russia is a Eurasian state.”

Scholars are insisting on the political correctness of the term “expansion of the territory of the Russian state and the incorporation of other peoples.”

The director of the RAS Russian History Institute, Yuri Petrov, has said that the word “colonization” cannot be applied at least because in Russia the incorporation of peoples usually resulted in the merger of the elites, something very uncommon of the classical colonial regimes.

The dean of the Moscow State University’s history department, Sergei Karpov, is quoted by the daily Kommersant as saying that in the 19th century history the authors have overlooked the “liberation movement, freemasonry and terrorism.”

The 19th century, according to the standard, was “a blend of the epochs of three Aleksanders and two Nicholases,” says the chairman of Russia’s museum society, Vladimir Kozlov. In his opinion that century should be described in two sections: “before the 1861 reform (by Alexander II) and after it.”

It looks like experts will go on arguing even after the manuals are written and out of print. Already now some have begun to call for writing special aides for teachers offering answers to likely tricky questions from their students, because controversies and blank spots in the national history are too numerous to count.


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