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Cablegate: Putin Continues Drive to More Palatable History

VZCZCXRO9923
RR RUEHDBU RUEHLN RUEHPOD RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHMO #3601/01 2041408
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 231408Z JUL 07
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2309
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHLN/AMCONSUL ST PETERSBURG 4320
RUEHYG/AMCONSUL YEKATERINBURG 2585
RUEHVK/AMCONSUL VLADIVOSTOK 2270

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 MOSCOW 003601

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PINR SOCI RS
SUBJECT: PUTIN CONTINUES DRIVE TO MORE PALATABLE HISTORY
TEXTBOOKS

MOSCOW 00003601 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) Summary: President Putin's effort to inculcate
Russia's children with "national pride" via appropriately
written history textbooks could bear fruit at the start of
the 2008 school year. The campaign, which began in 2003 with
the ban of a popular history textbook and a Kremlin call for
a report on the "patriotic content" of history texts, is
approaching implementation with two teachers manuals, on
which textbooks will be based, due to be published soon.
Dismay over the proposed treatment of the Soviet Union's
darker chapters and continued disagreement about the legacy
of the Yeltsin years is unlikely to derail the project. Even
so, some contacts are skeptical that the Kremlin project can
succeed in its aims. The debate demonstrates that, in
academic circles at least, lively discussion and disagreement
with the Kremlin are possible. End summary.

-------------------------
Creating "Proud" Russians
-------------------------

2. (U) The introduction of history and social science
textbooks intended to foster a sense of patriotism in Russian
students looks set to take place during the 2008 school year.
The most recent effort to re-write Russia's history began in
November 2003, when President Putin told a meeting of
historians that textbooks were not the place for
"ideological" struggle. The reference was to a popular
history book written by historian and teacher Igor Dolutskiy,
which challenged students to argue for and against
propositions advanced in each chapter. One such proposition
questioned whether contemporary Russia was a democracy. The
Ministry of Education subsequently withdrew its approval of
the Dolutskiy textbook. A report on the "patriotic content"
of Russia's history textbooks was submitted in early 2004,
which sparked a Kremlin call for new textbooks that would
make Russian students proud and patriotic.

--------------------
The First Contenders
--------------------

3. (U) The initial results of the Kremlin's call were
introduced at a conference for historians and teachers hosted
by Putin on June 21 (the day before Moscow's first official
commemoration of the start of the Great Patriotic War). At
the conference, two new teachers manuals, still in the pilot
stage, were presented: "The Newest History of Russia:
1945-2006" and "Social Sciences: The Global World of the 21st
Century." The first, which is quite controversial among
history teachers, offers a new spin on recent events and
promotes "sovereign democracy." More disturbing to many, it
praises Stalin's leadership, especially his role in Russia's
victory in the Great Patriotic War and his success in
centralizing power. The author of the first is Aleksandr
Filippov, a political scientist at the National Laboratory of
Foreign Policy, a think tank associated with the Kremlin.
Leonid Polyakov, a political science professor at the Higher
School of Economics, edited the social science manual, about
which there has been less discussion.

4. (SBU) (NOTE: Post has seen excerpts from the draft history
manual. While acknowledging that Stalin is one of the more
"contradictory" figures in Russian/Soviet history, Filippov
argues that Stalin accomplished what the Soviet Union needed
by fulfilling the Russian need for a tsar, by ensuring the
economic buildup necessary to fend off Hitler's Germany, and
by instituting a meritocracy. The manual argues that
Stalin's pre-war purges rid the USSR of the Lenin-era
generation of leaders, allowing "more competent" people to
modernize the Soviet Union. The manual glosses over the
Great Terror and the famine.)

------------------------------------
Negative Response from Professionals
------------------------------------

5. (SBU) In a July 17 conversation, Memorial's Irina
Shcherbakova condemned the books, telling us that such
interpretations bred cynicism, not patriotism. She thought
that most Russians knew what happened under Stalin and that
freedom of information in Russia was too great to allow the
Kremlin a monopoly over interpreting history. She feared,
however, that with the recent imposition of a unified state
exam, "teaching to the test" would result in greater
attention to the interpretations espoused in the texts.
Shcherbakova said that she would continue to work with
schools and teachers to see if changes could be made.

MOSCOW 00003601 002.2 OF 002

6. (U) Academics have disagreed with many of the history
manual's assertions. One contact observed, however, that it
is not clear how large a role jealousy is playing in the
outrage. As in other nations, textbook publication is a
lucrative business.

7. (SBU) Some contacts were skeptical about the likely
success of the Kremlin's strategy. Director of Moscow
English School 1509 Tatyana Gumennik told us that, "with
history constantly being re-written, teaching history has
become a nightmare." She pointed out that teachers still
govern their classrooms and that even if they are using
recommended texts, much depends on how they present the
material. Teachers, Gumennik said, were becoming tired of
pilot projects and "innovative," but low-quality textbooks.

-------
Comment
-------

8. (SBU) Russia's desire to improve history teaching is
longstanding, as is the debate about the best way to teach
its more painful chapters. Education Minister Andrey
Fursenko, whose father is a renowned historian, has suggested
that the topic be addressed at a 200th anniversary
celebration of Russian-American diplomatic relations
conference in November, which the Embassy is hosting with the
Academy of Science's World History Institute and the Kennan
Institute. Russia's search for a unifying ideology since the
fall of the Soviet Union has been a perennial theme in
politics, as seen most recently in Presidential
Administration Deputy Head Vladislav Surkov's promotion of
"sovereign democracy." Whatever version is adopted, the
argument over Russia's Soviet-era and recent history will
continue.
BURNS

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