History Teaching, Textbooks and Historical Memory in Russia
Post-Soviet Russia school children to create coherent historical narratives about Russia's Soviet past. Chronic failure to construct a national identity. The failure of the political elite in Russia to acknowledge and accept its totalitarian past.
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National Research University Higher School of Economics
Applied and Interdisciplinary History
School of History
History Teaching, Textbooks and Historical Memory in Russia
Research Supervisor: Nikolai Ssorin-Chaikov
External Examiner: Ilya Kukulin
An exploration into how following the reversal of valences of Soviet self images and images of the other under Gorbachev, the Russian state has experimented widely in the sphere of history education with the aim of constructing a specific national identity through historical discourse. My research draws on fieldwork in Russian secondary schools in Saint Petersburg, and interviews with both students and teachers, to draw conclusions as to how successful post-Soviet politicians have been in creating, and `controlling', narratives for contentious historical issues that are both unitary, whilst simultaneously avoiding messiness. My thesis argues that in post-Soviet Russia school children struggle to create coherent historical narratives about Russia's Soviet past, and that simultaneously there has been a chronic failure to construct a national identity, something which is largely a result of the failure of the political elite in Russia to acknowledge and accept its totalitarian past.
Chapter One: Engaging with a complex past- Challenges facing history teaching in Russian Schools over the last 30 years
soviet russia historical national
Over 25 years have now passed since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The ensuing conflicts and ideological changes that have played out in the Russian parts of the former Soviet Space have without question influenced the way in which educational policy is formulated. Perhaps the most fascinating, and in many ways enlightening examples of how educational policy has been subject to vigorous internal debate, can be seen within the realm of history education. History education across the world is often contingent on the formation of alliances between politicians and educationalists, who attempt to form syllabuses that not only reflect the key concepts outlined by a national curriculum, such as; "chronological understanding", "change and continuity", "cause and consequence", "significance" and "interpretation", but also promote certain agendas that coincide with the often complex political environment in which they are taught. Take Great Britain for example, where ex Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown a decade ago insisted that schools should be pressed to teach British rather than English history, in order to promote a sense of "Britishness". Stefan Berger, "History And National Identity: Why They Should Remain Divorced". History And Policy (2007), Accessed online October 21 2017, http://www.historyandpolicy.org/policy- papers/papers/history-and-national-identity-why-they-should-remain-divorced.Merely seven years later a referendum was held concerning the question of Scottish independence; highlighting how his concerns over the way in which citizenship curriculum in schools could be used as a tool to strengthen notions of national identity and national unity may well have been well-founded. Russia, similarly, represents a fascinating playground for examining the overlap between the problem of national identity and the role it assumes in history teaching. Despite the fact that this research will mainly be focusing on contemporary Russia, in order to provide an understanding of why such issues remain important features of Russian society, I will begin by looking at how following the sweeping changes to historical studies that took place during Gorbechev's policies of `glasnost' and `perestroika', the debate about what exactly should be taught in Russian schools intensified.
Even prior to the collapse of the USSR there was a crisis in historical consciousness within the Soviet Union. The ideologically charged textbooks that had been used to teach students in Soviet schools in the 1960s and 1970s were no longer deemed suitable for classroom history lessons. This rejection of Soviet-era schoolbooks is demonstrated no better than by the Russian Historian Yuri Afansyev, who, having been a former communist loyalist, became disillusioned with the political ideology and was a founding advocate of democratic politics in Russia. In his work Perestoika i Istoricheskoe Znanie he claimed that `I can give you my assurance that there is not a single page without a falsification. It is immoral for young people to take exams on such textbooks.' Iurii Afanas'ev, "Perestroika i istoricheskoe znanie," Literaturnaia Rossia: 8 (June 1988). This signified the first attempts to critically reassess the concept of socialism, which until then had not only been the overarching political ideology, but also the fundamental basis in Soviet historical scholarship. This crisis in historical consciousness culminated in the cancelling of secondary-school history examinations by theState Committee on Education in 1988 until textbooks could be brought up to date with an approach to history deemed suitable by leading Soviet officials. Ben Brodinskywrote at the time that `the policy has been laid down by Gorbachev on several occasions since 1988. In essence, he has said that the Soviet authorities must reveal and condemn the mistakes and crimes of the past, but that they must reject any attempt to cancel out the historic achievements of the Soviet people'.Ben Brodinsky, "The Impact Of Perestroika On Soviet Education". Phi Delta Kappa International 73 (1992), p391.In 1989-1990 serious attempts were made to formulate new conceptions for teaching. During this period a Temporary Scientific Research Group Shkola was given the momentous task of restructuring secondary education as whole, with particular focus given to history. According to the historian Vera Kaplan, the conception of Shkola `challenged the very foundation of Marxist historical theory, namely, the theory of socioeconomic formations.' Vera Kaplan, "The Vicissitudes Of Socialism In Russian History Textbooks". History And Memory 21 (2009), Accessed September 15 2009, doi:10.2979/his.2009.21.2.83, p.91. Importantly, this signalled a dramatic step away from the Marxist perception of history, and placed the human, rather than historical laws, at the forefront of historical investigation. Furthermore there was a rejection of the Soviet-held conception of history as being teleological; it was no longer about constructing a narrative view of history as a progressive march in one direction- i.e. the construction of socialism.
Nevertheless, and as Vera Kaplanpoints out, it would take the actual dismemberment of the Soviet Union and the rise of an Independent Russia for the reduction in the influence of socialism on Russia's historical narrative to become even more pronounced. Kaplan, p.91. The curriculum and textbooks of the 1990's not only referred to Socialism as a political ideology, but also according to Tatyana Volodina, in an article published by the Society for History Education, suggested that the entire Soviet period was terror to one degree of another.Tatyana Volodina.. "Teaching History In Russia After The Collapse Of The USSR". History Teacher 38 (2005), p.182.Furthermore, the way in which important events were perceived was often contradictory to Soviet portrayals. Volodina goes on to highlight how the way in which new textbooks handled WWII, for example, induced feelings of inferiority and focused attention on the victimology of the war. For example, Aleksandr Danilov, Liudmila Kosulina, Istoria Rossii, XX vek. 9th grade (Moscow, 1996), 249-250. Conversely, in the Soviet era (as well as in the present) this subject had been a source of pride. The Russian people single-handedly defeated the evil fascist ideology, and they spared no sacrifice to achieve victory. This detachment from the domination of heroic feats and the progress of socialist political ideology in the literature coincided with a realignment of Russia's historical path. The realignment of Russia's path saw it join the universal path of modernisation, which had ultimately taken its highest form in the countries of Western Europe. Nevertheless, though on this trajectory, Russian civilisation was, significantly, envisaged as being distinct from its Western counterpart. The centuries old Slavophile/Westerner debate, regarding Russia's position in the modern world, was revisited. The textbooks of the 1990's however take an interesting stance, while on the one hand promoting plurality of interpretations;they suggest that Russia is a distinctive civilisation, whose history is a hybrid of diverse historical periods and paths of development as a result of its unique geographical position between Europe and Asia.Kaplan p.97.
The promotion of plurality of interpretations is, in terms of this project at least, one of the most interesting developments of the 1990's. Such an approach is not only compatible with democratic principles, and as such the political situation in Russia in the early 1990's, but also with the new educational reforms being implemented by educational experts of the time, according to which both the teacher and pupil should be ascribed an active role in their work with the textbook. Kaplan. pp.98-99. Western practises within the realms of history teaching were clearly being imitated, as students were encouraged to address historical problems with textbooks that did not provide straight cut answers. The significance of history at this time could not have been more pronounced. It has often been argued that new states often use national histories as a means of legitimization. Eric Hobsbawm has outlined this process in Ethnicity and Nationalism in Europe:`Historians are to nationalism what poppy-growers in Pakistan are to heroin addicts: we supply the essential raw materials for the market.' Eric Hobsbawm, `Ethnicity and Nationalism in Europe', Anthropology Today, 8:3 (1992), pp.3-8.Historians in the 1990's needed to not only to re-write their country's past, but also to write it in a way that legitimised the democratic path that Russia was on. Vera Kaplan argues that shifting the purpose of history teaching from its political role to social and cultural functions did this.Vera Kaplan, "History Teaching In Post Soviet Russia". In Education Reform In Post Soviet Russia, 1st ed., (New York: Frank Cass, 2005), p,249.An entire reshaping of the role of history took place in the 1990s, towards a system that emphasized the relationships between the individual and society in the history curriculum. Kaplan argues that the `cult of the state' (kul't lichnosti gosudarstva) that manifests itself in educational textbooks of the Soviet era, and led to the creation of a `state mythology', was deemed unsuitable for the present reality. As such, and with questions of individual-society relationships acting as a counterbalance to an oppressive state, the role of the history teaching was defined as training members of a democratic society to be responsible citizens, who were both willing to participate and cooperate within the new system. See `Kontseptsiia istoricheskogo obrazovanniia', Prepodovanie istorii v shkole 6 (1989), p.79, `Istoricheskaia nauka i schkol'noe istoricheskoe obrazovanie; `'Kruglyi stol'' v redaktsii zhurnala Prepodavanie istorii v schkole 28 marta 1990 g.', Prepodavanie istorii v schkole 4 (1990), pp. 7-30.
While it could be argued that the repudiation of past practises was an inevitable result of the overall rejection of the Soviet system, it was nevertheless unclear how reform would play out in the newly created democratic Russian Federation. With people forced to reconsider their place in society, an awareness of historical roots became an important consideration for Russian citizens, and perhaps helps to explain some of the developments ofboth history teaching and historical consciousness in the 21st century. In the 1990's there was certainly a sense of optimism among professionals in the education sector that history could finally be liberated from ideology in search of historical truth Kaplan, p.253., and therefore that there could be the formulation of a new conception of history education based on the humanistic values that coincided with the overall liberal trend in history education in the West. Nevertheless, the `liberation of history' coincided with a redefinition of Russian historical consciousness, and the creation of a Russian national state heavily influenced the discourse on history teaching. One new aim that was defined, and undoubtedly helped to shape the historical consciousness of students, was the establishment of continuity between the new democratic Russia and its pre-revolutionary predecessor. Kaplan, p.254. Whereas during the Soviet era Marxist ideology had been used to formulate the Soviet peoples' place in the world, Russia's place in history and the modern world became an important priority.E.E. Viazerniskii and B.L. Khavkin, `O prepodavanii istorii v schkolakh', Novaia I noveishaia istoriia (1991), p.225.Additionally, the reforms of the 1990's, and the appearance of a variety of different textbooks for any given topic, marked a significant move away from the highly centralized, normative texts of the Soviet era. However, much to the dismay of liberal reformers, such practices in educational policy were not to last.
Since the late 1990's, and early 2000's, Russia has witnessed what can only be described as the decline of educational reform, with the Ministry of Education reaffirming its position as the most influential agent of educational policy. New methods of control have been implemented, and this has led many to suggest that the state is taking steps to protect its own interests. See Kaplan p.262, Alexei Miller, `' The Ruinous Consequences of History Politics for the Country and Its Relations with Neighbors'' Pro et Contra journal 12 (2009), Accessed online June 12 2017, Eng.globalaffairs.ru.This return to a perceived state intervention in history teaching is a terrifying prospect for many, as it signifies a distinct break with the liberal values that many had hoped for with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The main focus of concern, about what is often referred to as a `counter-reformation' in history education, surrounds government intervention in history textbook writing. The establishment of the Compulsory Minimum of the Content on Education for secondary schools was in many ways the first step in this process. This measure allowed the Ministry of Education to control the content of textbooks by imposing a `compulsory minimum' on what was to be included in textbooks.Kaplan, p.262. This was followed by a meeting in August 2001 of the Government of the Russian Federation devoted to the issue of modern Russian history textbooks. `O Soderzhanii uchebnoi literatury dlia obrazovatel'nykh uchrezhdenii po noveishei otechestvennoi istorii', see Sergei Lebedev, `Vot takaia istoriia..', Pervoe Seniabria, 4 September 2001. This meeting saw textbooks face severe criticism from government officials. The consequence of which was the announcement of a history textbook writing competition, which was to be used by the Ministry of education to both reduce the number of history textbooks in Russia and unify their content. The textbooks were to `instil patriotic values, civic virtues, and the notorious quality of historic optimism.'Kaplan, p.264.Though authors were reminded that no single interpretation of the past should be portrayed as being objective, and that plurality of interpretations was an important facet of historical discourse and debate, there is nevertheless no doubt that this move signalled Government recognition of the importance of what was being taught in schools. With the state imposing measures over what textbooks could be bought using state funds, it became explicitly clear that those working within the sphere of education were becoming more and more faced with political considerations.
With a quick fast forward to contemporary times for the purposes of this project, I will be looking to see if the state has achieved any specific political aims within the sphere of history education. As outlined within the abstract of this project, I be asking what kind of 'control' the state has in teaching its citizens about an ideologically fuelled past, and how this is reflected in the classroom. In addition to this, I will be addressing the complex issue of the Russian state, and asking to what extent has policy surrounding textbooks allows the 'state' to successfully control narratives that are taught in schools. In order to do this, I will be asking questions about contemporary historical consciousness and identifying when history is important for Russian citizens. To gain an understanding as to how history teachers view the contemporary role of history in Russian society I arranged an interview with Anton Yurevich Morozov, who works both as a history teacher, and at a state institution where history teachers can gain additional qualifications. He explained how he views history as `a process, which explains our contemporary condition' (kak process, kotoriyobyasnyayet nashe sovremennoe sostojanie). He claimed that although plurality of interpretations was commonplace in Russian schools, controversial figures such as Stalin- who has recently become the subject of discussion because of his supposed rehabilitation by Russian politiciansThoburn, Cook, Lewis, and Garrett, "For Putin, For Stalin". Foreign Policy (2016), Accessed online 6th January 2018: http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/01/25/for-putin-for-stalin-russia-propaganda/., are portrayed in a negative light in Russian textbooks- `v oochyebnikah on odnoznachno plohoy'. I also asked about the type of history that was taught in Russian schools, to which he expressed the opinion that style of history is still reminiscent of that which was taught during Perestroika, and that it would be unfair to suggest that a totalitarian approach is adopted- `do sih por eto pyeryestroyechnaya istoriya, mozhyet bit' eto svyazano s tyem pokolyeniyem avtorov oochyebnikov'. In the lead up to the project I also spent a week in school number 608 in the Kirovskii region of Saint Petersburg, where I observed a number of history lessons with the 8th,9th and 10th grades. The history teacher at this school, Leonid Sykhanov, explained to me over a coffee that despite there being relatively strict teaching guidelines and practises in place, the school administrators show little interest in what goes on in the classroom. Such comments imply that the there is an interesting interplay between the transmitters of information, the students, those who are in positions of authority in the schools, and those that dictate teaching guidelines.
The more recent scholarship on the state of history teaching in Russian schools often focuses on what historian Alexei Millerrefers to as `history politics'. Alexei Miller, `' The Ruinous Consequences of History Politics for the Country and Its Relations with Neighbours'' Pro et Contra journal 12 (2009), Accessed online June 12 2017, Eng.globalaffairs.ru. He argues that it is not possible for Russia to return to the Soviet-era methods of controlling the historical discourse and imposing a single opinion, and as such new methods of regulating historical outlooks and interfering in the politics of memory, as well as new methods of legitimising interference, have had to be developed.Miller, Eng.globalaffairs.ru.
*Note: Since being published in 2007, Filippov's teacher's handbook A History of Russia 1945-2006 has faced a wave of criticism. Its critics accuse the author of creating an official government version of history, specifically for use in schools. They accuse the author of unequivocally attempting to; rehabilitate Stalin, induce anti-Western sentiment in historical discourse, and for its apologetic stance towards Russia's current political regime. The overarching argument is that `patriotism' and history teaching at schools serve as a pretext to exploit the way in which historical discourse is developed and administered. Further to this, specific narratives of historical events are adopted because they are invariably advantageous for certain political forces. Miller hints that Russia should adopt an approach to history seen in genuinely democratic countries, where plurality within the education system means that teachers have a free hand in selecting textbooks and interpreting the events and processes laid out by the curriculum. However, as my preliminary fieldwork has shown, the situation in Russia appears to be more complicated than is suggested by Miller. Miller focuses on specific events and legislation, such as Filippov's* controversial history textbook, to make the case that a specific brand of patriotism is being promoted by the state through textbooks, which isn't necessarily loyalty to the nation, but to the authorities whose actions are constantly undermined by a hostile international environment. This point is reiterated by David Wedgwood Benn (2008), who points out how Filippov's book, the first textbook officially endorsed by the authorities, is decidedly anti-western; and claims to provide a new version of Cold War history and of the Soviet collapse.David Benn, "The Teaching Of History In Putin's Russia". International Affairs 84:2 (2008), pp.365-370.There seems to be no doubt that the leading figures within the ruling party, United Russia, are aware of the important role that history plays in modern society. A clear example of this is Medvedev's decree in May 2009, which set up a commission under the President of the Russian Federation to counteract attempts to falsify history to Russia's detriment.Such moves indicate that the state does wish to regulate historical discourse on a larger scale. It will be interesting to see if andhow this discourse is present in cotemporary Russian classrooms.
This chapter was largely intended as a brief background into some of the developments in history teaching since Perestroika. It also attempted to outline the crossover between educational policy and politics in the period since the collapse of the Soviet Union. With elections approaching in Russia, and what is likely to be Vladimir Putin's 4th term in office, the need to assess the implications of educational reform has never been so important. As such, the remainder of this project will examine what the realities of these reforms are for the teaching of history in ordinary schools in the Russian federation. Additionally, it will be important analyze how what is taught in schools fits into the wider historiography debates. I will therefore be looking to see to what extent a concerted effort is made by the Russian state to construct a single narrative about historical periods or narratives, and draw some conclusions as to the wider implications of such an approach for society. If such narratives do exist, this paper will explore in what form its 'social life' in classroom takes. Moreover, I will investigate how these approaches are implemented in the Russian educational system, and analyze how the subjects understand their roles within the system. I will interview both teachers and students and gather their thoughts on how and why they interpret historical events in the way that they do. One further consideration that I will draw attention to is how social class (particularly with regards to the nature of the school attended) might have an effect on everyday historical consciousness.
Chapter Two: Engaging with a complex present- Challenges facing teachers and students in 21st Century Russia
This chapter will explore what is currently happening in Saint Petersburg vis-a-vis history education, and will place developments, and the issues that I have outlined in the first chapter, within the wider historiographical debate. Studying the particularities of what individual students think about their history should give deeper texture to otherwise superficial analysis carried out by other scholars. I will not only provide a description of what is being taught and the scope for debate amongst textbooks from different publishing houses, but will also address if and how different materials influence the way in which a student analyses historical phenomena. Has the `denigration by Vladimir Putin of school-teaching materials', along with efforts to reinstitute something resembling the Soviet-era ``stable textbooks'' and the aforementioned ``Committee for the struggle with the Falsification of History'' had a significant impact on what is being taught in schools?Catriona Kelly, `'What Was Soviet Studies and What Came Next?'', The Journal of Modern History, 85(2013), p.111. My research at this stage has involved the interviewing of numerous children from schools around Saint Petersburg, and will as such address the role that a specific school can play in shaping the historical consciousness of an individual. Similarly I have interviewed history teachers from different schools to look into some important decisions facing teachers of history and to look at what role politics and pragmatics occupy in choosing teaching materials. Hopefully this stage of my research will assist me in better understanding the roles of actors in this educational environment and to see if history playsa disproportionate role in weaving narratives of identity in contemporary Russia.
The relationship between history and the building of identity narratives unquestionably is largely a consequence of the nature of Soviet ideology and the way in which this legacy lingers on in contemporary Russian society. As previously touched upon, throughout Soviet period there was an extremely intimate relationship between history and Marxism, which was itself constructed on Hegelian notions of developmental history. Soviet official ideology, being heavily influenced by Marxist visions of societal development, relied predominantly on historical perspective for legitimacy, hence the obligatory training in history and the career fast-track for party functionaries through the history departments of universities. Party cadres, the vast majority of whom were not professional historians, were well versed in using historical perspective to understand politics. As such, it could be argued that historical debates played an important role in the political discourse. Thomas Sherlock has highlighted how historical glasnost contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union.Thomas Sherlock, `Historical Narratives in Soviet and Post-Soviet Space (New York: Palgrave, 2007). He argues that opening up the past to significant debate demonstrated that it was no easy task to develop a stable frame for the Soviet past that advanced the reform agenda but also protected the Soviet foundation myth, and the Soviet system, from fundamental criticism. Importantly, Sherlock extends this idea that history retains a disproportionate role in the weaving of narratives of identity today by arguing that efforts to re-evaluate the Soviet past under Vladimir Putin are driven by much more than the preferences of Putin and the supporting elites. Sherlock claims that `for growing numbers of Russians, including liberals, the Soviet past is now remembered as a time of political and economic stability, of international prestige, but perhaps most importantly, of national purpose and cohesion. Therefore, specific narratives about the Soviet Union are embraced because they provide meaning to individual and collective existence. Certainly there appears to be an on-going idealization of the Soviet past taking place. The purpose of history's function in society might have changed; nevertheless its efficacy in providing narratives of identity remains.
If historical myths and narratives were one of the primary factors in maintaining legitimacy in the Soviet Union, as Sherlock claims, then it certainly worth exploring in what shapes and forms they take today. Similar, if during Gorbachev's period in office, the regime lost control over representations of the past, which resulted in a loss of legitimacy of the Leninist foundation of the Soviet Union, and subsequently a crucial split among the ruling coalition that had supported Gorbachev in 1985 and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union, then how has the ruling elite of today addressed politics of historical representation in the sphere of history education? Arguably one of the most difficult issues for the authors of textbooks to tackle is the description of the Stalin era. In a new historical and cultural standard of the 20 difficult issues of national history, three relate to this period (among historical figures this is a "record"). The controversial points in the standard are formulated as follows: "the causes, consequences and assessment of the establishment of the one-party dictatorship and autocracy of JV Stalin, and the causes of repression", "evaluation of foreign policy of the USSR on the eve and at the beginning of World War II" and "the price of victory for the USSR in the Great Patriotic War.” To give a sense of comparison, in a 2006 textbook for 10th grade students edited by Nikita Zagladin, Sergei Kozlenko, Sergei Minakov and Yuri Petrov, a textbook that is no longer in use, the section dedicated to the cult of Stalin's personality and repression was 12 pages long. In a more recent textbook, published in 2016, by one of the three major publishing houses in Russia, Drofa (the other two being `prosvesheniya' and `russkoye slovo') and authored by Oleg Volobuev, Sergei Karpachov and Petr Romanov on a new historical and cultural standard, only two pages of text are allocated to tackle these same issues.
I interviewed 15/16 year olds around the city of St Petersburg, all of whom use one of the three popular textbooks during history lessons, to explore how exactly they view these issues, and to assess whether or not the content of the textbooks had a role in the formation of their interpretations of contentious historical issues, and to subsequently draw on the idea that a disproportionate role of history in weaving narratives of identity remains to this day. The first individual I spoke to was a 15 year old named Yan, who is currently studying in the 10th grade at Litsey No 387 imeni N.V. Belousova in the Kirovskii region of Saint Petersburg. He informed me that the textbook he used was written by D.D. Danilov (2012) -one that is recommended by the Ministry of Education and Sciences of the Russian Federation- История России (ХХ- Начало ХХI Века). The textbook spans the entire 20th century, and the beginning of the 21st century, however for the purpose of my interview, I decided to focus on the first half of the 20th century. When asked about if and how the terror exerted by Stalin's leadership was studied, Yan replied that is simply wasn't, `voobshhe pochti nikak', a comment hardly surprising given the fact that approximately two pages of Danilov's 387 page textbook are dedicated to the topicД.Д. Данилов, История России 9 Класс ХХ-Начало ХХI Века (Москва: Баласс. 2012), pp. 176-178. , but simultaneous significant given the fact that Stalin's purges of 1937-38 removed many of the vanguard of the revolution, effectively ensuring a complete turnover of personnel within the political, administrative and military elites. Yan went on to suggest that at his school, the focus was more on what Stalin did for the Soviet Union, `to chto stalin delal dlya sovetskogo soyuza', with regards specificly to agricultural and economic development. These comments were in stark contrast to those made by Egor, a 16 year old studying at Litsey No 369 in the Krasnosel'skii region of St Petersburg. At Litsey 369 they use the textbook История Россия for the ninth grade, which is authored by O.N. Zhuravleva, and which, like Danilov's textbook, is also recommended by the Ministry of Education and Sciences of the Russian Federation. Unlike Yan, who said that they use their textbooks for almost every lesson, Egor explained that his teacher rarely uses the textbook, but rather offers her own explanations of varying historical interpretations. He went on to explain that his class was asked to analyse different historical phenomena relating to Stalin's leadership, and to draw conclusions as to their consequences- `nam govorit' rasskazyvaj konkretno chto on delal i ne sdelal, nazyvaya ix libo polozhitel'no ili nepolozhitelbno i poluchaetsya, chto u Stalina vsegda bol'she otricatel'no.'
The students seem to offer differing views about about the nature of Stalin's Russia, and this largely appears to be the result of the differing approaches of teachers. The Bolshevik's strategic retreat at the end of the Civil War, when economic collapse forced them into reversing certain economic policies with the introduction of the New Economic Policy (NEP), has sometimes been referred to as a`Thermidorian degeneration' See for example: Crane Brinton, The Anatomy of Revolution (London, 1938). of the Bolshevik revolution, an argument famously made by Crane Brinton.The students both appeared to reject such an approach, as they spoke of Stalin's period in power in the context of an inevitable second European war was coming, and that, in order to survive it, backward Russia would have to industrialize. They both agreed that rapid industrialization would require that peasants deliver grain to the state on a set schedule; it would also require that many peasants become industrial workers, but interestingly while Yan recognised the some positive results of such policies, Egor was more reluctant to do so. Scholars such as Sheila Fitzpatrick, in her book Everyday Stalinism, have described `ordinary life in extraordinary times'Sheila Fitzpatrick, Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life In Extraordinary Times : Soviet Russia In The 1930S. (Oxford: Oxford University Press,1999).. In a sense she lowers the ideological temperature, in order to depict the Soviet experiment as not just horror and death, but good intentions, contradictions, and interestingly she draws commonalities with Western modernity. See for example: Stephen Kotkin, Magnetic Mountain. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995).Both students recognised that much of what they learnt at school formed their fundamental historical understanding of contentious historical periods, such as the tumultuous period of industrialisation in Soviet Union in the 1930's. Nevertheless they both explained that they often refer to the Internet if a topic interests them, and that they regular discuss what they learn about in class at home with their parents.
These interviews with students begin to shed light onhow important the role of the teacher is in the teaching of history of Russia, and how difficult it can be to create narratives for contentious historical issues that are both unitary whilst simultaneously avoiding `messiness'.Kelly, p.149.Elites in Russia have clearly recognized the need to find the correct balance between the proliferations of detailed scholarly research on the one hand, and the preference of simpler narratives for schoolchildren that speak to big issues on the other. On the whole children are less likely to question ideas presented to them and therefore the school is the perfect place to introduce ideas relating to specific conceptions of a nationwide historical consciousness. The idea that governments recognize that proper attention and care of the past will do the present good might seem manifest, but all the same it is one increasingly discernible in the modern world.Margaret Macmillan, The Uses And Abuses Of History (London: Profile, 2010), p.5.This `balance' was the subject of my discussion with Vadim Popov, a history teacher for 2 years in Suzdal, a town situation on the famous `golden ring' northeast of Moscow. I asked Vadim about how he went about preparing his lesson materials, to which he responded that much of what he taught was prepared with relative autonomy. Interestingly he was denied specific textbooks because the school administration was worried that there was a chance that the publication might no longer be recognized by the ministry of education and science, an important consideration he explained for a school with a relatively small budget. His comments appear to indicate that should a teacher want to ignore the textbooks, then he/she can do so with relative ease, however that simultaneously when school administrations are faced with issues that have their roots in politics, for example the discontinuation of a textbook, they are dealt with pragmatically.
My next set of interviews were with two more students who are currently studying in the 10th grade and as such studied twentieth century history in the previous academic year. These interviews explored similar themes with regards to how and what is used to teach history in their schools, however we discussed Perestroika and the later period of the Soviet Union for much of the interview as they explained that this was freshest in their minds. The first student was a 16 year old girl named Alisa, who is currently studying at Gymnasia 293 in the Krasnosel'skii region of St Petersburg. Like one of my previous interviewees, Yan, Alisa is also using the textbook written by Danilov (2012). When asked about what her main source of information for learning about history was, Alisa replied that she believes that information should be obtained from different sources, and therefore, in school she learns the basics about certain historical phenomena, and only later would she refer to the Internet for more details- ``Ya priverzhena togo mneniya, chto informaciyu stoit poluchat' iz raznyx istochnikov. Poehtomu v shkole ya, kak pravilo, uchu osnovy tex ili inyx istericheskix yavlenij, a uzhe v internete podrobnee i uglublyonnoe izuchayu interesuyushhee menya.'' Her comments suggest that her knowledge about history is not restricted to the school classroom. I subsequently asked her about the collapse of the Soviet Union and the role that her teacher attributes to Mikhail Gorbachev in explaining the development of events in the late 1980s. Alisa responded by saying that to attribute the collapse to a single reason is impossible, and that we should consider a combination of factors inside and outside the country. Nevertheless she considers any dramatic change in the form of government as an indicator that the old system is no longer working- ``Nazvat' odnoznachnuyu prichinu nevozmozhno. Ix opredelyonno bylo mnogo kak vnutri strany, tak i za eyo predelami. Xotya lyubaya smena formy pravleniya- pokazatel' nesovershennoletii staroj sistemy.'' In addition to this Alisa suggested that her teachers allow her to form her own opinions about important figures such as Gorbachev-``Ya dumayu, nash uchitel' pozvolyaet sformirovat' nam svoyo mnenie, bez navyazyvaniya i ubezhdeniya, a lish' s rasskazom real'nyx dostovernyx faktov.''Within the historiographical debate this would situate Alisa's views along a similar line to Daniel Treismann's, a leading scholar in post communist Russian politics and economics,who has argued that the break up of the Soviet Union can be explained by no `simple answer'. Rather, he suggests that one must understand how a range of factors interacted to produce a result that just five years earlier seemed unlikely. Such `factors', according to him, include; the economic inefficiency of communism, the innate human desire for freedom, the force of ethnic nationalism, military competition from the West, and the flaws and mistakes of the country's leaders.Daniel Treismann, The Return, (New York: Free Press, 2014), p.163.
Danilov's textbook in many ways echoes Treismann's line of argument. He highlights economic problems, internal political disputes about dictatorial legacy of Stalin, external drives for independence in the Baltic states, Ukraine and Transcaucasia, and the increasing flow of internal and external publications critical of the regime, as being important factors in explaining the Soviet Empire's demise.Данилов, pp.315-320. Importantly, he echoes Sherlock'sargument, fundamentally based on Pierre Bordieau's (1991) contention that `autonomous discourse leads opposition to question social order which… inclined them to recognise that order and submit to it'Pierre Bourdieu, Language and Symbolic Power (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991)., that the re-evaluation of history that was initiated in 1986 by the reformist faction within the ruling coalition and printed in leading Soviet papers, without the spur of significant societal pressure, was instrumental in stimulating societal forces in the Soviet Union and throughout Eastern Europe- ``Pechtanye izdaniya <<Novyj Mir>><<Moskovsie Novosti>> i drugie rasskvzyvali o zamachivaemyx ranee sobytiyax sovetskoj istorii: Massovyx repressiyax 1930-1950-x godov, nasil'stvennoj kollektivacii...''Данилов, p. 317. However, unlike Sherlock, he does not argue that central control over historical mythology was key in destroying the hegemony of the Communist party and reversing the previous justification of the prevailing distribution of socioeconomic and political power within the one party system.
My second interview was another 16 year old called Elena, who is also currently studying at Gymnasia 293 in the Krasnosel'skii region of St Petersburg, and subsequently is also using Danilov's textbook. Given the aforementioned description of Danilov's section on Perestroika and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Elena response was particularly interesting. She attributed the collapse of the USSR to internal crisis and conflict- ``bezuslovno, prichinoj raspadi sovetskogo soyuza yavlyaetsya vnutrennie krizisy i konflikty.'' In addition to this, when asked about how her teachers characterised Mikhail Gorbachev, she stated that he definitely wasn't portrayed in a negative way- ``Nashi uchitelya ne otzyvayutsya negativno Mixaile Gorbacheve, kogda rech' ob ehtom.'' Elena went on to tell me that her main sources of information for historical questions are her school, the Internet and her parents. She also explained that historical issues are important for everyone- ``voprosy istorii volnuyut kazhdogo.'' Clearly Elena has formed her own opinions on questions of historical importance, however, whether or not she has done so independently of the classroom, is difficult to tell. Neither of the two students I interviewed from Gymnasia 293, nor Danilov's textbook, touched on, in any great detail, the foreign dimensions of the politics of Perestroika. Both the Katyn Massacre (1940) and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Treaty (1939) were both heavily discussed in the late 1980's, and undoubtedly link domestic and international dimensions that influenced directly on the legitimacy of the status of the Baltic republics in the Soviet Union.
One interesting factor to consider when analyzing my interviews was to what extent gender difference might play a role in accepting and forming historical narratives. Lyubov Borisiak has demonstrated how schoolgirls, when compared with their male counterparts, are more likely to internally accept and confirm the value of classical literature as the basis of Russian culture. In addition to this, Borisiak argues that Foucalt's ideas about the implementation of the rule of law can help us to understand some of the key driving forces behind the teaching literature in secondary schools.-Lyubov Borusiak, "Ценить И Быть Послушными: Школьная Литература И Гендерная Социализация | Издательство «Новое Литературное Обозрение»". Accessed 6th May 2018 <http://www.nlobooks.ru/node/7124.> In other words, literature is used as a force of disciplinary action over schoolchildren; in the sense that it is used by teachers as a tool in convincing children that they are obliged to live and behave in a certain way. Both these ideas were important considerations for this research project. It is entirely feasible that boys and girls interpret and accept the authority of their teachers in different ways. Nevertheless, to adequately address this theory would no doubt require a separate piece of research. With regards to the use of school subjects as a tool of discipline, my first set of interviews would suggest that the experiences of children differs greatly depending on a wide set of factors. In contrast to Borusiak's research, the children that I spoke to did not suggest that the main reason for studying history was simply because it was a `school lesson'. On the contrary they indicated that history issues are of great importance for both individuals and society in general. Moreover, the teachers with whom I spent time with in Saint Petersburg did not display such tendencies.
Despite what many have called the attempted re-politicization of history in the Russian federationKelly, p.110.(that has largely come about as a side effect of a system of `managed democracy' that has characterized Putin's rule since 2000), it would appear misleading, as many Western commentators have, to draw conclusive parallels between history education and the `irredeemably authoritarian character of Russian rule.See for example the special issue of the journal Neprikosnovennyi zapa 74, no.6 (2010), on ``nostalgic modernism''.Alexei Miller's argument about `history politics' might well address what is happening at state level, with new methods of regulating historical outlooks and interfering in the politics of memory, as well as new methods of legitimising interference, being developed by the state,Miller, Eng.globalaffairs.ru. however it certainly does not address the efficacy with which such methods of regulating historical outlooks are being implemented in schools. Although the argument that specific narratives about the Soviet Union are embraced because they provide meaning to individual and collective existence is convincing, my interviews would appear to suggest that both students and teachers have strong degrees of autonomy when it comes to deciding what version of history to accept. Furthermore my interviewees suggested that schoolchildren in post-Soviet Russia carefully consider their history, which in turn suggests that history and narratives of identity are somewhat intertwined.It is therefore both this `autonomy', as well as `if' and `how' history ostensibly playsa disproportionate role in weaving narratives of identity in contemporary Russia, that the next chapter will explore.
Chapter Three: The State, the Teacher and the Student
The remaining part of this research project will be dedicated to a more detailed investigation of how children in Russian schools in Saint Petersburg learn about the Soviet Union, the role of history teachers in shaping the historical outlook of his/her students, and exploring exactly how, and in what contexts, history is important for Russian children and society in general. Unfortunately, because of how limited my access to schools was during this research, I certainly do not seek to draw conclusions that are representative for Russian society as a whole, particularly when it comes to teaching. Instead, this chapter will introduce a different school `context', and,crucially, will draw on more evidence that indicates that the relationship between state directed policy and what is actually being taught in schools is much more complicated than has been suggested by many Western academics.* Furthermore, it will explore the idea that while, in recent times, much of the language used to describe historical events has, in fact, reverted back to the same Cold War ideological themes of patriotism and national identity, there are teachers fighting back against it, largely because of the fact that the knowledge of all the historical revelations of the last two decades cannot be stuffed back into Pandora's box.Kathleen Smith, `'Whither Anti-Stalinism?'', In What Is Soviet Now? Identities, Legacies, Memories, (Berlin: LIT Verlag Munster, 2008), pp. 153-169. This research will therefore conclude with an assessment that is both equally positive and negative in weight. In addition to this I will go some way to agreeing with Martin Malia's statement that the experience of almost three quarter's of a century of Communist rule has created a population inoculated``against all ideological politics''Martin Malia, The Soviet Tragedy A History of Socialism in Russia (1917-1991) (New York: The Free, 1994)., and will suggest that is in many respects history is used in society as an effective counterweight to politics of ideology. In other words, the official history that is adopted in Russia is designed to prevent divisions on ideological grounds. Ultimately though, this is not surprising, given the fact that in many countries around the world, over the past century, history education has been used and abused as a conduit for nation-building curriculum.Tatyana,Tsyrlina-Spady and Michael Lovorn, "Patriotism, History Teaching, And History Textbooks In Russia: What Was Old Is New Again?". In Globalisation, Ideology And Politics Of Education Reforms, 41-57. (Switzerland: Springer International Publishing, 2015), p.41.
*See for example the work of Alexei Miller or Miguel Vasquez Linan.
At the beginning of 2018 I was fortunate enough to negotiate a three-week internship at Klassicheskaya Gymnasia, a school widely regarded as one of the best in Saint Petersburg. The school was founded in 1989 by Lev Lure, a famous Russian historian and writer, and boasts an excellent reputation for its high academic standards. Among the subjects to be studied by all students are both Latin and Greek. After a meeting with the history teacher, Konstantin Evgenievich, it was agreed that I would be permitted to attend the classes of the 11th grade, who, he explained, had just finished discussing Stalin's period of leadership, and would for the next few weeks be studyingthe Soviet Union after Stalin, and correspondingly the leadership of Nikita Krushchev, and the main historical events associated with it. Konstantin Evgenievich took an interest in the research project, and agreed for me to interview both himself and his students....
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