ROAR: New history textbook provokes political scandal

A new history textbook saying that for long periods of history the Soviet Union was led by people of non-Russian origin and describing some peoples as traitors has become a cause of fierce public arguments.

The authors of the tutorial “History of Russia. 1917-2009”, Aleksandr Vdovin and Aleksandr Barsenkov have quickly found supporters and opponents.

“The textbook, written by two professors from Moscow State University, which is used in many other institutions, has provoked a storm of indignation among scholars and politicians,” Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily said.

But the scandal around a controversial history textbook has also grown into a personal cause of journalist and Public Chamber member Nikolay Svanidze, another daily, Novye Izvestia, said.

Russian human rights activists and public figures have published an open appeal for his support. They believe he has become a target of “the campaign of harassment” after his criticism of the textbook.

Svanidze, who chairs the Public Chamber’s commission on Ethnic Relations and Freedom of Conscience, believes that the tutorial allegedly incites ethnic enmity and expressed desire to appeal to prosecutors, the media say.

Human rights activists have started to collect signatures in support of Svanidze as they think that the journalist’s anti-totalitarian and anti-chauvinistic position has provoked “a strong irritation” among his opponents.

Even a shortest look at the textbook shows that in certain parts it is “tendentious, extremely subjective, and from this point alone it may not be used as a tutorial,” the authors of the appeal say.

Among those who signed the open appeal are head of the For Human Rights movement Lev Ponomarev, writer Boris Strugatsky, head of the Moscow Helsinki group Lyudmila Alekseeva, and human rights activists Sergey Kovalev and Elena Bonner.

Svanidze thanked his supporters, but said they wrongly thought that a campaign is being conducted personally against him, Novye Izvestia newspaper said. The matter concerns the position which the Public Chamber defends, he stressed. “Some people are not satisfied with it, so they have chosen me as a target for attacks,” he noted.

It is not the first time the journalist and public figure becomes the target of a political attack from his opponents.

However, the first who intended to appeal to court against the authors of the textbook was human rights ombudsman of the Chechen Republic Nurdi Nukhazhiev, the daily said. He believes that the tutorial presents Chechens “as enemies of their own country, traitors and bandits,” the paper said.

According to Nukhazhiev, the textbook contains a number of falsifications. “In particular, without reference to sources, it alleges that 63 per cent of Chechens serving in the Red Army since the beginning of WWII broke their oath of allegiance and deserted,” the daily said.

“Nobody has ever produced exact data in this regard,” Nukhazhiev said. The authors based their opinion on materials of “Stalin’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs, the NKVD,” the ombudsman claimed. This organ actively used “disinformation and fabrications to justify the activities of the Kremlin which deported whole peoples,” he stressed.

The Public Chamber recently held a meeting where “historians described the scandalous textbook as extremist one,” the paper said. “The authors officially apologized, saying that they had used unverified data.”

They also wanted the distribution of the tutorial to be stopped, the daily added. Sergey Karpov, the dean of History Faculty of Moscow State University said that the textbook was no longer used in the educational process. The meeting of the academic council of the faculty will determine the fate of the controversial tutorial.

Svanidze does not believe the mistakes of the two professors were accidental as “they have been writing such things for a long time and teach them.” He described the textbook as “Stalinist and xenophobic” and assumed he was attacked by those who adhere to similar opinions, the paper said.

The bulk of “attackers” are bloggers, Svanidze believes. “They try to show that those who did not read the book are discrediting the professors,” he said, adding that academicians took part in the Public Chamber meeting.

However, the authors of the controversial tutorial have supporters not only among bloggers. Yury Zhukov, senior researcher of the Institute of Russian History of the Academy of Sciences believes that “it is not a matter of Chechens or Svanidze.” The Public Chamber member “assesses history from his position of super-liberal and super-democrat,” Zhukov told Regnum news agency.

Unconfirmed data used in textbooks “give grounds for those who as before aspire to falsify our history,” said State Duma deputy from the ruling United Russia party Gadzhimet Safaraliev.

However, he does not believe that court hearings should be held as “it is unlikely to give a necessary effect.” The community of scholars should assess the textbook in the framework of a wide discussion, the deputy told Regions.ru website.

“One should not make political conclusions here, otherwise it will turn out that the two men are able to provoke a quarrel between whole peoples,” Safaraliev said.

Sergey Borisov,
Russian Opinion and Analysis Review, RT