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October 21, 2021 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 329

The Study Of History Is A Key Element Of The Kremlin's Official Ideology

October 21, 2021 | By Dr. Olesya Zakharova*
Russia | MEMRI Daily Brief No. 329

During his years in power, Russian President Vladimir Putin has long shown a vivid interest in history and history education. In particular, his concern about "the falsification of historical truth" resulted in the July 30, 2021 creation of the Interdepartmental Commission on History Education, a special body whose purpose is "ensuring a systematic and proactive approach to the issue of upholding the national interests of the Russian Federation in connection with the preservation of historical memory and the development of educational activity in the field of history."[1] The commission's goal is shape an actual national history policy by developing a "unified approach to historical education" in the country.[2] Vladimir Medinsky, the controversial former Russian culture minister and presidential aide, was appointed commission chairman.[3]

Putin considers this body to be of the utmost importance. In fact, in addition to high-ranking officials from the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Education and Science, and the Ministry of Education (also known as the Ministry of Enlightenment), the commission's members include representatives of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the Ministry of Defense, and the Russian Security Council, as well as the Investigative Committee and the General Prosecutor's Office. The decision to include members from Russian security agencies is not accidental, since the tasks of the commission include analyzing and countering the activities of foreign organizations that "damage Russia's national interests in the historical field."[4]


The coronation of Nicholas II in the Dormition Cathedral of the Kremlin in Moscow


Dr. Olesya Zakharova

Reshaping History Education In Order To Prevent Russia's Collapse

On September 1, 2021, Russia's Knowledge Day, Putin met at the Okean National Children's Centre with students and gave them a history lesson, in order to "awaken" children's interest in history and "inspire" them to study it.

Putin said: "History, after all, is not just a set of figures, names and events. As I said, it is the foundation of knowledge in the humanities, because... we can look at what is happening today and how we should behave in the future. In our country, Russian statehood disintegrated twice during the 20th century. The Russian Empire ceased to exist after the 1917 revolution. Russia lost huge territories in the west and north but gradually recovered. But later came the collapse of the Soviet Union. Why?

"We should closely analyze all this and find what triggered those dramatic events. Had they not occurred, we would have had a different country now. Some experts believe that we should have had a population nearing 500 million people. Just think about it. Today, we have 146 million. Had these tragedies not occurred, there would have been 500 million people. Do you feel the difference?

"This constitutes the combined might of the state, which constantly grows in geometric progression, creating an increasingly powerful basis for development, existence, and wellbeing. We should see what was at the basis of those tragic events so as to not, under any circumstances, let anything of the kind happen in the future."[5]


Putin meets with students (Source: Kremlin.ru)

In order to push ahead his plan to reshape history education, Putin took personal control of all the steps of this initiative. Recently, he instructed educational institutions and organizations in the country to report by December 1, 2021 on how the work on the comprehensive update of the system of teaching history in schools will be organized.[6] Earlier, on September 28, 2021, the first meeting of the Interdepartmental Commission on History Education was held. According to the Kremlin website, meeting participants noted that history education focuses on "forming solid basic ideas about the country's past among Russians" and on "counteracting systematic attempts from abroad to falsify Russian history."[7]

On October 4, 2021, Putin sent greetings to participants of the World Congress of School History Teachers, saying in a speech: "History... largely shapes world outlook and helps broaden a young person's horizons, and plays a defining role in promoting personal qualities such as patriotism and civic spirit, respect for the homeland, and a feeling of being part of its destiny."[8]

It is worth noting that a Russian Historical Society higher history education commission was created under the leadership of Russian Deputy Minister of Justice Andrey Loginov. Its main task is to help the Russian Ministry of Education fund positions in university history departments. Since history education in recent years has not been very popular among young people, as there are very few jobs available in the field, the commission decided to fund more positions in history faculties.

Conclusion

Respect for history or, better, love for the Russian past has literally become one of the key elements of the Kremlin's official ideology. Until recently, the mandatory characteristics of the "good Russian citizen" included loyalty to Putin and readiness to carry out heroic deeds in order to safeguard the homeland. But leading Russian Imperial historian Vasily Klyuchevsky has said that the Kremlin wants each Russian to be also "a little bit of a historian in order to become a conscientiously and consciously acting citizen."

At the October 2020 "History for the Future: New Look" forum, Presidential Aide Vladimir Medinsky clarified that history is a political tool. He introduced the term "historical sovereignty" to define Russia's ability to independently interpret its own history and to stand against the U.S.'s "point of view" on history that, he said, is being "imposed" on the world.

History becomes therefore another important element in the ideological war between Russia and the West. Medinsky actually said that "the struggle for history" is "part of the competitive struggle of states."[9]

*Dr. Olesya Zakharova is a Russian political scientist.

 


[1] Meduza.io/en/news/2021/07/30/putin-establishes-commission-for-historical-education-headed-by-ex-culture-minister-vladimir-medinsky, July 30, 2021.

[2] Meduza.io/en/news/2021/07/30/putin-establishes-commission-for-historical-education-headed-by-ex-culture-minister-vladimir-medinsky, July 30, 2021.

[3] Meduza.io/en/news/2021/07/30/putin-establishes-commission-for-historical-education-headed-by-ex-culture-minister-vladimir-medinsky, July 30, 2021; Rferl.org/a/russia-profile-culture-minister-vladimir-medinsky/24602133.html, June 3, 2012.

[4] Kremlin.ru/acts/bank/47084, July 30, 2021.

[5] Kremlin.ru/events/president/news/66554, September 1, 2021.

[6] Ria.ru/20210927/istoriya-1752073616.html, September 27, 2021.

[7] En.kremlin.ru/events/administration/66806, September 28, 2021.

[8] Kremlin.ru/events/president/letters/66842, October 4, 2021.

[9] Histrf.ru/read/articles/obrazy-budushchiegho-i-istorichieskoie-mirovozzrieniie-vystuplieniie-vladimira-miedinskogho-na-forumie-istoriia-dlia-budushchiegho-novyi-vzghliad

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