Facing a dark past in Russia

tags: Russia, Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Putin, The Economist



IN SOVIET times, it was the ideological caprice of the moment, rather than any open-ended research into the past, that determined how people were taught to view the different phases of their country's history. In the aftermath of the Bolshevik revolution, official history lessons denounced the Tsars for their cruel treatment of smaller nations. Then the Russian empire was rehabilitated as a "lesser evil" than its weaker neighbours; and as Stalin's repression reached its height, his regime and its ideological masters began to find merit in the savageries of Ivan the Terrible. There was a sardonic saying that summed up these dizzying fluctuations: "The future is known—it's always bright—but the past keeps changing."  

President Vladimir Putin has never hidden his belief in the need to bring stability to the official view of the past. He has ordered up a standard history text-book, which might be ready for use in high schools across the country by next year. "If in the east [of Russia] we have one version of history, in the Urals another one, and in the European part of the country something else, this will possibly destroy [any] integral humanitarian space in our multi-ethnic country," he has said. And early drafts of the new version of the Soviet period suggest that it will brush over Stalin's repressions, concentrating instead on the "reforms" that the tyrant accomplished....



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