Day Kyiv | 16Nov2010 | Pavel Kovaliov

Joint textbook on absurd?
Nothing forgotten, nothing learned

Ukraine’s current foreign and domestic political trends envisage a demonstrative folding up of all programs that have anything to do with the Ukrainian patriotic spirit. Not surprisingly, they’re going to start at school. Dmytro Tabachnyk’s textbook-rewriting initiatives are apparently not enough. There is no confidence in the local intelligentsia. The agenda is all about producing a Ukrainian history textbook in collaboration with Russia. Academically speaking, a nonsensical concept, but there is a possibility of such a textbook hitting the bookshelves and being used in our schools, as soon as September 1, 2011.

From the standpoint of the depatriotization apologists, the 19 years of Ukrainian national independence form the biggest obstacle in accepting the “only correct” notion of Slavic-Orthodox-Soviet-Russian unity -- the one we receive from across our northwestern border. The trouble is that over this period a whole generation has formed that takes its homeland as given and regards its national history as a value in itself.

Kuchma’s presidency, if judged objectively, allowed Ukrainian history to be taught in a rather balanced way. This helped public interest, but the situation changed in 2005, with history taking what can only be describe a revolutionary leap, serving as one of the causes of today’s cardinal rollback. Indeed, President Yushchenko revealed the glaring, unhealing wounds of the past. These mind-boggling revelations caused many to recoil, even if for pure psychological reasons. What we are now witnessing is an equally quick and dramatic breakup of Yushchenko’s and all other interpretations of Ukrainian history over the years of national independence -- and all this before the eyes of a single generation. Afterwards, a great many individuals will be loath to study national history. Their indifferent attitudes to history and the idea of national independence are but a step apart.

Perhaps all of today’s opponents to reforms in science, education, and ideology are actually determined to instill this don’t-give-a-damn attitude towards the Ukrainian past. The years that have elapsed after the Maidan have caused a mass psychological trauma for half of the Ukrainian population. This experience is now turning into the victor’s revenge, as the triumphant political force has forgotten nothing, but nor has it learned any lessons. Had they learned at least Kuchma’s quasitolerance and healthy objectivisim, they would have acted differently. Instead, we are witness to an attempt to delete pages from Ukrainian history, ones written in sweat and blood of all those who fought for national independence.


Significant events in Ukrainian history have started being left out of the history textbook for Grade 5, meant for children between 11 and 12 years of age, when one is especially susceptible and sensitive to basic information about one’s country. The first impression is commonly the strongest one, so this factor was taken into account. This new history textbook offers no information about the Kruty heroes, the Sich Riflemen, Stalin’s terror, the Holodomor genocidal famine, the OUN-UPA struggle (in any context), the dissidents, the democratic movement of the 1980s-1990s, let alone the Orange Revolution. It emerges as a corpse, dissected, processed, stitched up by the pathologist and his team, then dressed up by the mortician. One of the formal arguments for this publication is the alleged “duplication of data,” that these historical events will be studied at greater depth at the institutions of higher learning. With regard to the Orange Revolution, it is pointed out that it is “necessary to distance ourselves from disputable matters in the recent past.” Most such corrections, according to the textbook author, Viktor Mysan, concern the role played by Russia in the Ukrainian lands -- with an eye to avoid any disputable matters with Ukraine’s Big Brother. In other words, the Battle of Konotop, the Baturyn slaughter, and Valuev Circular are taboo subjects from now on. The question is what comes next? What about the history textbooks for the seventh graders and upward? What about college and university textbooks? So far, the overall impression is that the obsolete “nationalistic concepts” are being discarded gradually, that the process will take between one and two years. But there is another logical question: How about facts that are found even in Soviet textbooks, like Ukrainian culture being persecuted under the Romanov dynasty or serfdom enforced in Left-Bank Ukraine? How is one to interpret what happened in 1917-20, the Red Terror? In other words, there is no way to revive the Soviet history textbook, so the author of the new version will have to think up something new. It is precisely here that speculations on a joint historical concept begin.


In Russia, this opinion is voiced by Sergei Markov, deputy chairman of the Russian State Duma’s committee on civic associations and religious organizations, a well-known champion against nationalism and bourgeoisie, a devotee of Natalia Vitrenko’s ideology. He proposes a joint commission, rooted in Ukraine’s Party of Regions and United Russia, to work out a “single approach to history.” Needless to say, this commission must be like the one meant to “counter attempts to harm Russian interests by falsifying history,” which is acting as an Inquisitor and overseer of the newly revived Orthodoxy-autocracy-nationality triad, as directed from Russia’s leadership. Russian MP Markov is still on this commission, and being an “impassioned commissar,” he knows exactly what worldviews have to be hammered into Little Russian heads. He is mainly quoted as saying that “What’s happening to the Ukrainian history textbooks is a nightmare. This situation has crossed all lines, so much so that those who signed these textbooks for publication should have long been dealt with by the prosecutor’s office. This a criminal case. There are no history textbooks, anywhere in Europe, where the Orange satanic idea is put forth.”

In another, more characteristic instance, Markov, just like Tabachnyk, points to Europe as a case study in tolerance, with both being only too well aware that European standards and Russia’s great-power chauvinistic-civilizing ideology are worlds apart.

Volodymyr Semynozhenko, former Deputy Prime Minister for Social Affairs of Ukraine, seems to have adopted a more moderate tactic. When the matter of a joint textbook was first raised in May 2010, he said that the Ukrainian government wasn’t planning a Ukraine-Russia publication dealing with history, but that it was worth discussing “complicated issues” relating to both countries’ past, adding that “there will be Ukrainian history textbooks in Ukraine and Russian history textbooks in Russia.” Well he might say so, having gone through Kuchma’s school of “multivectoral” ideology. A month later, Semynozhenko was shown the door, in appreciation of what he had said. Among other things, he was accused of banning the Ukrainian dubbing of Russian movies. I would be loath to eulogize this former deputy prime minister in charge of the social sphere, but the current absence of this ministerial post speaks for itself. Tabachnyk is all we have.

Says Dmytro Tabachnyk, Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine: “First, we must regard all historical events that have taken place in today’s Ukrainian territory as part and parcel of Ukrainian history. Second, we must discard ethnocentrism — an ethnic approach, overstatement of [the role played by] the state, and military aspects in teaching history. Third -- and I concur -- there are scholars who propose to teach history based on an anthropocentric basis. In other words, with the emphasis on man, not the state -- not even a victorious war, be it in the 17th century or later, for this is a victory of the state, but one that made people suffer. I think that, by using such approaches and this new concept, we will be sure to depoliticize our textbooks, making them more unbiased and humane.” Sounds great. Personally I’m willing to support every point made above. Tabachnyk went on to say, “We must propose truly nationwide heroes, regardless of their ethnic origin, so long as they acted on Ukrainian territory.” Sure, but why then censor Bandera, let alone Mazepa? Because the former operated in Halychyna and the latter in Left-Bank Ukraine? Both are local heroes by Ukraine’s current standards. But then the same is true of Bohdan Khmelnytsky and all the other hetmans. If so, who is a nationwide hero? Sydir Kovpak with his [bandit] raids in the Carpathians? The Bolsheviks who enforced their [blood-shedding] rule on Ukraine?

Anyway, the new kinds of textbooks are likely to appear. Whether or not they will set up a commission based on the Party of Region and United Russia is anyone’s guess, although anything seems possible these days, so it is best to prepare for the worst. Tabachnyk’s “anthropocentric” textbook could be written by Ukrainian historians, in principle, except that most of them in Kyiv appear to adhere to the national idea, so the authors ought to be found somewhere in the south or east of Ukraine, although Russia offers the best option to make this project demonstratively academic.

It is safe to assume that the new history textbook will contain a story about Mazepa’s “high treason” — even though he could have turned traitor only to himself. Also a story about the international importance of the Battle of Poltava (which was significant only for Russia, as a victory paving the way for winning the Great Northern War and establishing the Russian Empire). In all likelihood, there will be a couple brief paragraphs about Menshikov’s troops and their repressions in the aftermath of Poltava, something about inevitable reprisals during that trying period. Anyway, I keep wondering about Tabachnyk’s anthropocentric approach to Ukraine’s sufferings in 1708. How this textbook will handle the seizure [and massacre] of Baturyn? What about the Cheka, peasant rebellions, collectivization, and Holodomor?


How is history being officially taught in the Russian Federation? In 2002, Russia published a textbook entitled Latter-Day History of Our Fatherland. This was the first sign of a U-turn in the direction of Russian nationalism and militant Orthodoxy, along with a campaign aimed at rehabilitating Stalin. The authors provide statistics naming every recipient of the most prestigious Soviet Award, the Order of Lenin, during WW II, and specifying the recipient’s ethnic origin. In the end they declared that the war was won by Russian officers and men, because they “fought for the Russian land, for their Fatherland and faith, that there was a difference between the ‘fascist ideology with its satanic concept of Aryan predominance’ and Russian psychology [mentality], rooted in the Orthodox faith, something no commissars’ directives could have destroyed.”

This is how they interpret Stalin’s purges, which killed some 40 percent of the Red Army’s commanding officers, all the way from marshals to battalion and company leaders — one of the notable reasons behind the atrocious fiascos in the early months of WW II on Soviet territory: “Stalin, with his repressions, did not weaken the Red Army but strengthened it…” because those officers “were his political enemies, former supporters of Trotsky, so he dealt with them as dictated by the rules of the struggle underway at the time… Stalin was a strong-minded statesman.” So much for all those hundreds of thousands of his victims.

In 2007-08, there appeared in print a two-volume Russian history textbook covering a period from 1900 until present day, edited by Aleksandr Filippov. As the first such textbook commissioned by the Kremlin, it reflects the views that flourished at the peak of Putinism. Pavel Danilov, the author of the first volume’s chapter entitled “Sovereign Democracy” (Putin’s pet formula), on Gleb Pavlosky’s Effective Politics Foundation’s payroll, was markedly straightforward. Referring to Russia’s history teachers and lecturers, he wrote: “Today, a considerable number of history teachers are decadent intellectuals, people who cannot act adequately. However, you can trust me when I say that the situation is being corrected.”

We might as well expect this situation to be “corrected” in the same way in Ukraine. If so, what would they recommend that our “decadent intellectuals” teach their young Ukrainian students? Doubtlessly the same as their peers in Russia. Our students will be told what had “actually” happened in Ukraine, in the 1930s: no Holodomor, that the famine had been actually caused by bad weather, as well as by “collectivization shortcomings”; that in the 1930s the Soviet Union had built an industrial, rather than a socialist or capitalist society, as part of the Kremlin’s wise modernization program.

This textbook reads that the deployment of Soviet troops in Poland, in 1939, was a mission aimed at liberating Ukrainian and Belarusian territories; as for Baltic states and Bessarabia, they had been part of the Russian Empire. The teachers will be further advised to tell their children that the Soviet Union’s defeats at the start of the “Great Patriotic War” were due to objective reasons, and that matters pertaining to deportations during the war should be handled with “special care and consideration.”

Filippov’s textbook places special emphasis on the justification of Stalin’s repressions. While acknowledging the execution, by NKVD firing squads, of Polish prisoners of war in Katyn, it reads that “this was not simply a matter of political expediency but a response to the death of thousands of Red Army men in the Polish prison camps after the war, in 1920, and that this was initiated by Poland, not by Russia.” In other words, the notion of “just historical revenge” is introduced. If so, how about such historical revenge on the part of Ukrainian, Belarusian, and Baltic resistance movements? A rhetorical question, of course.

With regard to Stalin’s repressions, the textbook’s quotes should be read carefully, comparing Russia’s -- and even more so, Ukraine’s -- current realities. It reads that the main reasons behind the purges was “…resistance to Stalin’s line on accelerated modernization and the leader’s fear of losing control over the situation. The VKP(b), influenced by the mounting opposition moods within society, turned into fertile ground for various ideological and political groups and trends, while losing its solidity… To Stalin, this was a threat of losing political leadership, physical destruction, as well as overall political instability. The activities of the emigre groups added to these fears. The Soviet political leadership was carefully studying the experiences of fifth columns in other countries…”

Doesn’t this remind you of anything? This textbook further reads: “Stalin wasn’t sure who would strike the first blow, so he dealt a blow to all the groups and trends he knew about; also, to all those who weren’t unquestioningly like-minded or [trusted] allies.”

This year, a historical source appeared in print, authored by Dr. Aleksandr Vdovin and Dr. Aleksandr Barsenkov, both lecturers at the Moscow State University. It was a true scandal, being accused of anti-semitism and xenophobia. It portrays a lot of events in an elevated spirit, apparently more propaganda than academic objective historic, even if on a very limited scope. Vdovin and Barsenkov claim that the Crimean Tatars were deported in order to set up a Jewish [Soviet] Republic in the Crimea. They go even further than that: “A large part of the USSR’s 70-year-old history has to do with political leadership made up of non-Russians. The history of Bolshevik nationalities policy, since the early years of Soviet power, has been one of constantly overcoming difficulties -- bound to emerge in a multiethnic state -- largely due to the efforts of the entire Russian people.”

In other words, historical facts about the number of non-Russians at the Bolshevik helm are edited along the national chauvinistic lines: Russians are good, and all non-Russians are bad. But there is the big hitch: Stalin and Beria were Georgians. Prosecutor Vyshinsky was of Polish parentage, and Prosecutor Krylenko was Ukrainian.

Gentlemen, if you are sure that all non-Russians are bad, it stands to logic to add these people to their number.

In fact, what triggered the above publication was Vdovin’s article “Russia’s Latter-Day History form the Standpoint of National-State Patriotism.” A large part of it was included in the textbook’s foreword, including the following statement:

“It is important for history to be written by representatives of a state-building people and with an eye to people’s interests and values. He who writes history controls the present.”

This last sentence reflects the struggle for the younger generation in Russia, Ukraine, all other post-Soviet countries that remain under Russia’s influence. Granted, but Ukrainians form the state-building people in Ukraine, so the first part of Vdovin’s concept is non-applicable here, otherwise the ethnocentric idea will be on the agenda. The other part applies to all the attempts made to rewrite history in a context desired “upstairs.” Those in power in Ukraine also want to keep our past, present, and future under their control. So far, they have been content to use propaganda, but is there any guarantee they won’t start applying repressive methods tomorrow?

Everything starts with a Grade 5 history textbook. Time to raise individuals with a new system of values.