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Crimea: One for the History Books

The Kremlin is moving fast to make sure Russian students learn the ‘correct’ version of the Crimean annexation.

by Halya Coynash 10 June 2014

Russia has already added information about its annexation of Crimea to a school history textbook with the version presented just as doctored as the results of the “referendum” used to claim overwhelming support for the move.

 

Lenta.ru reports that a new Russian textbook for the ninth grade is about to go on sale with a brief, but rather specific, presentation of the events around Russia’s annexation of Crimea. President Vladimir Putin has ordered that other textbooks also be brought into line.

 

The textbook’s authors, Alexander Danilov, Ludmila Kosulina, and Maxim Brandt, have followed Putin’s lead in stressing the role played by Crimea and Sevastopol in Russian history. With respect to the events in 2014, the account is best quoted in full.

 

A crowd in Red Square watches as Russian President Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Konstantinov, leader of the Crimean parliament, sign a treaty on Crimea's annexation in March. Photo by Evgeniy Roginskiy/flickr.

 

“At the end of 2013 and beginning of 2014 the situation in Ukraine was exacerbated. In February 2014 the legitimate president of the country, Viktor Yanukovych, was overthrown, and power went to the opposition. One of its first decisions was to revoke a law on the status of the Russian language and to prohibit its use on an equal basis with Ukrainian. The parliament of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, which was part of Ukraine, refused to obey the Kyiv authorities.

 

On 6 March 2014, the Crimean parliament passed a decision that the republic would join the Russian Federation and set a referendum on this for 16 March. According to the results of the referendum, 96.77 percent of Crimeans, and 95.6 percent of residents of Sevastopol were in favor of Crimea and Sevastopol reuniting with Russia. On 18 March an agreement was signed on Crimea and Sevastopol joining Russia as a subject of the Federation. Following ratification by both sides of the agreement on 21 March 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the law on Crimea joining Russia and on the formation of two subjects of the Russian Federation – the Republic of Crimea and as city of federal significance, Sevastopol. A Crimean federal district was created.”

 

The good thing about most school kids is that they don’t ask inconvenient questions. Their teachers might, which was doubtless the reason for such immense haste in presenting a “correct” version of events, the kind students should learn – and repeat for good grades.

 

Silence about the EuroMaidan protests that made world headlines for more than three months was not unexpected. Nor the police gunning down unarmed protester, which led to Maidan’s ultimatum for Yanukovych to go. This, in fact, is what he did, fleeing first to Kharkiv, then to Russia where he has been in hiding ever since. The version could have been much worse, as the Kremlin and Russian media have demonstrated, but for a school textbook greater accuracy would have been desirable.

 

Doctoring the records is also inadmissible. Yes, a slim parliamentary majority did vote on 23 February to revoke a notorious language law pushed through despite mass public protest in July 2012. This law purported to protect the rights of any minority ethnic group comprising 10 percent of the population of a region, but in fact simply allowed Russian to become the main language in a number of regions of the country. The law was unconstitutional and highly contentious but it touched a raw nerve in eastern regions of the country and the move to revoke it was disastrously insensitive. The blunder also allowed the Kremlin to bleat about the Russian language being “banned,” ignoring the fact that interim President Oleksandr Turchynov stated immediately that he would not sign the bill and the language law remains in force. It is worth mentioning also that in his 7 June inauguration speech, Ukraine’s new president, Petro Poroshenko, told eastern Ukrainians – in Russian – that he guaranteed their right to freely use Russian. 

 

Perhaps the main lie is highlighted by Russian historian Andrei Zubov, who lost his post at the prestigious Moscow State Institute of International Relations over his condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Crimea. Not only was the law not revoked, but it did not cover Crimea, which as an autonomous republic had its own law on language. The Russian language was never under any threat at all.  

 

The version of events that school students in Russia are to receive makes no mention of the armed seizure by soldiers without insignia of government buildings on 27 February and takeover by the leader of a marginal party with 4 percent support in the last parliamentary elections. Fourteen-year-old school students may not understand that a “referendum” cannot be arranged within 10 days, even if the decision it is intended to approve has already been made. They will not learn from their history lessons that the referendum was condemned by many Crimeans and by all democratic countries; that the near 100 percent vote for joining Russia has been rubbished even by the Russian president’s Human Rights Council; and that the United Nations and Western countries do not accept Russia’s annexation of part of Ukraine’s territory.

 

On 2 June Putin instructed the cabinet to work together with the Russian Historical Society on supplementing by 15 August the concept framework for new standardized textbooks of Russian history with information about the role of Crimea and Sevastopol for the Russian state. These textbooks, he said, should be written in good Russian and not contain any internal contradictions or ambiguous interpretations.

 

For almost 70 years the Soviet Union foisted a single “correct” view on everything, including history. The grip on “correct” historical interpretation in Putin’s Russia has been tightening for some years, and a historic iron curtain now seems to be falling over Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Halya Coynash is a journalist and member of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, on whose website a version of this commentary previously appeared.

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