Staunton, August 27 – Vladimir Putin’s April 2013 call for the creation of a single school history textbook lest variations lead to “the violation of the humanitarian space of ‘our multi-national nation” has sparked objections from Russian nationalists and the Russian Orthodox Church who say it downplays the Russianness of the state and from non-Russians who say such a text would downplay their uniqueness.
Just how sensitive and even explosive this issue is was highlighted today by a statement of Russian education minister Dmitry Livanov that there won’t be a single textbook but rather a single standard for the development of textbooks and the ministry’s almost immediate disowning of that statement.
At a press conference earlier today, Livanov declared that “most likely we will not have a single history textbook” as Putin apparently had called for. Instead, Russia “will have a single historical-cultural standard on the basis of which will be developed history textbooks. That does not mean there will be one single textbook.
Because of what appeared to be a rare defeat for a Putin proposal and a victory for his opponents both among Russians and non-Russians, the minister’s words attracted the attention of Russian media from the official to the opposition (ria.ru/society/20140827/1021587921.html, kasparov.ru/material.php?id=53FD9C8A0C025 and nazaccent.ru/content/12934-ministerstvo-obrazovaniya-otkazalos-ot-vvedeniya-edinogo.html).
But almost immediately they also triggered a clarification by Anna Usacheva, Livanov’s press secretary, who said that some in the media had proven incapable of seeing “the differences between the terms ‘a single book’ and ‘a single conception’ of history.” No one has given up on the latter, she suggested (interfax.ru/russia/393568 and nazaccent.ru/content/12939-ministerstvo-obrazovaniya-ne-sobiraetsya-otkazyvatsya-ot.html).
However that may be, the opponents of a single textbook are certainly going to view this as a victory because it suggests that the education ministry itself is anything but committed to what Putin said he wanted and that they will press their case in the coming months as such textbooks are being prepared for the 2015-2016 school year.
Moreover, many who may not be concerned with this specific issue are likely to view it as evidence that the Putin regime is not quite as monolithic as some think and lead some to try to reopen issues that the Kremlin leader’s declarations had suggested were already closed.