Experimental Feature: Audio Read Version
Almost nobody today remembers Bernhard Rust. From May 1934 until May 1945, when he committed suicide, he was the Reichsminister of Science, Education and National Culture in Hitler’s Third Reich. Much like the range of characters promoted and favoured by Russian President Vladimir Putin, he was from a low background and little qualified for the role. His main qualities were loyalty to the leader and devotion to the regime’s nationalist ideology. It was Rust who added ‘race science’ to the biology curriculum, and who substituted the subject ‘geography’ for ‘geopolitics’ – Nazi geopolitics.
Now it is happening all over again, but in Russia. From 1 September, Russian 11th graders will be learning a new unified history textbook with revised chapters covering 1970 to the present day, including the ‘special military operation’. The modern-day Rusts are Presidential Aide Vladimir Medinsky1and Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) Rector Anatoly Torkunov.2 This article examines their revised history – Putin’s version of history – that all Russian children will now learn.
Russian nationalist ideology
At the heart of the new history curriculum is Russian nationalist ideology. This was articulated in the new ‘National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation’, signed by Putin on 2 July 2021 – but who at that moment guessed it was the first drum roll for war? Paragraphs 19-21 read:
- 19. The problem of moral leadership and the creation of an attractive ideological basis for the future world order is becoming more and more urgent. Against the background of the crisis of the Western liberal model [the imagined imminent collapse of a degenerate West is a repeated argument of Russian nationalists], several states are making attempts to purposefully erode traditional values, distort world history, revise views on the role and place of Russia in it, rehabilitate fascism, and incite interethnic and interfaith conflicts. Information campaigns are being conducted to create a hostile image of Russia.
- 21. Against the background of the implementation of a targeted policy to contain the Russian Federation strengthening its sovereignty, independence, state, and territorial integrity, protecting the traditional spiritual and moral foundations of Russian society, ensuring defence and security, and preventing interference in the internal affairs of the Russian Federation are of vital importance for our country.’
The remainder of the document is similarly soaked in an acid bath of defensive paranoia. ‘The actions of some countries are aimed at instigating disintegration processes in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) to destroy Russia’s ties with its traditional allies,’ it warns. ‘Traditional Russian spiritual, moral, cultural and historical values are being actively attacked by the United States and its allies.’ Nothing less than ‘saving the Russian people’ is at stake, the first listed of the 2021 strategic national priorities.
The unofficial voice of Russian nationalism has been most stridently expressed by personalities such as Alexander Dugin whose daughter was killed by a car bomb last year. Dugin belongs to the millenarian and apocalyptic branch of Russian nationalism. Like Aleksander Solzhenitsyn, who he physically resembles, Dugin holds up an imagined, pre-lapsarian Russia – a Slavic Garden of Eden infiltrated by the foreign Lucifer of the West. ‘We really entered into a conflict – a civilizational conflict with the West,’ he asserts, ‘And it is no coincidence that our president said that we are opposed to the satanic civilization. The modern West is the civilization of Satan.’
In Dugin’s world, there are no greys, just absolutist blacks and whites. Ukraine (like Poland in the 19th century) is a ‘terrorist idea‘ that must cease to exist: ‘The Ukrainian idea itself is pure terrorism, the embodiment of hatred, racism, unjustified enmity towards one’s brothers, the revision of all historical episodes, the creation of an absolutely false, fictional, monstrous, aggressive, mythological history… Ukrainian statehood must cease to exist. It cannot be anything other than a terrorist. And if we have set the task of denazification and demilitarization in the NWO [‘special military operation’], then we will be able to accomplish this only by establishing full control over this land.’ The end of Russia is foreseen if Ukraine is not erased from the map (the same arguments were made over Poland): ‘If we do not reach this limit, we will perish. We cannot stop somewhere in between, somewhere in the territories that we have liberated…Any truce concluded before the complete liberation of Ukraine is a catastrophe, irreversible and final. And victory in Ukraine is a fundamental opportunity for us to be a civilization historically, a Russian Eurasian civilization. If we hesitate, it will be our end.’
Others like Alexander Samsonov – a prolific author on Voennoye Obozreniye (‘Military Review’) with over 3,800 articles to his name – represent the racist side of Russian nationalism. For Samsonov, Russians are a ‘superethnos’, the counterpart to the Nazi’s Aryan race theories. The ‘Russian superethnos’ was a coinage of Soviet historian Yuri Petukhov who denied separate Ukrainian identity. In his view: ‘The inhabitants of Little Russia in ethnographic terms do not represent an independent Slavic individual (as opposed to, for example, Czechs, Poles, Bulgarians, and Serbo-Croats), but only a variety of that vast Slavic individual, which is called Russian people.’ In Samsonov’s world view the ‘Great Russians’ (Muscovites) spread civilisation and the benefits of empire to backward and inferior peoples living on the fringes – including Ukrainians who are not so much the ‘Little Russians’ as ‘sub-Russians’ waiting to be ‘liberated’, as in the past. Samsonov’s hysterical fear is the ‘degradation, barbarization of the Russians themselves’ and ‘collapse of the Russian world and the Russian superethnos’, through contamination with other ethnicities. His answer is the recreation of a ‘Great Russia’ which will become the ‘centre of mankind’ and ‘an example for all peoples.’ It could be Himmler speaking.
The new 11th-grade modern history curriculum
The new curriculum is essentially a catalog of distortions, absurdities, and lies justifying Putin’s foolish ‘special military operation’. Such a manipulation of the academic system by the state, to justify a sitting autocratic ruler, has not happened before in Russia, a country with a long record of historical distortions.
- The removal of President Yanukovich in February 2014 was ‘an illegal coup d’état carried out by nationalists’.
- Ukraine is a ‘terrorist’ ‘neo-Nazi state’.
- ‘The symbolism of the SS units banned throughout the world is widespread [in Ukraine].’
- Ukraine has ‘openly declared its desire to acquire nuclear weapons.’
- Dissent is prohibited in Ukraine: ‘Today, any dissent in Ukraine is severely persecuted, opposition is prohibited…’
- There were ‘no Russian soldiers in the Donbass’ in 2014.
- The Minsk Agreements were a ‘cynical ploy’ by France and Germany ‘to give Ukraine the opportunity to build up and strengthen its army’.
- The confrontation with the West deteriorated with the election of President Biden and the ‘mocking refusal’ to sign a new security agreement taking into consideration Russia’s security concerns [a reference to the Lavrov document presented in December 2021 which included such demands as NATO returning to its 1997 borders].
- If Ukraine joined NATO and then attacked Crimea [a preposterous notion] it would be ‘the end of civilisation’ which ‘could not be allowed’.
- Russia had to mount the pre-emptive ‘special military operation’ because the national leadership realised ‘Delay in providing assistance to the Donbass can lead to a repetition of the tragedy of June 1941…Russia simply did not have the right to allow the repetition of those tragic events.’
- Sanctions and the freezing of assets are ‘absolutely illegal’ and ‘theft’: ‘In essence, the actions of the West are no different from the looting of our museums by the Nazi invaders during the Great Patriotic War.’
- The West seeks the defeat of Russia so there was no choice but to decree the ‘partial mobilisation’ and incorporate the ‘new regions of Russia’ following referenda. ‘Literally from the first days of the formation of new Russian regions, Russia began to restore them,’ it further asserts, even as the Donbass and southern Ukraine are reduced to depopulated wastelands.
- Russia is fighting NATO: ‘Our military is opposed by an ideologically pumped, armed NATO army.’
- Ukraine is using its citizens as ‘human shields’: ‘Such a savage tactic has never been used before on its territory by any army in the world in history.’
The chapter ends with a section on ‘Russia is a country of heroes’ and includes QR codes that allow children to access excerpts from Putin’s speeches – as if in imitation of George Orwell’s 1984 (which incidentally witnessed a surge in demand in Russia following the invasion).
As well as the new modern history curriculum, from 1 September, all Russian 10th-11th grade students will be required to complete 68 hours of basic military training (NVP). This will include how to handle a Kalashnikov assault rifle and hand grenades, how to conduct reconnaissance with a drone, and how to counteract enemy drones.
Is the new curriculum incitement to genocide?
According to Article II of the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide,any of the following actions are genocide:
‘In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
- Killing members of the group;
- Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
- Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
- Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
- Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.’
At least four of these actions have been executed deliberately in Ukraine, areas of which are now ravaged, depopulated wastelands.
The Convention continues: ‘The intent is the most difficult element to determine. To constitute genocide, there must be a proven intent on the part of perpetrators to physically destroy a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group…It is this special intent, or dolus specialis, that makes the crime of genocide so unique.’
Historian Timothy Snyder (author of the indispensable Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin) has offered nine criteria historians use to evaluate genocidal intent: colonial, apologist, dehumanizing, narcissistic, escalatory, metaphysical, fascist, replacement, and exceptionalist. Against all nine, Russia scores highly. The Medinsky-Torkunov (Putin) version of history also scores. The new modern history curriculum is exceptionalist, escalatory, dehumanising, and narcissistic – never mind that it is just plain false. There are no doubts about the special intent of the new curriculum. From the beginning of the September school term, Russian children are going to learn to hate their near-neighbour and us. Killing another is so much easier this way.
Image rights. Study this child – Evgeny Razumny / Vedomosti
Sergio Miller is a retired British Army Intelligence Corps officer. He was a regular contributor and book reviewer for British Army Review. He is the author of a two-part history of the Vietnam War (Osprey/Bloomsbury) and is currently drafting a history of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.