Taking part in the meeting were State Duma Speaker and Chairman of the Russian Historical Society Sergei Naryshkin, Presidential Aide Andrei Fursenko, Education Minister Dmitry Livanov, Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky and representatives of the academic, education and expert communities.
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Speech at a meeting with designers of a new concept for teaching Russian history.
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues,
We are aware of the active and involved discussion in our society of the issues pertaining to history, specifically to the teaching of history at schools and universities.
This is no surprise: the views expressed in the course of teaching history here largely determine the attitude in society to what we are doing today, to our short- and medium-term plans, as well as our strategy for a longer historical period. This is the reason for such heated debate around the issues connected with history.
This is why I find it very interesting and important to meet with you, representatives of the restored Historical Society, the Military History Society, scholars, academics, authors of the new concept for teaching Russian history. Your assessment of what has been achieved so far and how we should proceed in this sensitive area is very useful and valuable.
The concept, which has been finalised and adopted, as far as I know, should form the basis for an entire set of textbooks and study guides.
I would like to begin by saying that coordinating our approach to the study of national history does not mean formal, official, ideology-driven single-mindedness. We are talking about something different: a single logic in teaching history, an understanding of the inseparability and interconnectedness between all stages in the development of our state and statehood, the fact that the most dramatic and ambiguous periods are an inseparable part of our past. There is a wide range of assessments and views on these issues and we should respect them, because this concerns the life of our nation and of our predecessors, and our history is the basis of our national identity, our cultural and historic code.
The purpose of this course, if I may touch upon this issue, is to give young people good fundamental knowledge of key historical facts, of our outstanding compatriots’ deeds. We often have serious problems with this. Willingly or not, we tend to diminish what had been achieved by our predecessors in the past years or millennia of the Russian state’s existence. I fail to understand why we do this.
Of course, we must not exaggerate anything or get snooty about things that may or may not be worthwhile, but we can and must give a fair assessment to everything our nation has achieved in the more than one thousand years of Russian statehood.
History, just like other humanities, should teach students to think independently, to analyse and compare different points of view. However, I would like to repeat that the backbone of the entire history course should be fairness and a lack of bias, respect for our past and love for our homeland.
I know that the new history-teaching concept was prepared on time, as I said, and on October 30, 2013, it was approved at an expanded session of the Russian Historical Society’s Presidium. Its authors are experts from the Russian Academy of Sciences’ research institutes for Russian and world history, leading university professors and schoolteachers.
Professionals and the public discussed the concept and historical and cultural standard for five months at various round-table discussions, in the media, and on the Internet; thousands of people took part, including academics and history teachers, veterans, members of parents’ organisations and high-school students themselves.
The authors took into consideration all constructive comments and proposals when finalising the concept. I expect to talk about this today as well.
I would like to take the opportunity to thank the head of the working group – State Duma Speaker Sergei Naryshkin, as well as all the authors of the concept for their extensive and fruitful work. I am grateful to all the participants in the discussions for their active civic stance, regardless of their approach. It is very important that people showed such interest – this is a good sign that we are not indifferent to our country.
Now, using the concept as a basis we should start drafting new history books for all school grades. Clearly, it will be a while before they appear in schools, and we need to envisage this transition. We should also use the concept as a basis for all examination materials, including the National Final School Exam. All this should be done before the start of the next academic year.
At the same time, as I already said, we should use the concept to begin preparing a new set of history textbooks. I would like to stress here that this should be done as openly as possible, without monopolising any aspect of this process. We should use the resources of both established and new historical groups, including young historians.
Professionals and the public should expertly assess all the materials before they can be recommended for use. I would like here to ask the Russian Historical Society to get actively involved in this expert assessment and consider the incentives the Society could provide for the best papers’ authors.
In addition, we should continue our unbiased professional discussion of the most controversial historical events. We must draw on established facts to bring our positions closer, to reach a coordinated interpretation, at least wherever this is possible. I believe we have quite a few such opportunities.
I am convinced, however, that we should not restrict teachers in their attempt to present to students varying viewpoints on historical facts and events and use supplementary materials in their teaching, such as collections of documents, manuals, etc. The main thing is for them to remain objective and base their views on fundamental scientific assessments and conclusions, and not to distort facts.
We should also consider how to synchronise the Russian history curriculum with that of world history, which is also taught at school, using the experience and findings of Russian universities, including such a highly accredited one as MGIMO [Moscow State Institute of International Relations (University)].
History is a complex subject that requires extensive and varied knowledge on the part of the teacher. It is very important therefore to properly organise high-level professional training and retraining for teachers, and to be able to use video and audio materials and the Internet for these purposes.
In conclusion, I would like to touch upon another important matter. This year will mark 100 years since the beginning of World War I. Ahead of us are the 70th Anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War, 100 years of the February and October Revolutions [of 1917]. These dates are of great national significance, all of them, regardless of how we assess them. This is a fact, and we should consider together what events, and on what scale should be organised on a national level. I would like to hear your suggestions.
This is what I wanted to say as an opening. Thank you for your attention. Let us begin our discussion of the subject matter of this meeting.
Vladimir Putin: The purpose of all our work is not just for people to learn about the past or learn about objective assessments, but also to understand their own, personal measure of responsibility for the nation we live in; this is true both for today and, as I already said, in the long term.
I looked at these complex, difficult questions, some of which have already been debated for a thousand years. I think that for some of these problems, the debates between historians and experts have been recurring for centuries; they began even before Solovyov and our other well-known researchers – for example, the role of the Varangians in the process of building a unified Russian state. We do not have reliable data, so I think we can only speculate, but speculations are possible based on the overall data we obtain during archaeological studies and analysis of primary sources and texts.
So this, too, is not superfluous work. It is important for understanding our identity: who we are, where we came from, and how we are developing. These are highly important things, even if the arguments on this topic have been going on for centuries.
Mr Chubarian [director of the World History Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences] said that the inconsistency in textbooks have made teachers’ jobs more difficult. That’s significant, of course, but it’s not what’s most important. What’s most important is that there are still things trickling through the school textbook certification system that are absolutely unacceptable, not only for our nation and our people, but for any nation and any people – it was like having someone spit in our faces. For example, certain assessments in certain educational materials of what was happening during World War II – it is simply a disgrace, it cannot be called anything else. I am not even talking about the deliberate downplaying of the role of the Soviet people in fighting fascism; there were even deeper things there, it was some sort of ideological garbage. And we need to get rid of it.
I want to stress again that this is not about any sort of uniformity or attempts to implement some kind of conformity in thinking and assessment. Assessments are important; I saw how the price of Peter the Great’s reforms or the price of victory in the Great Patriotic War is assessed in these complex debates. Of course, we can talk about all of this, it is important as well; but it is even more important to talk about what our colleague just said – the consequences.
Some say that Eastern Europe was plunged into the darkness of occupation by the Stalin regime as a result of World War II. In part, we must recognise that the Soviet-era ideology was working there and negatively influencing the development of these states. But we are talking about the consequences; and if fascism had won, what would be the consequences? Some ethnic groups would have been completely wiped out; they would have simply been annihilated.
So we need objective assessments, and today we can do this, especially since we can jointly develop the most objective possible approaches to assessment, as was just stated about our cooperation with historians from other nations. We can do this, and we need to do this.
In this respect, I would of course like to thank you for what has been done recently and very much count on this work to continue. As I already said in my opening remarks, it will continue – of course, with participation by the widest strata of society in this highly important joint work.