Representatives of leading Russian universities and institutes under the Russian Academy of Sciences, in particular, the Institute of Russian History, Institute of General History and the Archaeology Institute, took part in the meeting.
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President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Colleagues, friends,
We agreed to hold this meeting, the purpose of which is to listen to you and hear from you views and ideas that we could carry out in the course of our work together, all the more so given the importance of your field of professional activity.
Of late, we have spoken a lot about and I think have made progress too towards putting greater importance on knowledge of history in general and teaching history in schools and universities. There have been many discussions over the modern concept of history that should form the foundation for the textbooks we use in our schools. I hope that you, as young specialists in this field, will take active part in these discussions and work together with your colleagues on this.
I will not talk about your work’s importance now. I have spoken about this on numerous past occasions. You have surely heard my words and I have probably bored you all by now with my constant coming back to this subject. I keep doing so because this really is needed today and is so very important for our people and country. We see the attempts being made to recode society in many countries, and such attempts are being made to recode our society too. This always goes hand-in-hand with attempts to rewrite history and shape it to particular geopolitical interests. But history is a science and if you are serious about it, it cannot be rewritten. Of course, it is precisely to prevent this from happening that we need people like you, specialists who can not only give a full and objective picture of past events but also give them an assessment, which is extremely important and an essential part of history as a science.
Let me end my remarks here. I would rather go straight to the discussion and exchange of views with you. I will listen to what you have to say and will make a few remarks regarding the issues foremost on your minds. Let me end here for now.
Please, you have the floor.
Oleg Zakirov: Thank you.
Mr President, I want to congratulate you and everyone here on National Unity Day. This is a young holiday but it has a rich history. It has great importance for us and this importance is growing every year. I also want to thank you for coming to the Seliger Youth Forum this year. The discussions and speeches there were very interesting and all of the forum participants had the chance to meet with you. Thank you very much. We hope that we will have the opportunity to organise such events there in the future for young teachers and academics.
My question is as follows. These last years, the state authorities have actively supported patriotic themes in culture, education, and scientific research, and have backed patriotic media projects. But at the same time, we cannot ignore that it is pseudo-historical or false interpretations of history, sometimes directly politicised falsifications, that often make their way to the broadest audience through the media, films, internet resources and even computer games. Even the most important pages of our past, such as the history of the [1941–1945] Great Patriotic War and the history of Russia’s relations with Ukraine and with other countries and peoples close to us have been subject to falsification.
Of course, Russia cannot think of banning films, websites or publications, but would it be possible to achieve effective substitution in this area, if one can put it this way. Do you think that objective and balanced patriotic works of culture and academic thought could make false historical works uncompetitive and deprive them of their mass audience? Of course, there are always people who love sensations, secrets and all that is falsely presented as new scientific discoveries and new objective interpretations. But in your view, do you think we can create greater demand among the broad audience of readers and viewers for academic research and its results, given that historical films and programmes also have a considerable influence on historical consciousness and memory?
Thank you very much.
Vladimir Putin: Oleg, you said quite rightly that we cannot ban anything. We should not ban anything in general except what is purely criminal in nature, and the legislators view these things in just this way – as something criminal. As for things that have a negative impact but are not actually criminal as such, the only way to combat them is to offer a more solidly justified and better explained view in their place.
We visited the museum just before and Ms Velikanova [Director of the Museum of Modern Russian History] showed me the exhibitions. We noticed that during the civil war period, which was a very difficult time for our entire nation, for better or for worse, the Bolsheviks’ slogans and posters were more vivid and concise and no doubt more effective in their impact. Aside from anything else, they also rode the fashion of the moment because no one wanted to keep fighting and so they called for an end to the war. They duped society, of course. You all know the slogan of “Land to the peasants, factories to the workers and peace to the people!” They did not give the people peace because the civil war broke out, and they took the factories and land and nationalised them. So this was complete and total deception.
Response: It’s not right to deceive.
Vladimir Putin: Of course, it’s not right to deceive, but they did so with style, and that no doubt worked in their favour too because defence of one’s views and interests must be thorough, performed with talent, and have good content and packaging that attracts and makes a strong impression on people’s minds.
I cannot claim that the state authorities are effective in this area, but there have been some changes for the better of late in my opinion. The state authorities can never be effective in this area, however. Only society can be effective if people realise the importance of the approaches and views that society itself considers necessary for the country, people and specific individuals.
Our common task (let me call myself your colleague) is to convince the majority of our people that our views are correct and objective and present the results of your work to society. We need to win minds and encourage people to take an active position in their own right on the basis of the knowledge that you present as objective. But I do call on you to be objective in studying all periods of our history.
When we convince the vast majority of our people that our position is correct, objective and fair, and show that this position benefits our society, country and people, we will gain millions of supporters. This is what we have been seeing over recent times. When we show that we are right and our actions are just, we will win huge numbers of supporters at home and abroad. It is the same with laws. Thousands of laws get written, and then millions of people think up how to get around them. If we can present our position the right way, we will win millions of hearts and minds, and this will happen of its own accord.
But this requires serious research of course, a lot of hard work, research in the archives and work with documents. The state authorities’ job is to help you to get across to the public the importance of your research, to help you present and advertise it, to use the modern terms. We will do our best.
Andrei Popov: Mr President, good afternoon. My name is Andrei and I represent here the organisers of the exhibitions the Romanov Dynasty and the Rurik Dynasty. On behalf of our big team, let me thank you for your high assessment of our projects. Your words and your support are very important to us. I have a question, and if possible, a request to make too.
My question is as follows. When we organised the Rurik Dynasty exhibition, we plunged back into a time when Russia faced constant hardships and trials of a sort that we do not know and cannot even fathom today. There were endless wars, the invasions of Batu Khan and Tamerlane, the attack from the West during Alexander Nevsky’s time, and bloody internecine wars. One cannot help recalling the words of St John of Kronstadt, who said that, “Russia is forged by trials and misfortunes.” He said this at the start of the 20thcentury.
Mr President, do you think that all of these trials and challenges that Russia faces today are not just coincidence but have a deeper meaning for our country? What is your view of this, what does it mean for you?
As for my request, you came to our exhibition last year, and to the one this year. Thank you for this. You saw how we managed to create an interactive and interesting textbook of Russia’s history through to 1917. With the Moscow City Government’s support, a permanent exhibition will open next year at the VDNKh centre. But we have received huge numbers of letters from the regions with people asking us to bring these exhibitions to them. Many people simply do not have the possibility to come especially to Moscow to see the exhibitions. Could you help us to make it possible to take these exhibitions to the regions, set them up on a permanent basis in the capital of each federal district, so that more people will have the chance to encounter this kind of unique and amazing knowledge in such a fantastically interesting form?
Vladimir Putin: First of all, regarding the exhibition, I want to thank you and everyone who helped to organise the event and express my sincere thanks for your hard work.
The first exhibition, dedicated to the Romanov dynasty, took place not just in Moscow but also in the regions. We will try to make sure that the exhibition on the Rurik dynasty also gets taken to the regions. I am sure that it will be of great interest, just as was the exhibition on the Romanovs.
But I must say that the work on the Rurik Dynasty exhibition was a lot more difficult. For a start, this is further back in time from us today, and it is harder to work out all the details of what actually happened. There are fewer primary sources and we cannot even always be confident that what we have are primary sources and not handwritten copies (with changes possibly made to copies). The most reliable culture is oral culture, whereas anything copied in writing, the person doing the copying can always add something. But we have what we have and have to make do with this, search and analyse.
Why do I say that this is more difficult? I am not ready for a serious discussion, which would require reading all the literature. You are in a much better position in this respect than I because this is your profession, your bread and butter, but perhaps in the exhibition’s framework this is the only approach in any case. I looked yesterday at how the Rurik dynasty began, but you use only Karamzin’s version.
This Norman theory of the Russian state’s origins postulates that this group was called in to help organise relations within the community. But there is another theory that they were called in not to help organise things within the community but to provide external defence. They were simply hired as a security organisation, to use today’s terms. That was all, and they later could be said to have usurped power. This point of view also exists.
But you give only one point of view. This Norman theory postulates that statehood came from outside. Those who think differently say that statehood had already taken shape in Novgorod and the foreign group was hired for external defence. This was why the princes were so restricted in their rights and why they got forced out if they crossed the line in exercising their powers.
The other thing that I wanted to bring to your attention is something that also has a bearing not just on the present but on all of our history and could in part answer the question that you put, namely, why did we go through such a difficult time in that period of our history? All these wars, invasions, the wars against the Mongol-Tatars and so on, why did it all happen? Yaroslav the Wise was very wise of course and did a lot to develop the country, but he did not institute a system of succession like the system used in some Western countries. The procedure for succession to the throne in Russia was very complicated and tangled and created fragmentation.
Because (after all, you are specialists and I’m sure you know this better than me), the problem with this system was that succession did not simply pass directly to the oldest child, but was determined by two factors: the oldest heir by direct succession, as well as the oldest in age. And they got completely confused and began fighting amongst themselves: who was older, and who was more directly connected. All this led to fragmentation and weakening of the Russian state.
Knowing this, we must take the situation today and tomorrow very seriously. This is exceedingly important. We were just remembering, I recalled Klyuchevsky, and he stated many absolute truths. You recall, he said, “History is not a teacher, it does not teach anything. It is an overseer who merely punishes those who haven’t learnt their lessons.” This history lesson about periods of fragmentation must trigger a danger signal. We must treat this very carefully, and not allow such things under any circumstances. We must know our history.
Yesterday, I was talking to someone, a very well-known individual, highly respected and very educated. But she did not know that National Unity Day honours the liberation of Moscow by militia members who were headed by an ethnic Tatar. This was surprising – how could this be? But it’s amazing. He collected money and gave away all his belongings in order to gather a militia, appealed to the prince and essentially put him at the head of the militia. He collected the money, you see, to save Russia.
This says a great deal. It speaks to the internal unity of the multi-ethnic Russian people, which keenly feels the danger of a rift, from the division of the nation, from fragmentation. It is dangerous for everyone, regardless of ethnicity or religion. These things are highly important. And if you could somehow reflect this, either in your future exhibitions or events like this, it would be exceedingly important. I suppose that’s all.
Kirill Kochegarov: Good afternoon, Mr President.
I have a question concerning not only science, but also education, at the school and university level. Because in reality, regardless of how well the scholars work, it is very important for their research to translate at a school level for students at universities and schools. You spoke about the concept for an educational and methodological complex on Russian history, part of which is the history and culture standard, which is a good example of cooperation between academic science and schools. It was discussed extensively and quite thoughtfully and, ultimately, everyone reached some sort of result. But what’s important is not just the content of this concept, but also how it will all be presented at schools.
Right now, the Education Ministry has begun discussing model programmes based on this concept, including on history, which proposes designating the material by grade level – what will be taught in which grade.
With regard to this, I have a question: how do you feel about the role of the 20th century, its teaching in schools and in the history of Russia?
And another question. I have read that, for example, our Kazakhstani partners are developing a concept for students from non-humanitarian university departments – in other words, so that there is common content, so that people who have never studied history study it at universities. There were some recommendations concerning the content as well. I would like to hear your views on this issue.
Thank you very much.
Vladimir Putin: I may disappoint you. I do not want and do not feel I have the right to delve into the technology of teaching history. I have expressed my attitude toward this subject. I feel it is exceedingly important, simply essential; we cannot build a nation without it.
But how can it be organised? I feel this ultimately needs to be done by experts like yourselves, in discussions with colleagues, by the Academy of Sciences, the school and parent communities. This is a serious discussion, it must be professional to the utmost degree – it involves organising the work itself. It is up to you to think and decide within your community.
As for teaching history at non-humanitarian universities: yes, we need to take all the best elements. The Kazakhstanis have a great deal we can learn from, they are working very successfully in many areas – in the economy and the humanitarian sector. They look at what we are doing, and we look at what they are doing. Of course, the best practices should be taken from all around the world, and especially from our closest neighbours. We need to see how they organise all this.
As for the 20th century, everything is important for us – the more distant past, and more recent, contemporary history. It is harder to teach more recent history because we have a great deal of politicised issues there, not all wounds have healed yet, especially if we take the civil war, the opposition between the Reds and Whites. But nevertheless, we still need to deal with it, we must strive to be as objective as possible, and we certainly need to know about our most recent past.
This year, we spoke a great deal about World War I and, I feel, we presented information about that war very well and quite objectively. In practice, we revived the names of many of our forgotten heroes and gave new, unbiased assessments to the events that happened then and the result that was so tragic for Russia. Why was it so? Where did this result come from? After all, we were not beaten in battles on the front. We were torn apart from within, that’s what happened. Russia declared itself a loser. To whom did it lose? To the nation that ultimately lost the war itself. Overall, it’s crazy. I think this is an entirely unique situation in history. Russia lost enormous territories, did not achieve anything aside from colossal losses. We must know this as well, that we suffered enormous losses out of some sort of political considerations. I am not even certain whether we were able to recoup those losses fully.
Yes, we won the Great Patriotic War; we were winners in World War II. This was also likely no accident, because those who took part in World War I – they were essentially the people leading the main operations, supervising the fronts and the general staff. Who were those leaders? Military experts who fought in the First World War. There were some new commanders as well, an entirely new generation so to speak, especially after the 1937 repression. But the military experts who had made it through the furnace of World War I were at the forefront. And this also played a certain role. The cruelty of the leadership likely played a certain role as well.
We could, of course, argue about this and give political assessments. It’s just hard to say whether we could have won the war if the leaders had not been so cruel, if they were more like those in Nicholas II’s time. It’s very hard to say. And what would the consequences have been if we’d lost? The consequences would have been simply catastrophic. They were going to physically exterminate the Slavic people, and not just ethnic Russians, but many other peoples, including the Jews, the Gypsies and the Poles. In other words, if you weigh it, it is hard to say what is worse. We must study it and assess it, but those assessments must be as objective as possible.
Should we be doing this? Of course we should. I mentioned World War I. In 2017, we will be marking the 100th anniversary of what some call the Great October Socialist Revolution, while others talk about the October coup. But in any case, this event took place almost a hundred years ago and requires an objective, deep, professional, comprehensive assessment. And next year will also mark a major anniversary of the end of the Great Patriotic War. Of course, there has been a great deal of terrible, bloody events, but unfortunately, this is what we have lived through and we must certainly know about it.
Mikhail Nikiforov: Hello, Mr President. My name is Mikhail; I have come from Crimea.
Russia’s National Unity Day has a special meaning for people in Crimea, because Crimea is a region that had been separated from its Homeland for 23 years, which is a long time. I would like to thank you again for the celebration of this unity with our Homeland – with Russia. My question is not even so much a question; I want to talk about something that you mentioned as well, that history will be a topic of speculation, that there will be attempts to rewrite history; they are being made now. With regard to the events of this year, the history of Crimea is very interesting right now, not just in Russia but throughout the world. It is natural that our opponents would wish to rewrite it, using it for their own political goals.
So I think that right now, it is important how much Crimea’s history is intertwined with the history of Russia. We are interested in the objective history of Crimea and I think that for us, for Russia, it would be important to create scientific works on the history of Crimea, with participation by eminent scholars not only from Russia but other nations as well. I feel Crimea must be the centre for writing these works; the history of Crimea must be written in Crimea. And I think that if we do not write this history of Crimea, it will be written for us. Even now, in Kiev, attempts are being made to write the history of Crimea. Naturally, those attempts are not objective. Since we are interested in objective history, we must work on writing it ourselves, because it will be written for us without relying on the scientific principles of objectivity. Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: You deny your Ukrainian colleagues the presumption of innocence and consider a priori that everything there will be politicised. Although we cannot rule it out, given the state of society today, but nevertheless, we need to look at what those colleagues are doing. Some things are so obvious that they cannot be denied. And we ourselves have not even discussed it yet.
What do I mean? Well, if we delve into distant history, we will also look at what Prince Igor was doing (that, incidentally, is reflected at the exhibition), we will look at the borders of Khazar Khaganate, how relations developed between peoples in that time, how the Russian state was born and developed, how it evolved. And this history does not hold any losing positions for us, starting with the fact that for ethnic Russians (I mean that particular segment of our multi-ethnic peoples – ethnic, Orthodox Russians), Crimea has a kind of sacred significance. After all, it was in Crimea, in Hersonissos, that Prince Vladimir was baptised, subsequently baptising Rus. The first, initial font of Russia’s Baptism is there.
And what is Hersonissos? It is Sevastopol. You can see the connection between the spiritual source and state component, meaning the fight for Crimea overall and for Sevastopol, for Hersonissos. In essence, the Russian people have been fighting for many years to gain a firm foothold in its historical font. This is extremely important. We flip through some things, so to speak, while others seem more important to us, but there is something more profound even than, say, the understanding that Sevastopol is a city of Russian glory, of naval glory, which is also important. But there are aspects that are even more profound.
As for the fact that we need to turn to this topic, the history of Crimea, you’re right, this is very relevant today, but overall, this is relevant for other reasons, which I just stated. Naturally, I suppose it would be good if you and your colleagues who are living and working in Crimea turned your attention to this topic and worked on it. We would be happy to support it. I will speak with the Cabinet, and we will support it at the governmental level. It is certainly needed. But we will need to look at the 20th century. Why? Because a great deal of the spiritual aspect of life in Crimea is tied to Russia in general. I mean our great writers and artists who lived and worked in Crimea. This is an essential part of our cultural life, our cultural code.
Olesya Adamenko: Hello! My name is Olesya Adamenko, I teach at the North Caucasus Federal University in the city of Stavropol.
I have the following question: Mr President, we talk a lot about history, the role of individuals in history, and I would like to ask: which historical figure from our past would you invite to your team, and why?
Vladimir Putin: You know, our rich history has many outstanding individuals with strong characters and encyclopaedic knowledge devoted to their people, their nation. It is impossible to invite any of them, but I feel it is possible to try to understand how they reasoned, what guided them in certain situations, when making particular decisions. The organisers of the exhibition devoted to the Rurikids are trying to interpret certain things, even if their understanding is fragmented. But this exhibition is not only aimed at providing knowledge, but first and foremost, inciting an interest in history among people toward Russian history and provide a certain outline.
But the goal of experts such as yourselves and all your other colleagues is to help me and my colleagues, regardless of where they may be and at what level of government, to understand what guided previous generations of Russian people, wherever they served the Fatherland, in making various decisions, more or less difficult and more or less important, or crucial decisions. I am referring to our economic past, as well as the military component, and the domestic and foreign policy. This is exceedingly important; it is interesting and very useful. And we very much count on your help. Indeed, that is why we have gathered – to ask you to get you involved in this work.
Zhanna Metelkina: Zhanna Metelkina, International Relations History Institute, Southern Federal University.
My question is as follows. You frequently quote philosophers, historians, public and state figures such as Berdyayev, Klyuchevsky and Stolypin. What body of historical materials do you reference to answer the questions that stand before modern Russia?
Vladimir Putin: I have essentially just about answered this question. If I myself am working on something, before saying something or giving a speech somewhere, just like anyone else, I simply try to remember what seemed important and interesting from what I had seen, read, or learned earlier. And I simply try to find it using the Internet and books to remember more precisely: what did a particular author say about a particular problem? You look, you refresh something in your memory – I suppose that is the easiest, most necessary approach.
Moreover, if you find yourself facing something that already occurred in some form in previous times (and this happens very often), you try to see how the events developed at that point in history, at some point in the past, what decisions were made and what this led to. If there is time to do so, that is what I try to do. And if not, if I have to do everything quickly, I use my legal sense and understanding of what is possible and useful for a particular sector and for the nation overall in today’s situation specifically. But all of this is based on previous experience, of course, and an assessment of today’s situation.
There are many different authors. If we talk about your field of expertise, we have already listed many. There are other authors as well, who are not as well known to the public, but who are no less valuable, although I will not list them all now. Many people have expressed themselves and stated their position on life, on the history of our state, assessing what happened in earlier times, talking about their hopes for the nation’s development in the future. And not just those working in the field of historical science. They also include our philosophers, such as Ilyin, our writers, artists, and political figures. So all of this together. But, of course, this needs to be done constantly, which is what I try to do.
Anton Kompleyev: Anton Kompleyev, Penza State University.
Mr President, I would like to return to the problem of falsifying history, the distortion of our perception of history. I myself work on the history of World War II and I think many present here would agree that this is one of the most painful topics subject to falsification and distortion, first and foremost by our western colleagues, for the most part. The reasons are clear. This problem has existed for a long time. We have already heard here that the challenge of fighting it is not just a challenge for the government, but for the historical community as well, first and foremost, us, historians. The Government should help us in this respect.
In light of this, I would like to give an example. I am holding a book by a British historian; it addresses the Anglo-German confrontation in 1940 and 1941, the German military plans and German operations against Britain. This book has absolutely no mention of the Soviet Union’s role in this period of the war, it absolutely fails to show the relationship between the German war plans against Britain and the fact that in parallel, Hitler was preparing a war against the Soviet Union. The book does not even mention the Barbarossa plan. In my view, and I think many of my colleagues would agree, this approach belittles the role of the Soviet Union in the years of World War II. And in this regard, we are entirely capable of giving a dignified response, and we can give it by broadening and expanding the source base in this area. And we do not need to go anywhere to do this: in our nation, in the Moscow Region, in Podolsk, in the Defence Ministry’s Central Archive, there is a large array, a large set of documents captured from the Germans. Unfortunately, a significant part of them is not accessible to researchers, including on the issue of German military planning during World War II.
Now, since 2011, a Russian-German project has been underway to digitise these documents. But this work will take years, or more likely, decades. The fact that this work is underway is used as justification for not allowing researchers access to these documents. They have not been translated into Russian. But they are not even accessible to researchers who speak German.
So Mr President, I have an important request. I think if researchers work with these documents, this should in no way impede the project to digitise the documents. On the contrary, as our colleague from Crimea stated, if we do not write history, it will be written for us. We see that this process is underway, so we need to respond somehow.
Vladimir Putin: You are right. But here’s the issue. The issue is that researchers in the United Kingdom write about what is interesting to them. I have not seen this book, but as you yourself said, it focuses on the study of relations between Great Britain and Germany. In 1939 through 1941, right?
Vladimir Putin: So that is what he focused on. Why are you offended by it? He is an Englishman and you are a Russian; you are interested in our Russian history. This is normal. If there is some kind of distortion there, if there are lies in there, that’s another issue. But if he is simply researching certain relations during a certain period, and is not concerned about others… After all, he is not talking about, say, relations between the United States and Germany during that period of time, he is not studying them. That is not the subject of his study. His subject is different in this case. So there is no reason to feel offended.
But I completely agree with you that we need to fully study this period, as well as others. Why? That period is also interesting. Because before that, we had the so-called Munich Agreement in 1938. And what is it? Incidentally, your colleagues in western nations hush it up. Chamberlain arrived, shook his paper and said, “I brought you peace” when he returned to London after the talks. To which Churchill, I believe, in private, stated, “Well, now the war is inevitable.” Because appeasement of the aggressor, which Nazi Germany was, would clearly lead to a major future military conflict, and some people understood that. There should be a deep multilateral study of what was happening before World War II.
Or, for example, there are still arguments about the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, and the Soviet Union is blamed for dividing Poland. But what did Poland itself do, when the Germans invaded Czechoslovakia? It took part of Czechoslovakia. It did this itself. And then, in turn, the same thing happened to Poland.
I do not want to blame anyone here, but serious studies should show that these were the foreign policy methods at the time. The Soviet Union signed a non-aggression agreement with Germany. They say, “Oh, how bad.” But what is so bad about it, if the Soviet Union did not want to fight? What is so bad?
Moreover, even knowing about the inevitability of war, supposing that it could happen, the Soviet Union desperately needed time to modernise its army. We needed to implement a new weapons system. Each month had significance because the number of Katyusha rocket launchers or T-34 tanks in the Soviet army was in the single digits, whereas thousands were needed. Each day had significance. So idle thoughts and chatter on this matter on a political level may have a purpose, in order to shape public opinion, but this must be countered with serious, deep, objective research.
As for the role of the Soviet Union and our allies in World War II, all this is also highly important. We cannot deny the enormous input of our allies into the victory over Nazi Germany. But we must compare the victims sacrificed at the altar of this common victory, the efforts and significance. And to do this, we simply need to restore some information: how many German divisions were on the Eastern Front, and how many fought on the Western Front? Simply the number of tanks, artillery, planes on the Eastern Front and the Western Front. Everything immediately becomes clear. We simply need to talk about this, to repeat it again, to count. But to do this, of course, we must work in the archives.
How many victims where there? How many people died in World War II in Great Britain? How many, 350,000? The US lost about half a million, somewhere between 350,000 and half a million, that’s it. Yes, that is an enormous number, it is terrible, but you see, it is not the 25 million victims lost from the Soviet Union. We simply must talk about this. But of course, in order to talk about it, we need good, deep research.
It is very interesting to show the real events of World War I. This is exceedingly important in understanding the relationship between nations, peoples and governments. After all, the allies were playing the game, they were competing against one another, but they also helped one another. For example, at the time, everyone knew and said, and nobody denies it today, that Russia saved Paris with its offense. We must give credit to the allies that in 1915, when the Russian army suffered a defeat, the allies gathered and began offensive actions at the cost of enormous losses – granted, they did not achieve a result, but they did it. And all of this ought to be discussed, but in order to discuss it, it must be researched.
I will try to help you get the archives in Podolsk opened to you.
Anton Kompleyev: Thank you very much.
Yevgenia Kurenkova: I am Yevgenia Kurenkova from the Knowledge Society of Russia.
Our country has a wealth of tradition in general public education. Spreading scientific knowledge, especially knowledge of history, is an important part of developing our society today. The newly revived Knowledge Society has put together a number of teaching aids and methods. We took the results of public opinion surveys into account in this work. What really surprised us was that young people in the 14–24 age group have no idea whatsoever of who they can take pride in. Young people today have no heroes. If they see no heroes around them, perhaps they should at least remember some of those from history. But here we also run into problems.
Sadly, they seldom mention heroes of Russia and the Soviet Union. They name Marshal Zhukov, but rarely recall the heroes of the Great Patriotic War. 30 percent of respondents do not even know that this war took place and that they had relatives who took part in it.
The Great Patriotic War is one of the twentieth century’s main events, a terrible event. The Knowledge Society builds its work around holding lectures and open master classes and courses in order to spread historical knowledge among today’s young people. We have for a long time organised open lectures for university students and senior students from schools.
We want to broaden our audience now and develop teaching materials for different groups of the population, including military service personnel, young workers, and pensioners. But we have a problem with giving our activities the legitimacy we need to get our lecturers access to audiences. Schools have teachers after all, and employers do not seem interested in having their employees broaden their education. In other words, business is business.
How do you view this kind of public education work and the idea of creating ‘people’s universities’, which can help to spread new knowledge in science and technology and also the results of historical research in various areas?
Vladimir Putin: First of all, I think this is very important work and it is a great thing and very useful that you are pursuing these efforts. Thank you very much for this. We took some steps to revive the Knowledge Society precisely in order to give people the opportunity to learn about these things that you and your colleagues consider important.
It is really very worrying indeed to see that young people today do not know who to take as their example, see no heroes around them, and do not even know about World War II. This is quite simply terrible, a real disaster. It is also a failure on the part of the state authorities, an incomparable failure and very dangerous situation. We must admit that our partners in other countries have worked much more effectively over recent decades. You mentioned heroes and said that young people do not know any heroes. Your colleague, Anton, is studying World War II. We have plenty of examples of heroes.
I visited Poland a few years ago and heard there about how World War II began. A German cruiser came in close to the shore and for 10–12 days straight fired at a fortress. When the fortress’ defenders realised that their Western allies were not going to come to the rescue and had betrayed them, seeing that there was no help to be had from any quarter, they surrendered. They held out right until this point. A lot was said about their heroic behaviour and how they deserved attention and the highest historical assessment. This is certainly the case of course and I fully agree here.
But think of the Brest fortress, where the soldiers fought for more than two months to the very last man, and if anyone was taken prisoner it was only if they were captured unconscious. They kept fighting even after their food, water and ammunition had run out and the front line had already moved hundreds of kilometres deeper into the country. But they fought until the very last drop of blood. I think this is an example we could talk about. These were soldiers of all different ethnic groups, including people from the Southern Federal District, to use our names today. It is terrible that many people today do not know about these events. This is not their fault; it is the state authorities’ fault. We need to work to fix this.
As for getting access to audiences, this is a strange matter and I am not even sure I understand what the problem is. What do you mean by facing restrictions in access to audiences? What needs to be done then to remove these restrictions?
Yevgenia Kurenkova: Perhaps we could draw on the Soviet past, when lecturers from the Knowledge Society had some official status and influence in society. Perhaps this way schools and universities and so on would be interested in inviting lecturers from our society to come and talk about new knowledge.
Vladimir Putin: Mr Fursenko [Presidential Aide], this work needs to be organised in more concrete fashion. Good. If you can come up with some more concrete proposals on how to organise this work, let us know, and we will look at what we can do to help.
Yevgenia Kurenkova: Thank you.
Leonid Bobrov: Leonid Bobrov, Doctor of Historical Sciences, Novosibirsk State University.
Vladimir Putin: How old are you?
Leonid Bobrov: I’m 34 now. I defended my doctoral dissertation (D.Sc. degree) at 31.
Vladimir Putin: That’s great! What was the topic of your dissertation?
Leonid Bobrov: “The Main Directions of Evolution of Protective Weaponry Complexes of the Peoples of Central, Middle, and Continental East Asia in the Second Half of the 14th through 19th Centuries.” In other words, how Asian armour developed after the Mongol invasion.
Mr President, I have a very pleasant duty today to express words of gratitude to you from my colleagues who received Presidential Grants in different years. We held a meeting in the Siberian Federal District and it turned out that hundreds of young people, Siberians, have already received this grant and not a single one of them was lost for Russian science. There are now two dozen of them who hold Doctor of Science degrees; in other words, people continue to work. And my responsibility today is to thank you, so that this project does not become lost and continues to develop in the future, because it represents a real start in life for many young scientists.
My question is as follows. In the last decade, the historical reconstruction movement has been developing very rapidly in our nation. There are already tens of thousands of young people involved – both young men and women – who restore the weapons and costumes of various Eurasian peoples. Should the government get a little involved in this? In what way? By supporting the clubs, directions and movements that are working on reconstructing the historical past of the peoples of Russia – from Muscovite Russia, the Great Patriotic War, the War of 1812 and so on, because, as they say, it’s better to touch living history one time than to read a text book a hundred times, regardless of how well-written it might be.
Vladimir Putin: The answer is clear and obvious: of course, we need to do this. But we need to approach it carefully.
Leonid Bobrov: Certainly.
Vladimir Putin: So that there won’t be major traumas.
But please tell us – I try not to just talk at meetings like this, but also listen to something interesting. So if we put this in modern terms, you are an expert in the development of the military-industrial complex of the 14th century?
Leonid Bobrov: Partially. And military history. The most precise title is archaeologist and weapons expert. We deal with the history of weapons.
Vladimir Putin: In the 14th century?
Leonid Bobrov: The 14th to 15th through the mid-19th century.
Vladimir Putin: And what region?
Leonid Bobrov: Central Asia, Southern Siberia…
Vladimir Putin: Beyond the Urals.
Leonid Bobrov: Yes, east of the Ural Mountains and all the way to Korea. We left out Japan.
Vladimir Putin: What was the most effective form of weaponry at the time?
Leonid Bobrov: You know, for the steppe-dwellers, for the nomads, it was the composite bow; that was the greatest discovery of the steppe-dwellers which allowed them to dominate the Great Steppe for a thousand years.
Vladimir Putin: What kind of bow?
Leonid Bobrov: A composite bow. It is a true killing machine that consists of wood, bone, horn, tendons, etc. Researchers still haven’t uncovered all of its mysteries.
Vladimir Putin: Have you uncovered them?
Leonid Bobrov: Yes, of course.
Vladimir Putin: But you said they still haven’t been uncovered. But you uncovered them.
Leonid Bobrov: We have not uncovered everything. Some mysteries still remain.
Vladimir Putin: So you still have mysteries to uncover.
Leonid Bobrov: Yes, there is still work to do.
Vladimir Putin: What else do you want to uncover?
Leonid Bobrov: Well, for example, here’s something interesting. For a long time, there was a mystery pertaining to firearms. For a long time, it was considered that the appearance of guns removed traditional medieval armour from use. It turned out this wasn’t true at all. On the contrary, the appearance of firearms stimulated plate armour use. And while it remained in Europe for another century and a half, in Asia, this armour was in use all the way through the mid-19th century. This was due to the particularities in the development of firearms and so on. And in this regard, the Russian weapons complex is symbiotic; in other words, it contained elements of European armour, local traditions, and Asian traditions. And therein lies its uniqueness. You can use the example of Russian armour to examine the evolution of military affairs among the peoples of Eastern Europe very well. It is a very illustrative example.
Vladimir Putin: What would you recommend today for the military-industrial complex?
Leonid Bobrov: You know, what’s most interesting is that many types of weapons reached us from the medieval era. For example, modern bulletproof vests.
Vladimir Putin: It’s probably time to change them, then.
Leonid Bobrov: You know, what’s most amazing is that the latest findings in the field of bulletproof vests, for example, their construction, comes from the middle ages.
Vladimir Putin: The little platelets?
Leonid Bobrov: Yes, sewn in an organic matrix on the inner side.
Vladimir Putin: You can see, we’re already speaking the same language.
Leonid Bobrov: Yes, it’s very nice, actually. In general, we are very lucky that our President is interested in history.
Reply: And archaeology in particular.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, I am very interested in it. I have already spoken about this; I was invited by a very respected individual, whom I hold in the highest esteem, Anatoly Kirpichnikov, to his archaeological digs; I went there a couple times. It’s so interesting and really amazing. He told me, they were digging (and, it seems, are continuing now) in a place that held an ancient court. They uncovered some birch bark, and it became clear from its inscription that it was the subject of legal proceedings. They continued to dig, and after, I believe, five to seven years, they found another piece of birch bark, and after they read it, they learned how the trial had ended. It’s astonishing. You know, it’s as though you are completely immersed in history. It’s amazing. This research provides the opportunity to conduct a deep study of what was happening within particular territories at a time that was quite long ago, and to reconstruct those events. So, for example, the theory of the Norman origin of the Russian state, which says that the Vikings were allegedly invited to calm the infighting, is subject to certain doubts – it needs to be talked over with the experts of course – but why? Because, for example, the Finno-Ugric peoples and Slavic tribes were living in the Lake Ladoga region, but based on archaeologists’ excavations, it seems clear that they were living fairly harmoniously together. So the question arises: did they need someone else for counterbalance? Of course, it’s possible that something does not align in terms of timing, etc. In any case, it leaves something to think about. But the subject of your research is one where archaeology probably helps a great deal.
Leonid Bobrov: Yes, of course.
Vladimir Putin: It’s interesting. Did you work in the Southern Urals as well?
Leonid Bobrov: To the east of the Ural Mountains and the Southern Urals as well, of course. There are many interesting findings from Mongolian times, the Golden Horde period. And in general, I can say that in the last ten years, I think, the study of weaponry has made an enormous step forward; in other words, foreign journals are also happy to take our articles about the findings of our archaeologists.
Vladimir Putin: You have a very interesting research subject. It really is very interesting. That’s great. And I’m sure it incites interest from a broader public.
Leonid Bobrov: Yes, of course. We have created a special centre through Moscow State University where weapons complexes are being restored at a professional scientific level from burials. To be honest, I wanted to bring you a helm as a gift, an exact replica.
Vladimir Putin: Did you get greedy?
Leonid Bobrov: Then I was afraid that perhaps the regulations would not allow it. But if you are not against it, we will certainly submit it to the protocol service.
Vladimir Putin: I suppose this is a state treasure?
Leonid Bobrov: It is a copy. It is an exact copy.
Vladimir Putin: Then just say that. You wanted to bring a copy. Very well. If you bring the original, we will put it up in the Kremlin. We will document it, take it to the Kremlin Museums and display it somewhere.
Leonid Bobrov: Thank you. I will certainly tell our researchers.
Vladimir Putin: But since we have ended on such an interesting topic – the military-industrial complex – I must tell you that it is time for me to go and hold a commission on the MIC, on the modern military-industrial complex. We could keep talking for a very long time, and this is truly, genuinely very interesting to me, but I must wrap up.
Thank you very much. I want to wish you success. We noted a few things, I have noted them for myself and my colleagues have noted them; we will try to implement all of it.
Thank you very much.