L.Polyakov (Head of the chair of general political science at the Higher School of Economics):
Over the last twenty years, even a little less, since the Soviet Union’s collapse, the world has changed immensely, as Russia itself has changed, and the approaches and models that were typical and unquestioned at the start of the 1990s have become morally, physically and even ideologically outdated today. At the same time, the changing world is changing our country. This rapid process of mutual change gives rise to new demands from all quarters. As you rightly put it, everyone is all mixed up today.
But if we stay at a standstill and do nothing the results could be quite unhappy. In 1990–1991, we ‘disarmed ideologically’, to use Cold War terminology. We renounced Marxism and communism as a scientific theory. In this sense, we were as if removing ideological glasses and stopped seeing the world in terms of the old model of struggle between the global capitalist and socialist systems. But what emerged in its place? We got instead a somewhat shaky and abstract ideology of common human values. We added words such as ‘freedom’, ‘democracy’, ‘the market’, ‘common human values’, ‘human rights’ and ‘civil society’ to our lexicon. Like when you’re a child: you get little blocks with letters on them, but you don’t get taught how to make them into words. We were as if given these blocks, and we are still learning how to put them together. And at the same time, we find ourselves in a situation where someone comes to take a look at how we are doing. It is as if we are in school, or rather, not even in school but in kindergarten. Just take the example of democracy. We were told: you have renounced communism and will now build democracy, but we will judge when and how you build it.
If we do not change this vision and learn to create our own language, then how will we come to understand that yes, the principles of democracy are universal, but that each country has its own political culture, and Russia too has its own political culture, and without the appropriate adjustments we will not achieve anything. But we, and numerous textbooks, stick to the traditional model of the early 1990s, and together, our schools and our adults, we all fall into this trap.
How long can we continue to be school pupils? This is a vast country with immense achievements and we are still sitting at our school desk and anyone from Freedom House, say, can come mark our results and say “you are in 161st place!”… This is just one of the facts that creates a hopeless seeming and hurtful situation for our entire people, and all the more so for our young people.
Take civil society. Yes, these are holy words. But we imported this term and the sense it conveys in the early 1990s from countries where everything had long since been in order with their statehood. The priority in these countries was indeed to protect citizens from excessive interference by the state. But in 1991, we were in the process of building a new Russian statehood. Yes, there was a foundation, of course, traditions continued from earlier times, but the statehood itself was new and we were the ones building it (it is not for nothing that there were such battles for the Constitution of 1993). But what was the inertia of consciousness we faced? Unfortunately, all too often you hear human rights campaigners say quite sincerely: “let’s fight the state. Let’s build civil society as an alternative to the state”. This ideology has filtered through into many textbooks. The sections on civil society are written in precisely this way. But objectively, these are traps, this is the result of the fact that we disarmed ideologically and received instead a kind of abstract recipe: become democrats and capitalists, and we will monitor your progress.
This is why, in our work on this book on social sciences and on our book on recent history, our objective is to try to formulate, despite the rapidly changing world around us, some kind of philosophical vision that we can use as a basis for looking at the world from the perspective of a Russian citizen. In this respect, and this was the subject of considerable debate, we discussed the issue of state and national ideology. Given that the Constitution forbids a common compulsory state ideology, what are we doing, and what kind of ideology are we developing? We are developing a national ideology that represents the vision of ourselves as a nation, as Russians, a vision of our own identity and of the world around us. Teachers will then be able to incorporate this national ideology, this vision, into their practical work in a normal way and use it to develop a civic and patriotic position.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much.
Your remark about someone acting as a teacher and starting to tell us what to do is entirely correct. I can add in this respect that this is unquestionably an instrument for influencing our country and it is a tried and tested method. If one side is ready to allot marks, that means it accords itself the right to lead the way and will continue to seek to do so.
Russia needs to be a part, a full part of the global world. We need to be a natural part of this world, and this is what we are. But no one can deprive us of our national specificities, our historical particularities. In this respect, many could learn something from Russia. Russia is a country in which different religions and peoples have developed principles for living together, practically at genetic level, through a natural process over the centuries. If you look at our main religions, even they differ to a considerable degree from the traditional standards of Christianity or even Islam. They have adapted to coexisting on a single territory, beneath a single sky, with other peoples and other faiths. This is a culture that is the product of centuries. This tolerance, as has become the trendy term today, is essentially in our blood.
O.Gaman-Golutvina (Member of the Academy of Political Sciences):
When people start talking about teaching the social sciences, I always remember the old joke: before taking a course in Marxist-Leninist philosophy, this student was convinced that Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were husband and wife, but then he began taking this course and discovered that they were four completely different people. Fortunately, today’s situation is not reminiscent of the collisions of bygone days, but there are some problems nevertheless.
What I would like to say is that, as someone who works in training managers, I think that the people who finish school today or go through university studies, will be the people making the political and management decisions in 10 or 15 years time, and in this respect it is very important that they be in touch with what we could call the pulsing connection between time and place.
What do I mean by this? It is clear that decisions are a sort of projection of the vision of the world that exists at the moment the decision is taken. This vision of the world is formed to a large extent by history and by knowledge of history. We all know that history is politics in the past, and politics is history’s present. Of course, history teaches us nothing, but as Klyuchevsky said, it punishes us for not learning our lessons, and the lessons that we learn from the past (from others’ mistakes) play a large part in determining the quality of the decisions we take today. The past is not some kind of antique shop – it is a relevant mechanism that functions in the structure of modernity. The old adage that whoever controls the past also controls the present and the future is being proven true time and time again today.
The Duke of Wellington is credited with having said that, ‘the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton’. I say this because it would be worth our while to think about our Etons, and not just for business specialists. I think it would be good to look at restoring prestige and exclusivity to civil service, exclusivity not in the sense of distance from the public, but in the sense of exclusive quality of training for carrying out this work. I think that without this we will not be able to restore the state’s overall effectiveness. Incidentally, I cannot but give my support to the idea that the state is not an impediment to democracy. On the contrary, the state is rather an instrument for defending democracy.
First of all, I agree that we need to provide quality training for our specialists, including in the civil service. But I would like to get away from foreign stereotypes of exclusivity in education. When I, as someone who grew up on the streets of Leningrad, hear about exclusivity, I always find myself immediately feeling suspicious towards it, because I get the feeling that is something beyond the reach of ordinary citizens, something cut off from citizens and from the people. I think that we need to talk about high-quality training for our specialists, and about educational establishments providing reliable guarantees of this high quality. That is just a comment I wanted to make, but overall, I fully agree with you.
Of course publishing houses should become more responsible. The state, through the relevant ministry, headed by Andrei Alexandrovich Fursenko, should play a greater role in this respect. But just as we cannot impose views on some aspects of recent history, some of which you just mentioned, perestroika and some others, we cannot impose any other point of view either, including views that the current authorities think are correct. We cannot impose a particular point of view, but we need to help students and schoolchildren form their own views about this or that event through good and honest presentation of factual material. This would be the ideal situation.
Vladimir Putin: I already gave examples of cases where processes and results have been presented in an improper way. One of the clearest examples in this respect is improper presentation of the events and outcome of World War II. If someone writes that Britain, for example, lost around 300,000 people in World War II and we lost 27 million; and if they write, as was the case in the past, how many units and divisions there were, how many men and how much equipment that Nazis had on the Eastern front and how much on the other fronts; what results came out of the first phase, the second phase and so on, you could write anything you want. The author of the textbook could draw any conclusions he pleases, but when the student reads all this and makes a comparative analysis with what happened on the second front, when it was opened and so on, then he will be able to form his own understanding of the role and significance of our country in the victory over Nazism. But the material should be presented objectively and honestly and without bias.
Golovanov, Vladislav Alexeyevich, Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), teacher of history, social sciences, world and artistic culture at middle school No. 33.
A lot has been said about teachers today. As a teacher, I am in the front lines, it would seem, because we teachers, as you know, think in metaphors, like children. Looking at history in terms of a metaphor, I see it as a flourishing wildlife reserve full of life, a reserve containing the history of our country and all that we need to build a healthy nation. It is the source of our nation’s culture and offers everything we need to ensure our nation’s unity. But at some point, the keepers, who guarded the reserve, left it and it became open to a stream of ‘poachers’ or forgers, you could say.
Just imagine, as you know, tomorrow we will mark the start of the Great Patriotic War, and just imagine that one of your pupils says, “Vladislav Alexeyevich, I read this book, and it turns out that we attacked first”. Who only knows what junk heap this book came from?
I think that the state should probably return to its ‘wildlife reserve, not as a guard, but as an equal participant and balancing force to help ensure a minimum of regulation for the source of the nation’s health. I think that our history should not be cause for self-flagellation.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much. You said yourself that perhaps the comparison with a wildlife reserve is not the best metaphor. I would say that our country is a living environment in which, as in any society, certain rules, drawn up by the society itself, should be established for the good of its citizens.
Your colleague to the right said that democracy does not contradict the state. Not only does democracy not contradict the state; it is a means for organising society and the state itself, and it is a means for organising our state, too.
Regarding the problematic pages in our history, yes, we do have them, as does any state. We have fewer such pages than do some countries, and they are less terrible than in some countries. We do have bleak chapters in our history; just look at events starting from 1937. And we should not forget these moments of our past. But other countries have also known their bleak and terrible moments. In any event, we have never used nuclear weapons against civilians, and we have never dumped chemicals on thousands of kilometres of land or dropped more bombs on a tiny country than were dropped during the entire Second World War, as was the case in Vietnam. We have not had such bleak pages as was the case of Nazism, for example.
All states and peoples have had their ups and downs through history. We must not allow others to impose a feeling of guilt on us. We should each first look to ourselves. But at the same time, we must not forget our own past and we will not forget it. Through all of this, our priority is that the most important principle and the foundation of our state’s and society’s organisation is to respond to the needs and demands of our citizens, to foster their development and ensure their protection. Democracy is the means by which we will organise our society and state.