Russian schoolchildren to use updated history books as new school years gets underway

Russian educational institutions traditionally celebrate Knowledge Day on 1 September. This year, It started with a solemn ceremony, raising the flag and singing the national anthem. There are many changes to the educational process, but the most talked about are the new history textbooks for high school students. These textbooks have come under criticism for alleged bias and distortion of events.

Russian propaganda in the curriculum

The main author of the textbook is Vladimir Medinsky, an aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin. International NGO Amnesty International says the new textbook is full of official propaganda.

"The authors try to justify Russia's illegal actions, starting from the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and ending with a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022," says the organisation.

The paragraph on the Special Military Operation (SVO) opens with a quote from President Putin: "We have not started any hostilities, we are trying to finish them.

And the textbook authors describe the purpose of the SVO as the "defence of Donbass and pre-emptive provision of Russia's security".

"The textbook hides the truth and distorts the facts about the serious human rights violations and war crimes committed by Russian troops against Ukrainians," says Anna Wright, Amnesty International's Eastern Europe and Central Asia specialist.

The authors of the manual do not hide its ideological orientation

Medinsky says the textbooks aim to present the Russian state's point of view.

"The material is addressed to schoolchildren, parents and teachers ... it presents the point of view of the academic community through the prism of the state's position on current events", he explains.

Новые учебники истории - AFP TV

"The West is to blame for everything."

The textbook portrays Russia as the victim of a Western conspiracy and claims that the West wants to destabilise Russia. It also describes Ukraine as an "ultra-nationalist state" and calls the 2014 Maidan Revolution a "military coup" and "bloody rebellion"

What do Muscovites expect from the new textbooks?

But what do Russians themselves think about the new textbooks?

Elena: "Truth. We expect children to be told how it really was. Even if something was bad, but to tell them how it really was.

Catherine: "I heard something about distorted facts in history textbooks, if I'm not mistaken. But I didn't go into the subject, to be honest. So I won't say in this case. But, of course, I wouldn't want historical facts to be distorted".

Ivan: "I think that the qualified specialists who were involved in compiling this textbook have done a good job and it will be interesting for children to study the history of all the events that have been taking place recently in our country and in neighbouring regions and countries".

Dmitri Lovetsky/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
Санкт-Петербург, Россия - Dmitri Lovetsky/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved

The textbook has rewritten chapters on the most important events of the 20th century. Little is said about post-war Stalinist repression, but Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev is harshly criticised in the context of the Perestroika Era and presented as an incompetent leader.

The book repeats an opinion expressed by Russian President Putin.  In particular, his statement that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the biggest geopolitical disaster of the century. The book also addresses concerns over the withdrawal of Western companies from the Russian Federation because of the war:

"With the departure of foreign companies, many markets are open in front of you. Fantastic opportunities for a career in business and your own start-ups are open. Do not miss this chance. Today Russia is truly a country of opportunities."

Next year there will be new history textbooks for grades 5-9.

NVP returns to schools

And from 1 September, the elementary military training module will return to schools and will be compulsory for all Russian educational institutions. The programme will teach high school children how to use a Kalashnikov assault rifle and grenades.

The use of drones has also been included in the school programme - schoolchildren will learn the basics of using drones in combat.

"Talking about important things"

Also this academic year will see the continuation of the so-called "Talks about important things". The main purpose of such lessons, authorities say, is to develop patriotism, civic education and historical enlightenment. The lessons are developed by the Ministry of Education.