Putin vs. the truth

Jonathan Brent is the editorial director of the Yale University Press and the author of Inside the Stalin Archives: Discovering the New Russia, the story of his efforts to procure publishing rights to material in various Soviet archives. The fruit of Brent’s efforts is the Yale University Press’s ongoing Annals of Communism series of books.

In a recent issue of the New York Review of Books, Professor Orlando Figes reviews Brent’s book in an interesting essay. The essay warrants reading in its entirety, but Figes’s brief discussion of Putin’s rehabilitation of Stalin is chilling. Figes refers to the revision of the high school version of Russian history engineered by Putin. Figes relates that the accompanying textbook was produced according to Putin’s specifications with the following guidelines to the textbook’s authors about how they should evaluate the leaders of the period:

Stalin–good (strengthened vertical power but no private property); Khrushchev–bad (weakened vertical power); Brezhnev–good (for the same reasons as Stalin); Gorbachev and Yeltsin–bad (destroyed the country but under Yeltsin there was private property); Putin–the best ruler (strengthened vertical power and private property).

It’s an interesting rating system. One can easily get the hang of it. What about Lenin? He too must be “good (for the same reasons as Stalin).” And one can play the game with American presidents too. What about Obama? Beyond noting that he is strengthening “vertical power” and seems to have a somewhat cavalier attitude toward private property, I’ll leave it you to figure out how he would rate on Putin’s scale. Hint: He’s not up there with Putin.

In his footnotes Figes citess Leon Aron’s essay “The problematic pages.” Aron’s essay goes into greater detail on Putin’s reformation of the Russian history curriculum for high school students.


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