Stalin portrayed as hero in new Russian school textbook
Novel interpretations presented concerning Winter War of 1939-1940
By Jukka Rislakki
At the beginning of this school year, school pupils in Russia will be getting a new history textbook in which the policies of Josif Stalin are portrayed in a positive light, and which offers an interesting interpretation of the Finnish-Soviet Winter War of 1939 - 1940.
The book also gives the impression that Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania joined the Soviet Union voluntarily.
The Russian Ministry of Education and Science recommends the book Istorija Rossii, on the history of the 20th and early 21st century, for use in upper secondary schools. The Russian government has been dissatisfied with how Russian history is currently taught in the country’s schools. The winners of a contest for writing a suitable textbook were a group led by Dr. Nikita Zagladin.
Other writers include Sergei Kozlenko, Sergei Minakov, and Yuri George Petrov.
According to the new book, the administration of Stalin had many of the characteristics of the traditional despotism of the days of Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great. Stalin’s administration also "solved the problems of the modernisation of the state through the concentration of power and repression".
Once a modern industrial foundation was achieved in this way, "the character of Soviet society began to change, and the result of this development was the acceptance of the democratic values characteristic of developed states".
Tsarist Russia is portrayed as a state undergoing strong development, which did not fall far behind other great powers. Nicholas II is seen as a tragic figure, and the Lenin quotes are replaced by the words of Anton Denikin, the general of the "whites".
Meanwhile, a handbook for civics teachers at the upper secondary school level quotes President Vladimir Putin as saying that the dissolution of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical disaster of the 20th century.
Stalin is described as the "most successful" of the Soviet leaders, and his severe measures are understood as a way to turn Russia into a great power.
There is a chapter on Stalin’s terror in the history textbook, which focuses on the period between 1935 and 1937. The book mentions 800,000 executions and 18 million who were locked up in camps, but it does not give the total sum of the victims of the terror which continued until the 1950s.
The book sees the forced collectivisation of agriculture as an unavoidable step toward an industrialised state. The destruction of the "kulaks", and the Ukrainian famine and its million victims are not mentioned at all.
Concerning the year 1940 the book notes that Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania "joined the Soviet Union", (voshli v sostav). In this connection it is not mentioned that the Red Army occupied the Baltic countries, that their leaders were imprisoned, and that the occupier organised "elections". (Another history textbook, previously approved for use at the upper secondary school level, describes this in greater detail.)
The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939 is mentioned in the book without legal or historical assessments.
The policies of the Western powers are seen to be partly to blame for the events, and "many experts" are said to be of the opinion that the Soviet Union had no option but to agree to a pact with Hitler. By doing so Stalin managed to improve the country’s security.
Finland rejected proposals by Soviet diplomats to move the border for the sake of the security of Leningrad. The Soviet Union would have taken "the prosperous area of Vyborg" in return for another area twice as big in Kostamuksha.
The book further wrote that the Soviet Union began the war against Finland on the pretext that the Finnish side had opened fire. A Soviet government was set up in Karelia, led by Otto-Ville Kuusinen. The writers concede the patriotic fighting spirit of the Finns, the slow progress of the Red Army, and the massive losses.
The Finnish chain of fortifications, the Mannerheim Line, was difficult to breach, and in addition, Britain and France were beginning preparations to attack to help Finland. "Even Germany openly showed sympathy toward Finland."
The final result was that "the hope that emerged in Comintern for the Sovietisation of Finland was not realised". In the peace agreement the Soviet Union got a protective zone for Leningrad and guaranteed itself free access to the Gulf of Finland.
On the 1990s the book notes that the declarations of independence by the Soviet republics did not yet mean that they wanted to disengage from the Soviet Union.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 1.11.2007