On February 19, 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed that it would be worth considering “unified Russian history textbooks” that show “respect to all pages of our past.” This announcement has been interpreted as patriotic propaganda or an attempt at re-writing the past to justify authoritarianism in the present. To be sure, we cannot overlook the clear intensification of patriotism under the Putin regime. Also, we cannot deny that Russian citizens’ protests against election fraud during 2011–12 led to Putin’s countermeasures, such as the creation of quasi-social historical organizations, advocacy for unified textbooks, and so on. These measures are clear examples of Putin’s historical politics, by which he means to use history arbitrarily for political purposes.
However, it is quite misleading to say that Putin has successfully ordered the history textbooks rewritten to strengthen his own rule. In fact, we see three types of undercurrent concerning the policy on unified history textbooks. First, a group of young politicians with patriotic views advocated the unification of textbooks in response to neighboring countries’ historical politics. Cultural Minister Vladimir Medinsky is a typical example of this group. Second, academic historians such as Aleksandr Chubaryan, director of the Institute of World History, sought to build a basic consensus on historical outlook among historians and people within Russia. Third, there were some liberal groups who opposed any kind of forced textbook unification by the government.
Putin monitored these undercurrents, adapting his historical politics as necessary, and avoided dire conflicts between the government and any of these groups. In the end, the “historical-cultural standard” was created, which every textbook must follow. The standard, however, is very general and loose. Therefore, two history textbooks with somewhat different viewpoints were authorized by the education ministry.
One characteristic of Putin’s method of governance is the adoption of halfway solutions to disputed issues. They often fail to solve conflicts between groups, and sometimes even preserve them. In this sense, conflicts over historical politics, including those regarding history textbooks, will continue in the future.