Why Stalin is Causing a Storm in Russian Classrooms

stalin book

29 July 2017 |Elina Ibragimowa| DW

A heated debate has broken out in Russia over Stalin’s legacy. Is teaching children about crimes committed under Stalin’s rule “dangerous to their health?” An historian has taken the issue to court.

History lessons about Josef Stalin’s campaign of repression are dangerous to the health of students, Russian authorities have concluded. Andrei Suslov, a history professor at Perm State University in western Russia, wrote a history book that is now being contested by the Roskomnadsor, or Russia’s Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media. The state authority classified the textbook as “dangerous to the health of children.”

Now, he is battling to have his book “A teachers’ guide to studying/understanding/examining the Stalin repressions” removed from the blacklist.

“The book is intended for older students,” Suslov told DW. “It helps teachers and students get a better sense of the history of Stalinism and its consequences.” One of the recommendations it offers is to organize trips to places connected with the repressions.

Stalin at his desk
Josef Stalin ruled over the Soviet Union until his death in 1953



Suslov wrote the book with a colleague in 2015. It was published by The Center for Political Education and Human Rights, a Russian nonprofit.

The Russian state has become increasingly involved in historical discourse. The Kremlin plays a decisive role. There has been a strong desire to see crisis-ridden Russia become a “major player” again following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

To add ideological weight, the Kremlin is leaning on Stalinism. Textbooks should promote  a “patriotic education.” In 2007, Vladimir Putin – president then and now – had a history book printed that described Stalin as the “most successful Soviet leader of all time.”

Stalin is presented as a patriot and modernizer. The massive number of victims of his forced agricultural collectivization, reckless industrialization and a campaign of terror in the 1930s are downplayed as necessary given the situation at the time. That lends legitimacy to the Communist dictatorship in much the same way as Putin’s authoritarian power is today justified.

So Suslov’s work does not seem to fit the narrative. Perm’s education ministry initially published a readers’ guide on its own website, before removing it when the Roskomnadsor classified the textbook as “dangerous to children’s health.”

The state prosecutor also demanded the nonprofit publisher mark the book with an age restriction of 18+ on its website. In response, Suslov and the nonprofit sued Roskomnadsor. The next hearing is set for October 3 and a verdict is expected by the end of the year.

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