How Russia Changes the Past and Misrepresents the Present

The 72th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 in Moscow, Russia on May 9, 2017.
Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

How Russia Changes the Past and Misrepresents the Present

Parades, protests and the man making sure people don’t know what they are really about

“On September 17, part of the Red Army was given orders to cross the Western border and liberate western Ukraine and western Belarus,” one of Russia’s three sanctioned history textbooks tells its young readers. The problem is, it wasn’t a liberation; it was an invasion.

May 9 was Russia’s Victory Day, the most important national holiday of the year. Schoolchildren attend military parades and fireworks are launched to celebrate the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany. And if Russian students believe their textbooks, they’ll be celebrating the invasion of Eastern Europe as well, albeit unwittingly.

Celebrating victory over the Nazis is good, but it must be coupled with context. According to teachers across Russia, the students celebrating on Victory Day aren’t getting the “whole truth.” And that’s because the three recently state-sanctioned history textbooks “gloss over Stalin’s crimes and his initial alliance with Nazi Germany.”

Rewriting the Past

Modern Russia’s rewriting of history is not as severe as the Soviet Union’s, where Joseph Stalin took it upon himself to edit textbooks and mark up manuscripts with his own pencil. But the trend is not positive.

“Without an official assessment there will be no backbone of understanding what happened to our nation in the past decades and centuries,” Russian President Vladimir Putin told voters in April 2013. “Last year, we had 41 recommended 10th-grade history textbooks; this year we have 65. Is that normal?”

Since then, the state began releasing smaller numbers of state-sanctioned history textbooks.

The latest change was moving from five textbooks per year level to three. “It’s dropping, just like the number of hours for history teaching. I preferred it when I could go and pick from a range of books depending on the topic,” history teacher Elena Goubanova told La Croix.

August 2016 saw a new education minister with a conservative Orthodox agenda, Olga Vasilyeva, take office. A month later, the latest textbooks were released.

“My main issue with the textbooks is that they do not reveal the whole truth,” historian and teacher Leonid Katsva told the Moscow Times.

One of the most controversial topics, and one intricately linked with the Victory Day celebrations, is the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939. Also called the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact, it provided a written guarantee that both countries would not ally against each other and split the territory between them into “spheres of influence.” On Sept. 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. Sixteen days later, Stalin entered Poland and claimed his territory as well. The Soviets invaded Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia, gave them faux one-candidate elections, and installed their own preferred leaders.

The new textbooks have “a more justifying tone,” regarding the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, Katsva told the Moscow Times:

In fact, there is no word “aggression” in the text. Instead, the book portrays the invasion of Eastern Europe by Soviet troops as a “liberation” from Poland and the impending Nazi invasion.

The invasions of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia are treated similarly. The three countries did hold democratic parliamentary elections—but apparently the Communists all just happened to win.

Misrepresenting the Present

All this misinformation doesn’t go unnoticed by every Russian citizen. Even with rules prohibiting protests and the danger of being arrested and tossed through Russian “courts,” tens of thousands of citizens turned out on March 26 to protest Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s alleged corruption.

But you wouldn’t even know it happened if you only consumed Russian state media.

The Moscow Times reported that around a thousand people were arrested in Moscow alone. And yet state television and even newswires tried to remain silent.

When the protests were in full gear and “police started dragging people away by the hundred,” the top story on Russia’s state media agency, ria, was: “Freedom-Loving Cow in U.S. Escapes Cops in a Dramatic Chase.”

Later in the day, ria posted the following matter-of-fact headline: “Opposition Activists Arrested at Illegal Demonstration.” It was buried at the bottom of the home page. No reasons were given for the protests. The top news slot was taken by “Two Russian Football Fans Beaten in Belgrade.”

Even Russia’s independent news aggregators are crippled by government intervention. Yandex-Novosti is Russia’s largest news aggregator (a Russian equivalent of the Drudge Report in the U.S.). Its Moscow feed “prominently featured trivialities such as weather reports warning of a cold spell and promotions for the city’s ‘Spring Festival.’”

How the Russian government interferes with Yandex-Novosti is a tale straight from dystopian novel genre. Government offices are able to register as news outlets with Yandex’s aggregator. In order to manipulate the Yandex algorithm, the Russian government has set up dozens of similar news websites in cities, which can spew out articles on the same topic in rapid succession. These volleys of nearly identical articles “trick” Yandex into thinking a newsworthy event has occurred, promoting it and pushing the real news down the stream where fewer people will see it.

The Prince of Russia

Even with all this, Russia’s propaganda machine doesn’t match the Soviet Union’s, yet. But a powerful, Stalin-like figure does run the Kremlin. He’s the one who tells Russians it’s not “normal” to have a wide range of history textbooks to teach from—the one who oversees the state-controlled media effort to hide away negative stories.

He’s the man who tells his citizens his counterterrorism strategy is to “destroy” terrorists, no matter where they are found—whether that be in the airport or the outhouse. He personally wraps satellite transmitters on the necks of wild Siberian tigers (sedated, of course, but the public doesn’t know that). His political opponents have burning chemicals sprayed into their eyes. Defecting intelligence officers die from mysterious radioactive poisonings. He is a man to be feared.

When Russia changes the past and misrepresents the present, President Vladimir Putin is the overarching mastermind. This is the reason the Trumpet watches Putin’s propaganda and control with such interest. Our editor in chief, Gerald Flurry, recently produced a new booklet, The Prophesied ‘Prince of Russia,’ which explains how “every world leader” needs to understand the critical role Vladimir Putin will play in the future.

Putin is called a “prince” because he rules as an authoritarian—a man with the power to rewrite and manipulate the present. So when Russian invasions are called “liberations” and protests are given the Orwell treatment (it never even happened), look to the fountainhead: Vladimir Putin. He’ll be the man to lead this eastern power into some of the most dramatic events the world will ever witness.