Data Analysis, Findings, and Discussion

Our analysis of the data yielded four substantive sets of findings. We have categorized those sets here as: (A) redefinition of historical figures; (B) examination of particular textual representations; (C) interpretation of non-textual visual symbols; and (D) selection of photos to include in textbooks.

Redefinition of Historical Figures

We began examining each textbook by counting all representations of the previously mentioned political figures and addressing the frequency of their references (see Table 36.1).

We continued the horizontal analysis by identifying and extracting textual passages and examining images of Lenin, Stalin, Gorbachev, Yeltsin, and Putin, and evaluating them independently. This investigative practice resulted in several striking observations of the textual presentation of each of these figures, and yielded interesting details about historic identities the textbooks seem to have developed. As described below, in some cases, textbook authors seemed to take liberty in defining and redefining each of these individuals in a way that promotes an overarching positive national image and identity.

Table 36.1 Frequency of mention or reference for political figures

Political figure

9th grade textbooks

11th grade textbooks










































Vladimir Lenin, the founder of the Soviet State, is introduced and presented similarly in each textbook, with a picture and a short description, analogously to that of the last Russian monarch Nicholas II and President Putin. In some of the textbooks, the image of Tsar Nicholas II is portrayed in color, and is considerably larger than Lenin’s, which is especially striking in the Kiselev textbook (p. 5) and in the Danilov workbook (Part 1, p. 11). A concise description of Lenin’s character is given by Chubarian who states that Lenin:

had an iron will, a talent of a leader, and a capacity to concentrate on the most essential elements. He did not possess any moral constraints and swings as some of his opponents, ... being devoid of any moral norms and regulations (p. 55)...

But at the same time he possessed the highest level of authority in his Party and superb political skills. (p. 80)

Among all texts, Lenin’s biography is typically neutral in style and does not include much critique, although there is some irony in the representation of his character. For example, from Danilov the reader will learn that “only due to his mother’s efforts Lenin was allowed to take his graduation exams”; and after passing them “he received a modest position”; and “the career of a defense lawyer did not really interest him” (p. 23). In contrast, the same book describes Georgy Lvov, Head of the Provisional Government, as someone “who was known as an honest and decent man. An excellent organizer who had a high reputation.” (p. 75).

Joseph Stalin is presented with a photo in every textbook, but not always with a detailed biography. There is, however, some disparity among textbooks in that the number of his portraits differs—from one (Shestakov) to five (Danilov). Across all textbooks, Stalin’s photos convey an image of a sophisticated, kindhearted, and wise man. Interestingly, Kiselev alone includes a friendly caricature of Stalin made by Nikolai Bukharin (p. 102). The most striking portrait which strongly resembles the one published in the first volume of the infamous History of the Civil War in the USSR (1937) was found in the Danilov workbook, along with the following assignment: “Looking at the picture and using additional sources, characterize this historical figure.” Students are supposed to find his biographic details and also answer the question: How do our contemporaries evaluate his place in the history of our country? (Part 2, p. 37).

Clearly, being introduced to Stalin through these visual representations, and considering the overtly positive and patriotic tone of surrounding textual passages and context, students would be inclined to judge him and his regime in a more favorable light. We perceived this uniformity across textbooks in accounting Stalin’s contributions to history as a concerted effort to largely redefine his legacy. These findings also supported the theory that images and photographs, when inserted into text and left un-interpreted, are “capable of carrying information beyond—and sometimes against—the verbal rhetoric” (Kohonen, 2011: 105), and become quite powerful in conveying presumptuous knowledge about the subject and may have a significant impact upon students’ abilities to recall and understand historical phenomena.

Further, this analysis revealed that as the face of post-Soviet leadership in Russia, Mikhail Gorbachev has also undergone significant historical transformations over the past 20 years, and interestingly, textbooks are less consistent in their presentations of him. Zagladin, for instance, introduces Gorbachev more as a friendly, gentlemanly type of leader (p. 258), and Kiselev presents him in a more neutral way (pp. 259-265). Danilov, however, is quite critical of the former USSR President (p. 326).

Zagladin starts the chapter about Perestroika with the announcement of Gorbachev’s new position and the statement that “from his first public presentations people felt sympathy with Gorbachev” (p. 258). In the same spirit, Shestakov reports that: “prioritizing common human values over class- oriented values, Gorbachev began a new phase in the spiritual development of the country” (p. 327). Danilov’s approach is different in scope and tone. For example, chapter VIII Perestroika and the Collapse of the USSR: goals, stages and results (pp. 317-337) opens with a photo of former KGB head and Brezhnev’s successor Andropov. The concluding phrase in his biography reads: “Andropov’s actions were not only met with sympathy in the society, but also gave birth to hopes for changes for the better” (p. 317). It is not until the bottom of the page that students are introduced to Gorbachev and his policy: “New leadership came to power without neither a concrete concept, nor a program of changes” (pp. 317-318) with the conclusion that: “None of the reforms started during Perestroika gave positive results” (p. 321). Similar emerging creative reinterpretations are aplenty when one investigates historical treatment of glasnost,3 the Gulags,4 and other twentieth-century phenomena.

Negativity grows while textbooks move toward the portrayal of the next political leader and the first President of Russia Boris Yeltsin. Danilov is particularly critical of his leadership and legacy, regularly describing Yeltsin as less intelligent, more aggressive, and more erratic (both personally and privately) than his predecessors and successors. The photos support this image, and as with Stalin, the Danilov workbook requires students to characterize Yeltsin based on his photo where he looks weird and foolish, supposedly calling their attention to his body language and actions. However, contrasting the Stalin assignment, this one invites students to “give their own assessment of his activities” (p. 93).

Kiselev, on the contrary, presents a famous picture of Yeltsin with his fist up (p. 273), demonstrating his readiness to serve and fight for Russia.

Analyzing the results of Yeltsin’s economic policy, Shestakov states that: “the country returned to the common civilization’s way of development... Due to liberalization, Russia managed to restore the trust of its foreign partners and started a difficult way towards integration in the world market” (p. 357).

In examining textual passages and graphics related to current President Vladimir Putin, we found a plethora of positive, if not flattering, descriptions of his policy and personality. As an example, Chubarian declares:

Governmental changes of the 1998-1999 could be explained by the search for a new leader who would replace Yeltsin but be able to preserve a direction towards reforms. At the same time a new president was supposed to provide a strong leadership, a solution of an aggravated Chechen’s problem, and a more balanced foreign policy, (p. 268)

In accounting for the Yeltsin/Putin transition of power, Danilov quotes an outgoing Yeltsin admitting that “Russia should enter the new millennium with new politicians, new faces, and with new, smart, powerful, and energetic people” (p. 369). As textbook historical accounts shift in focus to the Putin Administration, in unison, they shower the current President with glowing remarks and judgments. Generally speaking, none of the textbooks analyzed offer even one critique of Putin’s policies, actions, or effectiveness as President. Instead, each of the texts quite consistently promotes Putin’s orientation toward reforms. Chubarian, for instance, reports that Putin’s reforms have been “supported by the majority of the population and raised hopes for the termination of corruption and criminality” (p. 274) while at the same time either blaming foreign or other forces for any possible problems or totally silencing tragic events during Putin’s presidency. The 2002 siege of Dubrovka Theater (see Politkovskaya, 2007: 186-229) is not even mentioned in three textbooks (Chubarian, Kiselev, Shestakov), and only one (Levandovsky) admits that the siege resulted in tragic loss of innocent lives (p. 346).

After describing a terrorist act in Beslan, Levandovsky includes a long quote from the Presidential Address to the citizens of Russia on September 4, 2004, where Putin says:

.We need to admit our failure to understand the complexity and danger of the processes happening in our country and in the world at large. In any case, we did not react to them adequately; we showed weakness. And the weak get beaten.

We are dealing with the direct intervention of the international terror against Russia. Under these circumstances we simply cannot and should not live as carelessly as before. (pp. 347-348)

This refrain of the necessity to exhibit strength and power and regain prestige in the world is very typical for every textbook.

Finally, as a glorious apotheosis of Putin’s policy, some textbooks portray the events in Crimea. In fact, two out of four books published in 2014 (Danilov, Zagladin) did not just mention but already describe the events in Ukraine in a very Russia-centered way. A close look at Danilov’s new 2014 edition shows that it differs from its 2013 version only by a short subchapter “Russia in 2013-2014.” It consists of three paragraphs and covers the 2014 Olympic Games and the situation in Ukraine. The text reads:

On March 6, 2014, The Supreme Council of Crimea decided that the Republic should become part of the Russian Federation and announced the referendum on this issue on March 16. The referendum showed that 96.77 % of the Crimean population and 95.6 % of the citizens of Sevastopol voted for the reunion of Crimea and Sevastopol with Russia... On March 18, 2014, the agreement that the Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol would join Russia as subjects of the Federation was signed. On March 21, 2014, after both sides ratified it, President Putin signed the Act of Accession of Crimea to Russia and of the creation of two new subjects of the Russian Federation—Republic of Crimea and a federal City of Sevastopol. A Crimean federal district was formed. (p. 395)

It is certainly worth mentioning that this textbook was signed for printing (this particular phrase and date are mandatory to be indicated in every publication) on April 3, 2014, which means that the authors managed to insert the last paragraphs immediately after the federal law was issued and turned the book in for the publication in less than two weeks. But it is unclear whether this has been the only reason to republish the textbook.

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