Academic journal article Kritika

The Filippov Syndrome

Academic journal article Kritika

The Filippov Syndrome

Article excerpt

In Russia, people have traditionally known textbooks by the names of their author or authors, rather than by their titles. Some people studied history according to Karamzin and others Kliuchevskii, some according to Pokrovskii and others Shestakov. It looks like the current generation of school kids will learn about their country's past according to Filippov. It no longer matters that the new textbook, which is in classrooms already, has additional authors. Nor does it matter that the textbook is much better than its predecessor and progenitor--Filippov's handbook for teachers. L "Filippov's textbook" has become a household expression that no longer refers to a specific book (whether good or bad) but to new tendencies in the Russian educational system and in Russian life as a whole. This is why Filippov is more than a name--it is a phenomenon with a specific diagnosis, which I would like to call the "Filippov syndrome."

I do not remember any other textbook that has produced such a powerful social reaction and inspired debate for so long (two years now). Analysts have deconstructed Filippov's textbook into details, dissected it into quotes, and drowned it in a sea of criticism. Nevertheless, it survives and appears unsinkable. Reading the latest articles about it, I caught myself thinking that the discussion had entered its second and even third rounds, and I decided to stop following it. David Brandenberger's and Vladimir Solonari's comments, however, inspired me to revisit the "Filippov syndrome." The opinions of outsiders emotionally distant from the process are always interesting, especially when the voices belong to experts on the historical literature of the Soviet period. (2)

What seemed like a possibility two years ago, when the Filippov textbook appeared, has become a reality: Russia now has a government version of history created specially for schools. The official interpretation of the past century of Soviet and Russian history that has appeared, David Brandenberger calls a "usable past." Gastronomical analogies are most appropriate here, because Filippov's project intends to facilitate the rapid and thorough absorption of the official history, with minimal reflection and doubt. Duringperestraika, a Russian satirist called Russia a "country with an unpredictable past." Now all "unpredictables" and surprises are forbidden: facts have been selected, lines drawn, and accents appropriately placed. The new picture of our past proves to be quite simplistic, to make it easier to "consume" and "absorb," and is reminiscent of the "general line" that had lately started to fade from popular memory. The reaction was immediate. The unequivocal attempt of the new "general line" to rehabilitate Stalinism, its anti-Western slant, and its apologetics for Russia's current regime released an enormous wave of criticism.

According to Vladimir Solonari, the criticism was excessive and not entirely justified, while Filippov's textbook was not as bad overall as the liberal press described it. As Solonari argues, the text mentions the repressions and the anti-Jewish campaigns. It attempts to give a balanced evaluation of historical figures and speaks favorably of the dissidents. I would like to add that the textbook contains poems by Vladimir Vysotskii, Iurii Vizbor, and Aleksandr Tvardovskii--authors whom the liberal intelligentsia especially respects. This is undoubtedly, however, no more than a sign or code that allowed the text to pass the filter of liberalism and not blend completely into the ranks of retrogrades and neo-Stalinists. After all, being a Stalinist in Russia is still considered indecent, and the authors of the teacher's handbook no doubt consider themselves part of the "intelligentsia." References to the dissidents also fulfill the aim of appealing to the liberal conscience. The textbook could not entirely overlook the repression of the Stalin period, since this subject has already become part of the popular and academic discourse. …

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