For as long as anyone can remember, Russian school books have
depicted the Tatars as bloodthirsty barbarians on horseback who
crushed Russia under a cruel 250-year yoke. The nomadic followers of
Ghengis Khan and his successors were butchers, pillagers, and little
But soon, that version of history may be, well, history. Some
serious rewriting is going on.
While the Russian federal government is engaged in another
ruthless war in breakaway Chechnya - and hints that it may wrest
some powers back from regional governors - it is displaying a
surprising political correctness on the education front.
New books on order
In recent months, academic assemblies have been organized and new
textbooks commissioned to alter the way Russia's 150 ethnic
minorities are portrayed. The impetus is coming from some of
Russia's 20 ethnic republics and 10 semi-autonomous districts, who
since the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union have pushed to change
schools' Slavic centrism.
Historical reforms up to now have been restricted mainly to the
local level. Regional centers would issue their own textbooks to
supplement the Moscow-slanted national curriculum. But this seems to
"Our people have been represented as ugly enemies. This destroys
us psychologically," says Nazif Mirikhanov, the representative in
Moscow of the semi-autonomous Tatarstan Republic, located in central
Russia between the Volga River and the Ural Mountains. "This is a
mistake that must be redressed."
The corrections are a long time coming, says Vladimir Batsyn, an
official handling history books at the Russian Education Ministry in
"We really need to reflect the polyethnic nature of the country.
A lot of students don't even know there are Buddhist or Muslim
nationalities in our own history," he says. "The Tatars were
especially maligned. We Russians are backward by not depicting the
situation properly. Their state was the biggest and most developed
in the land for a long time."
To press his point, Mr. Batsyn turns to the bookshelf in his
office. He opens a textbook, "The History of 19th Century Russia,"
to Chapter 15, which is devoted to the peoples of Russia. "Look, a
mere 10 pages. Out of a total 420. That's all," he sniffs.
Batsyn picks up another tome, which covers Russian history
between the 17th and 19th centuries. He flips through the 400 pages
with a derisive snort. "Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Poland - that's
not even Russia. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing."
One of the biggest beneficiaries of the rethink will be the
Tatars, who at 5 million comprise Russia's second-largest ethnic
group after the Slavs. …