Confronting the Past

In my class on Russian politics, we recently watched a documentary called “My Perestroika”, which documented the experiences of Russians who came of age during the era of Gorbachev, focusing on both their past and their present. Two of the people profiled are high school history teachers in Moscow. In one of the scenes, one of them teaches high school students the exact topic we were discussing; the forced collectivization of peasants. You can see the incredulous looks on the students’ faces, as he compares it to the government coming into their apartments today, taking everything, and telling them that it will become a communal dormitory. The contrast is striking, as when the teacher was his students’ age, he was not taught the same things that he is now teaching.

Both history teachers talk about how hard it is for Russian students to understand how the Soviet Union could have happened. One of the teachers, Lyuba, says that even explaining it as a fairytale, of good verses evil, does not work, as the situation was so confusing and complicated. She believes that even understanding the history of the formation of the Soviet Union is not enough, and that much of it remains incomprehensible

Every country has challenges confronting their own history. For Russians, this challenge is especially difficult. Russia has a history of re-writing its own past and using past events to justify the current reality, even if that means falsifying its history. I hope that later on in the semester, we might touch upon how the Soviet Union re-wrote the history of Russia to give meaning to its own existence, exploring how Soviet textbooks portrayed various tsars.

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