Enlightening Society with Russian History

Enlightening Society with Russian History

You are probably aware that a very serious process of revising the core content of humanitarian knowledge has begun in Russia. This is a comprehensive initiative, as in the second year of the Special Military Operation, experts from the Ministry of Education and several other serious structures discovered that our education in the humanities is filled with Western-centric assumptions. These theories systematically underestimate the significance of Russian civilisation and Russian uniqueness, opposing Russia’s special path. We are dealing with methodologies built on the basis of the unconditional universality of the Western way of development, undermining the notion of Russia’s civilisational sovereignty. This situation was found in many, almost all, humanities disciplines.

The Ivan Ilyin Higher School of Politics played an active role in this research. In all humanities disciplines, we identified ‘minefields’ of Western-centric paradigms. Our socio-humanitarian science and education have been structured this way for the last three decades, possibly even longer, leading to a systemic issue.

As far as I know, when the research results were reported to the president, he reacted in a certain way. Interestingly, out of all the humanities disciplines, history is considered by the president to be of primary importance. Here we cannot wait; we must immediately take action. Because this is most important: historical identity, the continuity of different stages of our people’s development and the state-forming role of the Russian people as the core — all this is of fundamental importance now.

With this, we cannot delay.

Although the president did not specify what he meant by an immediate solution, after the publication of the decree ‘On the Foundations of State Policy in Historical Enlightenment’, we received clear answers to what he meant. Of course, order needs to be established in political science, philosophy, cultural studies, sociology, anthropology, and psychology. Everything is Western-centric. We need Russian enlightenment in all disciplines.

It all started with history, as the president rightly believes that the key to self-awareness and the worldview of our people lies in this area, which is of enormous significance during this critical hour of fierce civilisational confrontation with the West. The decree signed by the president on 8 May is a fundamental shift. That is, we are effectively declaring on behalf of the president, on behalf of the highest state authority, that at the centre of our historical self-consciousness should lie our Russian people. We must build an entirely new topology, where we place the Russian people, the state-forming people, as the main subject of history, and from them, we lay out all historical perspectives and horizons.

This is a radical breakthrough in our historical science and in historical education, which until the last moment was dominated by Westernism. Now Westernism is rejected, that is, the notion that there is a universal path, and Western society leads the way on this path. We reject this, allowing each civilisation to write its own historical models: the Islamic world, the Chinese world, the West, the African world, India, Latin America. Let everyone place themselves at the centre of their own sovereign historical epistemologies. We are interested in our Russian civilisation.

In the sovereign Russian civilisation, the Russian people and other ethnic groups historically linked with the Russian people should form a unified common understanding of our people as the subject, from which Russian historical enlightenment is constructed. We are talking specifically about enlightenment; this is not just education, not just a collection of knowledge. This is the organisation of humanitarian historical knowledge within a certain paradigm, where Russians are at the centre, where our state, our culture, our traditions, and our values are at the centre.

Traditional values are the code of our identity. This is stated directly several times in the decree. That is, we are what we protect, what we live by, and what our ancestors passed on to us. It is very important to pay attention to the Soviet period because Marxist materialistic views dominated then. Historical materialism shared the universality of Western culture but offered a socialist rather than a capitalist interpretation of it. This model preceded the liberal, thoroughly Western-centric paradigm of the 1990s in historical education but also built on the rejection of traditional values that had dominated all previous stages of Russian history. During the Soviet period, a lot of Russophobia was laid down, and only during the Great Patriotic War, under Stalin, were some corrections made. However, the general orientation of Soviet historical science was universalist, not placing Russian traditional values at the forefront. Many issues of our history were solved based on universalist, Western-centric, and essentially Russophobic settings. Today, we must find a worthy place for the Soviet period in our history, but we should not be slaves and passive recipients, completely under the hypnotic influence of Soviet historiography.

The Soviet period should be reinterpreted from some new historical perspective. Actually, Putin’s decree on historical enlightenment lays the foundations for this position, where we must first see the traditional Russian foundations of our identity, which include the Soviet Union.

However, the Soviet Union is just an episode in our thousand-year history. It must have a worthy place, but by no means can it cancel out all other stages. The full richness and uniqueness of Russian culture must not be cancelled by the Soviet period: Orthodoxy, the monarchic state, the imperial stage, Byzantinism. There was an attempt to do this, to throw off pre-revolutionary authorities from the ‘steamboat of modernity’, but it actually led to nothing good. Even more dreadful is the dominance of the Western liberal approach in the historical sphere, established over the last three decades. Actually, the decree is aimed not so much against Soviet historiography, which is also not particularly accurate or distinctly Russian, but against the overtly Western-centric subversive approach to history that prevailed in the 1990s.

The decree by Putin on state policy in historical enlightenment marks a point in these destructive processes and starts a new era, the era of nationwide historical enlightenment. Here the task is to affirm Russian identity and become acquainted with traditional values. The main values are Russian Orthodoxy, the Russian state, the Russian Empire, Russian Byzantinism, and the Russian political, social, cultural, moral, and literary tradition. All this is entrusted to the state. Now the task of historical enlightenment is not only the task of teachers in children’s preschool organisations, where, as emphasised in the decree, this historical enlightenment should begin, but it is the task of the state authority at all levels.

This is the task of schools, institutes, universities, and the Academy of Sciences. We know that the Academy of Sciences is currently tasked with reviewing textbooks and educational programmes, but is the Academy itself sufficiently enlightened in the Russian context? This question is quite appropriate to ask because, unfortunately, there is a significant presence of both Soviet and liberal academics in the humanitarian disciplines of the Academy, who have secured their positions in the last decade. It is precisely in the Academy of Sciences that there has been a lack of historical enlightenment. Otherwise, there would have been no need to issue such a decree.

We have not had historical enlightenment all these years, and we have sorely needed it to strengthen the civilisational sovereignty of our people and to win this most terrible, monstrous struggle with the West.

Therefore, we need truly Russian academics, a Russian Academy of Sciences, which will itself be enlightened with full Russian historical knowledge.

Of course, historical enlightenment is necessary for the new subjects of the federation, necessary for soldiers, necessary for our entire people right now. Because only by realising who we are, what the essence of our civilisation is, what the code of our culture is, only thanks to this knowledge about ourselves can we truly play our role in the world we are building, in a multipolar system.

I think this decree is of colossal importance. A completely new stage of our historical path begins. Immediately after taking office, our president has passed this programmatic decree. After putting order in the field of historical knowledge and launching the process of historical enlightenment of our society, it will be the turn of other disciplines. In this respect, the Ivan Ilyin Higher School of Politics, which I head, and other friendly expert communities are just starting to engage in the process.

History is an exceptional thing for our president, and he is absolutely right because for society this is the most important. We will have enlightenment of Russian history through our traditional values; there will be a representation of the fact that the Russian people and the Russian state are the subjects of the historical process. All other humanities disciplines we will build consistently along this axis.

This decree, in combination with decree 809 ‘On Traditional Values’ from 2022, effectively forms a new ideology, if you will, a new state idea, a new Russian worldview, which is now documented by the highest authority. Of course, it is very symbolic that there is no reappointed government and no reappointed administration yet, but the decree is already there. The idea is more important; the strategy is more important. People will be selected later for the strategic tasks set.

The most important strategic task is the historical enlightenment of our society, our state, and the strengthening of national identity. Of course, all this radically changes the attitude towards the state-forming Russian people. Finally, in our history, for the last hundred years, and perhaps much longer, the Russian people are given their due; they are proclaimed as subjects of history. Any disrespectful statement or attitude towards the Russian idea, the Russian spirit, Russian philosophy, or Russian identity, stemming from the necessity of historical enlightenment, should lead to specific legal consequences.

No one has the right to insult Russians. Russophobia is racism. Neither in Russia itself nor beyond its borders does anyone have the right to insult Russians just because they are Russian. From now on, we will relentlessly punish anyone for this.

The same applies to officials and the government, as well as to the administration of the president. That is, people who are not sufficiently historically enlightened in the Russian context, who do not have a clear understanding of the traditional values of our identity, are simply unfit for their positions. They have become unfit now, after the issuance of this decree.

Translated by Constantin von Hoffmeister