Russia orders libraries to ditch ‘Nazi’ books by British historians
Russian officials have ordered libraries to remove books by well-known British historians John Keegan and Antony Beevor, saying they promote Nazi-era stereotypes, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.
The move is part of a broader official push in Russia that is seeing school curricula and textbooks reshaped to cut out alleged foreign influences and provide a Kremlin-backed narrative of history.
The regional education ministry in Sverdlovsk, near the Ural Mountains, issued a decree telling school and university libraries to “check the availability of books” by the historians and “take measures to remove them from access by students and teaching staff”.
Both Keegan, who died in 2012, and Beevor are reputed military historians with a focus on World War II.
Beevor told AFP that the ban was “quite ridiculous” and that the Russian government was “trying to control the history of the past” due to its current isolated geopolitical position.
“The Russians consider that 1945 is the greatest moment in their history, so they consider any criticism as an insult,” he added.
Beevor’s award-winning bestsellers, particularly “Berlin: The Downfall 1945”, have been criticised in Russia for focusing on atrocities committed by the advancing Red Army.
Sverdlovsk officials claimed that unspecified books by the authors “propagate stereotypes formed during the Third Reich”, according to the scanned copy of the decree posted by local news website E1.
Yulia Voronina, a spokeswoman for the region’s governor, confirmed the decree to AFP, adding that the library inspection was ongoing.
In a statement sent to AFP, the regional administration said “many historians believe that books by authors such as John Keegan and Antony Beevor misinterpret information about World War II events, contradict historical documents and are infused with stereotypes of Nazi propaganda”.
Beevor argued that all the material is in the archives, saying it was “ridiculous” of the Russian authorities.
– ‘Ideological control’ –
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in 2013 ordered the creation of one approved line of history textbooks for all Russian schools, which is meant to “show the chronology of events and their official evaluation” and will be introduced to the school system this year.
Russia — locked in its worst standoff with the West since the Cold War over the Ukraine crisis — has recently intensified its campaign against Western influences.
According to the Sverdlovsk authorities, Beevor and Keegan’s books have been published in Russia by the Open Society Foundations of US billionaire philanthropist George Soros.
Last month the upper house of parliament drew up a list of “undesirable” organisations recommended for banning, including the Soros foundations.
Russia’s education ministry on Monday ordered officials to comb through textbooks for any “inauthentic data” or information deemed “propaganda of war” in order to draw up a register of approved publishers.
The Moscow-based Sova center, which has received funding from Soros’ foundations and works on monitoring nationalism and xenophobia in Russia, said the campaign against history books is ideologically motivated.
The books do contain “criticism of the Soviet leadership and mention facts about violence by the Soviet army against Germany’s civilian population,” the centre said in a statement on its website.
But that does not make Keegan and Beevor Nazi ideologues, it said.
“The authorities are trying to justify ideological control over educational literature by these loud and unsubstantiated allegations,” it said.
Soros’ Open Society Foundations — which no longer have offices in Russia — have been vilified by authorities in the country for allegedly trying to meddle in Moscow’s internal affairs.
They had funded a book programme in Russia which supplied regional libraries at a time when state funding ran dry.
Pro-Kremlin newspaper Izvestia last month denounced the programme, saying it “planted the required ideology under the guise of philanthropy and enlightenment”.