By Paul Goble
Few people live in a more historically saturated country than do the Russians of today, especially under a president who prefers to talk about the past rather than the future and in the centenary year of the 1917 revolutions. But a new survey shows that many Russians don’t have a clear grasp on important facts.
Today’s Kommersant summarizes the results of a new VTsIOM poll concerning Russians’ knowledge about the 1917 revolution and related events. It found that 96 percent of Russians say they believe that “it is important to know the history of Russia.” But it also found that many in fact don’t (kommersant.ru/doc/3409875).
Russians appear to be aware that this is the case, the survey found. Forty percent of them say they know their nation’s history “poorly” and seven percent more say their expertise is “very poor.” Only 41 percent say that they know it “well.” Among these, three percent say they know it “very well.”
But when VTsIOM asked if they knew the answers to some specific questions, the level of Russians’ knowledge was revealed as something less than one might have expected. Only 11 percent of Russians know that the Bolsheviks overthrew the Provisional Government. Sixty-five percent gave other answers, the most frequent was that “the Bolsheviks overthrew the tsar.”
Only seven percent knew that Pyotr Stolypin was the author of the phrase, “they need great turmoil, we need a great Russia.” Eighty-three percent didn’t even hazard a guess, and the other ten percent got it wrong. Only nine percent knew the dates of the Russo-Japanese war, and not a single Russian queried knew the date when Russia left World War I.
Young people do especially badly, and Mikhail Mamonov, a VTsIOM analyst, says that one of the reasons is that Russian schools have departed from the traditional methods of instructing history. As a result, he says, “young people know and remember only what they have seen in films and on television.”