By Paul Goble
A fight over the preparation of a new school textbook about the history of Arkhangelsk oblast, “the only mono-ethnic region in the North,” highlights Moscow’s fears about the emergence of regional identities among ethnic Russians and its efforts to blame them on local commentators and foreign funders.
“The history of the ethnic Russian North has much greater significance than a first glance might suggest,” commentator Vladimir Stanulevich writes, because the role of the ethnic Russians in that region has been challenged in Sakha and other places, including some ethnic Russian ones (regnum.ru/news/society/2205072.html).
Indeed, he suggests, this subject is now not just between ethnic Russians and non-Russians within the Russian North but also “the scholarly, propagandistic, and espionage structures of Norway and NATO which have been trying to attract to themselves the influential people of the region” via the use of “’soft power’” methods like promoting regional identities.
Unfortunately, the Moscow commentator says, regional officials in Arkhangelsk have not done the right thing. Instead of building up to counter this threat as they should have as the governors of “the only mono-ethnic region” in the Far North, they cut the size of the history faculty of the Northern Arctic Federal University.
Moreover, they have continued to use in the schools a history textbook from 2003 that gives a distorted picture of the ethnic Russian community there, playing up the role of the Pomors, a subgroup of Russians, rather than promoting the idea of a common ethnic Russian nation as the key player in the region.
(For background on the Pomor movement and Moscow’s efforts to destroy it, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2012/11/window-on-eurasia-pomor-case-raises.html, windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2013/01/window-on-eurasia-russian-supreme-court.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2016/06/regionalism-threatens-russia-today-way.html.)
When the 2003 textbook was compiled, it was written largely by scholars at now-suppressed Pomor University; and many of those involved have been sharply criticized by other Russian scholars for giving the Pomors too large and too independent a role in the development of the Far North.
In 2014, the regional authorities, under pressure from Moscow, agreed to produce a new textbook; but the way they have proceeded so far, Stanulevich says, may mean that many of the errors of the 2003 volume will not be corrected and that some new ones will be introduced because of the local focus of the editorial board.
This issue has come to a head now, the Regnum commentator says, with the local officials saying that only regional scholars and experts will review the new history text while Moscow officials are demanding that there be an all-Russian discussion to ensure that there are no errors about the Pomors or other subgroups of Russians.
Outside scholars and officials are especially worried about the way in which Arkhangelsk will proceed if allowed to prepare the textbook on its own because of reports in the media – see, politinform.su/obschestvo/21406-kak-sozdaetsya-separatizm-na-russkom-severe.html – that the regional authorities are getting funding from abroad and following the lead of their funders.
Stanulevich says that scholars and officials outside Arkhangelsk are also upset that the regional officials, presumably to save money as well as to avoid problems, are planning on a textbook of only 100 to 120 pages. Such a length, he says, is clearly insufficient to cover the role of the Great Russian people in developing the North.
This kind of fight is likely occurring in many ethnic Russian regions and not only in the North, but it rarely attracts the attention of the central media. Arkhangelsk is an exception because there is so much interest in it in Scandinavia and because various cross-border media outlets have focused on the Pomors in the past.
It is almost certain that Moscow will get its way, but only at the cost of highlighting the problems if faces with forming even an integral ethnic Russian identity let alone a broader civic one and at the risk of offending local elites who are proud of their regional distinctiveness and offended that such things should be wiped out on Moscow’s order and for Moscow’s benefit.