Someone will need to explain this to me: why do certain Westerners claim to care so much what happens inside Russia (or replace Russia with any other country you’d care to name)?  I’m serious.  This is the second prominent op-ed about the youth group Nashi in the last week, and it is written in that same tone of alarmed concern.  It seems to me that Westerners look at Russia with the same kind of myopia with which Americans look at Europe or Europeans look at America or coastal liberals look at people in “Red” America.  The critics always latch on to those elements of the country that they purport to find sinister (usually because the “sinister” elements have different political views from themselves) and then generalise about the condition of the entire country based on this.  Where the secular European quakes in dread of American megachurches, or the religious American shudders at the thought of empty churches in Europe and godless Frenchmen cavorting on their long weekends, certain Westerners are filled with horror at the thought of Russian nationalists. 

Better yet they are disturbed by things like this:

But it is one thing for French kids to be told about Joan of Arc’s heroism or American kids about Paul Revere’s midnight ride; everyone is entitled to a Robin Hood or William Tell or two. It’s a bit more disturbing to learn that the new Russian history manual teaches that “entry into the club of democratic nations involves surrendering part of your national sovereignty to the U.S.” [bold mine-DL] and other such choice contemporary lessons that suggest to Russian teenagers that they face dark forces abroad.

The textbook’s phrasing is a bit blunt, but I can’t say that I find this statement to be all that inaccurate.  Entering the “democratic club of nations” in practice frequently means having your policies dictated to you by foreign governments, the U.S. being chief among them, which offer the “incentives” of gaining membership in other clubs (the WTO, NATO, the EU) and receiving support from the IMF.  Once you have joined these organisations, your sovereignty is reduced even more and your policy options are even more constrained.  In practice, it often is the case that these nations yield up some of their sovereignty to Washington as an “ally” or to institutions where Washington’s influence is very great. 

The legitimate criticism here should be that this statement has little or nothing to do with the study of history.  If it were a political science book, it might be different, but there is certainly a level of gratuitous politicisation here in any case.  It is the politicisation, and not the message’s content, that we should find objectionable.

It is worth noting that none of this fundamentally changes what our attitude towards the Russian government ought to be.  Cooperation with Russia is in the best interests of both our countries.  The more people in the West rile themselves up over what the Russians are doing with their textbooks and the like, the harder it becomes to foster good relations with Moscow.  The Japanese, of course, have engaged in some of the most appalling revisionism about WWII in their textbooks, but very few people seem terribly upset by this these days such that they try to encourage fear and loathing of Japan.

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