March 18, 2014

HOW WARS CAN BE STARTED BY HISTORY TEXTBOOKS

[The political significance of this historical dispute became clear in the crisis over Ukraine. Moscow has consistently attempted to tar the new government of Ukraine as “fascist”, arguing that its leaders are the ideological heirs of the Ukrainians who fought with the Nazis against Stalin’s Soviet Union. That version of events is now being energetically promoted by the Russian media.]

The imposition of an authorised version of events turns education into brainwashing

By Gideon Rachman
When political leaders start rewriting the past, you should fear for the future. In Russia, Hungary, Japan and China, recent politically sponsored efforts to change history textbooks were warning signs of rising nationalism.
In January Vladimir Putin presided over a meeting designed to produce a new standardised history book for use in schools. The Russian president complained that many current textbooks are “ideological garbage” and “denigrate the Soviet people’s role in the struggle with fascism”. He dislikes the suggestion that the countries of eastern Europe were occupied by the Soviet Union in 1945. His preferred vision of history is that the USSR saved these nations from fascism.
The political significance of this historical dispute became clear in the crisis over Ukraine. Moscow has consistently attempted to tar the new government of Ukraine as “fascist”, arguing that its leaders are the ideological heirs of the Ukrainians who fought with the Nazis against Stalin’s Soviet Union. That version of events is now being energetically promoted by the Russian media.
Ironically, Mr Putin’s Russia enjoys warm relations with Hungary – the one government in the former Soviet bloc that could justly be accused of adopting a dangerously equivocal attitude to the history of the far right. Hungary’s conservative government, led by Viktor Orb├ín, seems to be encouraging the rehabilitation of Miklos Horthy, Hungary’s authoritarian and anti-semitic leader of the interwar years. Several statues to Horthy have been erected around the country, as a well as a plaque in Budapest. Efforts are also under way to rewrite school history textbooks to give them a more “patriotic” tone.
As with Russia, Hungary’s neighbours have reason to be concerned by this outbreak of historical revisionism. One of the reasons that some of the country’s rightists look kindly on Horthy is that he was a believer in a “Greater Hungary” that would one day reclaim the territories that the country had lost after the first world war, a cause that remains dear to modern Hungarian nationalists.
Nationalist efforts to rewrite history textbooks are also cause for concern in Asia. Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, has suggested some school textbooks adopt too “masochistic” a view of the country’s history. This suggestion has outraged the governments of China and South Korea, which even before Mr Abe’s advent had long complained that Japanese textbooks play down crimes such as the Nanjing massacre of 1937 or the use of sexual slaves by the Japanese imperial army.
Yet Beijing is itself hardly innocent of the abuse of history for nationalist purposes. President Xi Jinping unveiled his plans for the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” in a speech given at the recently redesigned National History Museum in Beijing. The building devotes acres of space to the Japanese invasion of China in the 1930s, as well as the crimes of the British, French and other foreign imperialists who “descended on China like a swarm of bees”. But the national museum – like the textbooks that teach Chinese children – is virtually silent on the many millions who died under the rule of the Communist party, whether in the famines caused by Mao Zedong’s “great leap forward” or during the cultural revolution. A portrait of Mao still hangs over Tiananmen Square. For all the revisionism indulged in by Mr Putin’s Russia, it would be unthinkable (one hopes) for a portrait of Stalin to be on permanent display in Red Square. The point of the official version of history is obvious: to direct popular anger outwards, at China’s neighbours, rather than inwards towards its government.
Even Britain has experienced a controversy about the history taught in schools. Michael Gove, education secretary, has provoked fierce criticism from some eminent historians by suggesting children are being given an overly negative view of the first world war. Mr Gove argues they should be taught that it was a justified defence of freedom, and not just a futile bloodletting.
This illustrates that there is nothing unusual in the efforts of political leaders – including Mr Putin or Mr Abe – to try to influence the way their nation’s histories are taught and remembered. But there are still important distinctions to be made between legitimate debate and the politicised misuse of the past.
First, politicians should never be allowed to deny historical facts. Mr Gove may argue that the first world war was a just conflict. But he is not attempting to deny that the battle of the Somme took place, in the way that some Japanese nationalists, close to Mr Abe, have denied that the Nanjing massacre ever occurred.
The second important distinction is between encouraging debate – and shutting it down. It is sad and sinister that some Russian nationalists continue to promote a positive view of Stalin. But that view of Stalinism is much more dangerous if it becomes the unchallenged, official version of history, promoted in schools and on the media.
Politicians, like academics or ordinary citizens, will naturally have competing views about how to view their national history. But the abuse of political power to impose a single, authorised version of history on a nation’s schools and mass media is when education crosses the line into brainwashing. As we are seeing in Russia today, a public in the grip of a nationalist version of history can be a dangerous thing.

gideon.rachman@ft.com
Twitter: @gideonrachman

@ Financial Times
[‘Nirbhaya’ is a call to shift your mind-set, by shifting the shame from victim to perpetrator, by breaking the silence, by understanding that silence, apathy and ignorance all contribute to creating a culture where violence can thrive and go unaccounted for and get normalized,” she said.]
By Suhasini Raj
NEW DELHI – When a 23-year-old student was gang raped and brutally assaulted on a bus in India’s capital in December 2012, it provoked an unprecedented wave of public anger in India. But in one Indian woman, the gang rape also brought on a deep sense of guilt.
Married and a mother of one boy, Poorna Jagannathan, an actress in Mumbai, had never spoken about the sexual violence she had faced in her life. While she was watching the continuous television coverage of the Delhi gang rape, she said, she could not help feeling that somehow her silence had helped bring about such a horrific crime. Silence is what actually holds the violence in place; silence is what normalizes the violence, she said she thought to herself at the time.
Meanwhile, in South Africa, one of Ms. Jagannathan’s Facebook friends, the acclaimed playwright Yael Farber, was also following the news about the gang rape and the subsequent protests in India over sexual violence. After seeing Ms. Farber’s Facebook posts about the young woman’s death, Ms. Jagannathan contacted her with the idea of crafting a theatrical response to the Delhi rape.
“Women are ready to speak here in India in the wake of her death,” she told Ms. Farber. “It has broken the banks of what is tolerable. The silence is coming apart, and we yearn to speak. Come and make a new work that enables us to do that.”
In February 2013, Ms. Jagannathan invited Ms. Farber to India, where they collaborated on “Nirbhaya,” a play whose name borrows the pseudonym (which means “fearless”) that the media bestowed on the Delhi gang rape victim. The play, which premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August, is now showing in India, and started Monday in Mumbai.
In “Nirbhaya,” five Indian women tell their stories about the sexual violence and intimidation that they have themselves experienced. Later, a cast of seven re-enact the assault on the real Nirbhaya, which was committed by five men and one juvenile. (Four of the men are now on death row, one died while in prison.)
“I believe in what I consider to be theater’s true, original intention: to show us to ourselves in our true raw form — in order to be a healthier society,” Ms. Farber said in an interview.
One of the cast members, the astrologer Sneha Jawale, delivers a monologue recounting her marriage to a man who set fire to her in an attempt to secure a higher dowry price from her parents, openly displaying the burns that cover much of her face.
“The objective of the play is to smash the cone of silence that often envelops victims of sexual abuse in India,” Ms. Jagannathan said.
‘Nirbhaya’ is a call to shift your mind-set, by shifting the shame from victim to perpetrator, by breaking the silence, by understanding that silence, apathy and ignorance all contribute to creating a culture where violence can thrive and go unaccounted for and get normalized,” she said.
At the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August, the play garnered glowing reviews and later received Amnesty International’s Freedom of Expression Award. The play’s organizers turned to the online fund-raising site Kickstarter to raise 50,000 pounds, or $83,000, and received funds from institutions like Oxfam and the Ford Foundation to bring “Nirbhaya” to India.
Ms. Jagannathan said she had spoken to the family of the 23-year-old gang rape victim about the play, but they declined to get involved, and Badri Singh, the victim’s father, told India Ink that he didn’t have any knowledge of any play based on his daughter.
“They gave us their blessing, though, when we spoke to them two weeks back,” Ms. Jagannathan said.
Though India was the inspiration of “Nirbhaya,” the play is not aimed at just this one country, Ms. Jagannathan said.
“Sexual violence against women and children is a global crisis. Nirbhaya’s death has brought that fact front-center,” she said. “Making a play about this now is the one way those of us on this project believe that a brutal death like hers does not have to be in vain, and can in fact be the catalyst for change.”


@ The New York Times