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Less Keynes, More Love: Russian Economics Textbook Pulled For Not Praising The Motherland

Russia's Education Ministry introduced stricter controls over the content of school textbooks in 2012. (file photo)
Russia's Education Ministry introduced stricter controls over the content of school textbooks in 2012. (file photo)

A textbook on economics has been banned from use in Russian schools after an expert review deemed it lacking in patriotism, its author told RFE/RL.

Igor Lipsits, a professor at the Faculty of Business and Management at Moscow's Higher School of Economics, said that he received an e-mail from his publisher Vita-Press with instructions to edit the book in line with an expert review ordered by the Russian Education Academy, a government body focused on pedagogy.

The high-school text had been removed from the Education Ministry's list of approved textbooks, Lipsits was told, meaning Russian schools can no longer purchase and use the title in classes.

The expert review, a copy of which was provided to RFE/RL by Lipsits, notes that "the examples cited [in the book] do not promote love for the Motherland."

In its e-mail dated February 1, which Lipsits forwarded to RFE/RL, Vita-Press recommended that the author add details about unspecified "plans for the next economic breakthrough" and discuss the influence of the government's import substitution -- a campaign launched after Russia embargoed certain food imports in response to Western sanctions - - on people's "sense of pride in the country."

Vita-Press head Lyudmila Antonova confirmed in an interview with the Russian daily Kommersant that the recommendations included in the letter came at least in part from the expert review. What exactly "facilitating love for the Motherland" involved, or when the next economic breakthrough was expected, was not made clear.

Lipsits said that the textbook had previously passed expert reviews by two government bodies, but the subsequent review ordered by the Education Ministry reached a negative verdict and demanded that revisions are made.

The Russian Education Academy told Kommersant that the Education Ministry was responsible for the expert analysis. The ministry, for its part, denied involvement in the final review.

'Ideological Somersaults'

Lipsits said he has no intention of adding "gleeful words about an economic boom and patriotic fervor in favor of import substitution."

"I've become unused to writing such things in the 25 years" since the Soviet Union ended, he told Kommersant, "and I'm not keen to revive my skills at windbaggery."

"My conception of patriotism was formed way back in my youth," he later wrote on Facebook. "And it assumes work toward the development of the country and its people, and not praise toward those who are ruling it at the present moment. So I've long expected that this position of mine may become unacceptable for the Education Ministry. But I can't change myself -- I'm too old now for such ideological somersaults."

Since 2012, the Russian Education Ministry has overseen a campaign to censor high-school textbooks and introduce stricter controls over their content.

Enlightenment, a publisher with ties to Putin's inner circle, emerged with a near-monopoly over the textbook market that it continues to enjoy today.

In May 2018, Russian Textbook, a nonprofit representing textbook publishers, sent an open letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin signed by several dozen authors. The association lists around 30 publishers as its members, but does not include Enlightenment.

In the letter, the authors criticized the government's expert review process, pointing out that the federal textbook list has not been renewed for over four years and most titles on the list have not been updated since 2012.

"As the authors of textbooks used for many years in schools, we cannot accept the lack of professionalism and incompetence shown in organizing and carrying out expert reviews of textbooks," the authors wrote. "We strongly believe that less variation in academic literature for schools and the removal of progressive teaching methods will have a negative influence on the development of a knowledge-based economy in our country."

Concluding its e-mail to Lipsits, the publisher Vita-Press predicted that the Education Ministry's demands from textbook authors would only get stricter in the future.

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    Matthew Luxmoore

    Matthew Luxmoore is a Moscow-based journalist covering Russia and the former Soviet Union. He has reported for The New York Times in Moscow and has written for The Guardian, Politico, The New Republic, and Foreign Policy. He’s a graduate of Harvard’s Davis Center and a recipient of New York University's Reporting Award and the Fulbright Alistair Cooke Journalism Award.

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