Solzhenitsyn's "Gulag" mandatory in Russian schools

Tue Oct 26, 2010 3:47pm EDT
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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin welcomed on Tuesday the publication of a school version of Soviet-era dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn's "The Gulag Archipelago," calling it essential reading.

Solzhenitsyn's monumental chronicle of suffering in the Gulag labor camps under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin was banned in the Soviet Union after its 1973 publication in the West.

"This book is much-needed," state television showed Putin telling Solzhenitsyn's widow Natalya, in unusual remarks for the former KGB officer who has credited Stalin with turning the Soviet Union into an industrial powerhouse.

Natalya, who was widowed two years ago, has created an abridged version for Russian school children which is a quarter the length of the multi-tomed original. State media said it would be mandatory to teach it to 16 and 17 year-olds.

"Without knowing what is laid out here, we will not have a full understanding of our country and we will have difficulty thinking about the future," Putin told Natalya.

Natalya, with grey hair and black clothes, said an initial 10,000 copies have been made for schools and libraries.

Russian rights campaigners have been alarmed by what they see as an attempt by some officials -- especially during Putin's years as president from 2000-08 -- to play down Stalinist atrocities by focusing on his achievements.

Last year activists and Western diplomats condemned a new school textbook compiled with the help of an historian from Putin's ruling United Russia party, which mentions the repressions under Stalin but also depicts him as a good manager.

Like many Russians, Putin has said Stalin deserves praise for his victory in World War Two, but has criticized his vast purges of opponents. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has condemned Stalin's rule.   Continued...