A Russian region has called on schools to remove the works of two British historians from their library shelves, saying they promote Nazi stereotypes.
The authorities in the Yekaterinburg region circulated a letter to schools telling them to search for books by historians Antony Beevor and John Keegan and ensure any copies are removed. Beevorâ€™s work has caused outrage in Russia, particularly his book on the fall of Berlin in 1945, which contains extensive material about rapes carried out by Soviet soldiers against German women.
Beevor also wrote a long work about the epic battle of Stalingrad, a Soviet victory which came at enormous human cost and is seen as a key turning point in the war.
â€œIn some ways I am amazed that it has taken them so long,â€ Beevor told the Guardian. â€œWhat depresses me the most is that once again we are faced with a government trying to impose its own version of history. I am fundamentally opposed to all such attempts to dictate a truth, whether it concerns denial of the Holocaust or the Armenian genocide, or the â€˜sacred victoryâ€™ of May 1945.â€
A letter from the local ministry of education that had been circulated to all schools and colleges in the region was published by a news website on Wednesday. Dated 31 July, it is signed by the deputy regional education minister, Nina Zhuravleva, and says the ministry has â€œreceived information that the libraries of some educational institutions may contain books published by the Open Society Institute (Soros Foundation) which propagandise stereotypes originating in the Third Reichâ€.
The letter goes on to specify that librarians should check for books by Beevor and Keegan, and â€œtake steps to prevent access to themâ€ by the end of August.
Calls to the department of education went unanswered on Wednesday, but the regional authorities said they supported the ban.
â€œMany history scholars believe that these authors mistakenly interpret information about the events of the second world war, contradict historical documents, and are imbued with the propagandistic stereotypes of nazism,â€ a spokesperson for the regional governor told Kommersant newspaper
The Open Society Institute is one of a dozen foreign organisations to be placed on a provisional list of â€œundesirable organisationsâ€, and could be banned from operating in Russia. The upper house of the Russian parliament has asked the justice ministry, prosecutorâ€™s office and foreign ministry to investigate whether the organisations should be kicked out. An article in Izvestia newspaper last month mentioned the publishing of history books and suggested it was all part of a plot to sow discontent in Russia.
Many Russian historians were critical of the Yekaterinburg decision. â€œBeevor is an author with a particular ideological viewpoint, you could call him anti-Soviet,â€ Alexander Dyukov of the Historical Memory Foundation told Kommersant. â€œBut there is no glorifying of nazism in his books. I think banning history books is a bad idea. Today itâ€™s one book, tomorrow it will be another book, and it will become difficult to stop.â€
As the conflict in Ukraine has developed over the past year and a half, the legacy of the second world war has become ever more contested in the region.
This year has seen lavish celebrations marking the 70th anniversary of victory in the war, known as the great patriotic war in Russia. Millions of Soviet citizens died fighting the Nazis on the eastern front and the war has personal resonance for most Russians, but information or viewpoints that diverge from the official, glossy version of history have become less welcome as the drive increases to celebrate the patriotic past.
In a lavish military ceremony on Red Square in May to mark 70 years since the victory over the Nazis, Putin slammed recent attempts â€œto create a unipolar worldâ€, and the language of the second world war has often been invoked to describe the fight against â€œfascismâ€ in Ukraine.
The Ukrainian authorities, meanwhile, have banned a number of Russian films which they say distort history, and have introduced controversial new laws outlawing all signs and symbols of the Communist period and honouring nationalist Ukrainian fighters who collaborated with the Nazis for part of the war.