Israeli celebrity historian and philosopher Yuval Noah Harari agreed to replace references to Russian President Vladimir Putin in the “fake news” section of his book with references to U.S. President Donald Trump in the Russian edition of his new history book.
Hariri became a literary icon in the United States in 2016 when, in an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, then-President Barack Obama praised his bestselling 2014 history of humanity, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.
Harari’s most recent book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, was published in 2018 to rave reviews. Harari’s previous works dealt with world history on the one hand, and the future on the other. Unlike them, 21 Lessons centers on the current issues dictating international events. It was a #1 New York Times bestseller.
Yesterday, Israel’s Hebrew language Calcalist reported that Russian and Ukrainian readers of the Russian translation of Harari’s book were stunned to discover key changes in the Russian edition. Criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin was deleted — and, in one passage, replaced with criticism of President Donald Trump.
The substantive changes occur in two chapters of the book.
The most significant change appears in Chapter 17 of the book, in a section titled “Post Truth: Some Fake News Lasts Forever.”
The chapter opens, “We are repeatedly told these days that we are living in a new and frightening era of ‘post truth,’ and that lies and fictions are all around us. Examples are not hard to come by.”
The English edition then raises the example of Russia’s 2104 invasion of Ukraine.
The edition reads:
For example, in late February 2014 Russian special units bearing no army insignia invaded Ukraine and occupied key installations in the Crimea. The Russian government and President Putin in person repeatedly denied that these were Russian troops, describing them instead as spontaneous ‘self-defense groups’ that may have acquired Russian-looking equipment from local shops. As they voiced this rather preposterous claim, Putin and his aides knew perfectly well that they were lying.
Russian nationalists can excuse this lie by arguing that it served a higher truth. Russia was engaged in a just war, and if is okay to kill for a just cause, surely it is also okay to lie. The higher cause that allegedly justified the invasion of Ukraine was the preservation of the sacred Russian nation. According to Russian national myths, Russia is a sacred entity that has endured for a thousand years despite repeated attempts by vicious enemies to invade and dismember it.
He added, a few lines later: “For many Russian nationalists, the idea that Ukraine is a separate nation from Russia constitutes a far bigger lie than anything uttered by President Putin during his holy mission to reintegrate the Russian nation.”
Turning his attention to the invaded Ukrainians, Harari continued:
Ukrainian citizens, outside observers and professional historians may well be outraged by this explanation and regard it as a kind of ‘atom bomb lie’ in the Russian arsenal of deception. To claim that Ukraine does not exist as a nation and as an independent country disregards a long list of historical facts – for example, that during the thousand years of supposed Russian unity, Kiev and Moscow were part of the same country for only about three hundred years. It also violates numerous international laws and treaties that Russia has accepted and that guarantee the sovereignty and borders of independent Ukraine. Most important, it ignores what millions of Ukrainians think about themselves. Don’t they have any say about who they are?
Harari concluded the section:
Ukrainian nationalists would certainly agree with Russian nationalists that there are some fake countries around. But Ukraine isn’t one of them. Rather these fake countries are the Luhansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic which Russia has set up to mask its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
Whichever side you support, it seems that we are indeed living in a terrifying era of post-truth, when not just particular military incidents but entire histories and nations might be faked.
According to the Calcalist report, this entire section of the book was deleted in the Russian edition and replaced by a section attacking President Donald Trump.
After introduction the concept of “post-truth,” the Russian edition reads:
Donald Trump is of course the main culprit. The Washington Post, for instance revealed that since Trump began his tenure at the White House, he has given 6,000 declarations that are either misleading or wrong. In a speech in May 2018, Trump made 98 declarations, 76 percent of which were lies, misleading or unsupported by evidence.
Harari’s Russian edition continues: “Trump and his supporters respond by routinely referring to the Washington Post, the New York Times, CNN and other media organizations as ‘liars’ and accusing them of disseminating fake news with the goal of demonizing Trump’s presidency.”
Notably, whereas the English text regarding Putin allowed that Russian nationalists may believe that Ukraine is an historical province of Russia, Harari’s Russian edition gives Trump and his supporters no similar credit. They are simply liars who slander innocent, honest media organizations.
The second substantive edit in the Russian edition appears in the book’s 11th chapter, titled, “War: Never Underestimate Human Stupidity.”
As the Calcalist report notes, in the English and Hebrew editions, the book characterizes the Russian invasion of Crimea as a “conquest” and an “occupation.” In the Russian edition, the invasion and occupation of Crimea is referred to as “annexation.”
Changes in the Russian edition were apparently undertaken with Harari’s full support. According to the Israeli paper, Harari responded to its inquiry about the changes with the following statement:
The book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century focuses on the dangers of dictatorship, extremism and zealotry, and I hope very much that the ideas in the book will reach diverse audiences worldwide, including audiences that live under non-democratic regimes. In the English edition of the book there are examples that could distance certain audiences or initiate a censorship of the text by certain regimes. Consequently, I sometimes permit local adaptation of the examples – but I never approve changes of the substantive ideas in the book.
Caroline Glick is a world-renowned journalist and commentator on the Middle East and U.S. foreign policy, and the author of The Israeli Solution: A One-State Plan for Peace in the Middle East. Read more at www.CarolineGlick.com.