Author Yuval Noah Harari Under Fire for Removing Putin Criticism From Russian Translation of New Book

Famed historian and philosopher Yuval Noah Harari has been accused of amending the Russian version of his latest book to take a softer line on the country's leader Vladimir Putin, instead replacing the criticism with a condemnation of President Donald Trump.

In the Russian version of 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Harari has blunted criticism of Kremlin disinformation campaigns and the invasion and annexation of Crimea, according to Russian news website The Insider.

Russia invaded the Crimea—then belonging to Ukraine—in 2014, capitalizing on the chaos wrought by the overthrow of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych. So-called "little green men" were the first to arrive, armed and clad in military fatigues but with no markings indicating their nationality. By the time it was revealed they were Russian troops, the peninsula was firmly under Moscow's control.

In the English version of the book, Harari called the annexation of Crimea "the only successful invasion carried out by the leading power in the 21st century." He explained how Russia "occupied a strategically important territory, sowed fear in the neighbors and restored itself as a world power" with almost zero resistance.

However, in the English text Harari warns that the success of the Crimea operation was only possible "due to an extraordinary coincidence of circumstances." He noted that when Russia "tried to repeat the Crimean success in other parts of Ukraine, it ran into much tougher resistance, and the war in eastern Ukraine came to a standstill. Even worse (from the Russian point of view), the war inflamed anti-Russian sentiments in Ukraine and turned this country from an ally into a sworn enemy."

But in the Russian translation, the author does not deliver the same scathing assessment of Russia's strategic failings. "Russia itself does not consider the annexation of Crimea as an invasion of a foreign country, and Russian troops practically did not meet any resistance from the local population, or from the Ukrainian army," he wrote.

"Moreover, as a result of the annexation of the Crimea and participation in a number of conflicts in eastern Ukraine, Russia acquired strategic important assets and increased international prestige," Harari continued. "The economic benefit was much lower. "

Harari's Russian translation also did not include criticism of Putin and the Russian influence of post-truth politics. "Today we are constantly told that we are living in a new and frightening era of "post-truth", and that lies and fiction surround us everywhere. There is no need to go far for examples," he wrote.

The English version of the book then cites the annexation of Crimea as a perfect example of the power of misinformation campaigns.

"The Russian government and President Putin personally denied several times that these were Russian troops and described them as spontaneous 'self-defense units' who acquired a uniform similar to the Russian in local stores," he wrote. "When they made such rather ridiculous statements, Putin and his associates knew perfectly well that they were lying."

But in the Russian version, Harari instead turned to Trump to illustrate his point. "Today we are constantly being told that we are living in a frightening era of post-truth surrounded by lies and fiction," this translation repeats, before diverging from the English.

"According to estimates of The Washington Post newspaper, President Trump made more than 6,000 false public statements in the time after his inauguration," the text read. "In a speech delivered in May 2018, out of 98 Trump's factual statements, 76% were erroneous, misleading, or unfounded. In response, Trump and his supporters invariably call The Washington Post, The New York Times, CNN and other media 'liars' and accuse them of spreading fake news to discredit Trump's presidency."

Harari's representatives sent a statement to Newsweek in which the author defended the amendments. Harari said his "main concern is to enable the book's core ideas about the threats of dictatorship, extremism and bigotry to reach diverse audiences."

"This includes audiences living under non-democratic regimes," Harari added. "Certain examples in the book can either alienate those audiences or prompt censorship by certain regimes. For this reason I occasionally allow local adaptation and authorize certain sensitive examples to be changed—but never the core arguments of the book."

Yuval Harari, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Russia
Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Donald Trump hold a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, on June 28, 2019. MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/Getty
Author Yuval Noah Harari Under Fire for Removing Putin Criticism From Russian Translation of New Book | News