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Putin’s lies scrubbed from Russian edition of Yuval Noah Harari’s book

Author says he approved changes, which also include description of Moscow’s takeover of Crimea as ‘annexation’ rather than ‘occupation’

US President Donald Trump (left) and Russia's President Vladimir Putin at the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting, part of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' summit, in the central Vietnamese city of Danang, on November 11, 2017. (AFP Photo/Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev)
US President Donald Trump (left) and Russia's President Vladimir Putin at the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting, part of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' summit, in the central Vietnamese city of Danang, on November 11, 2017. (AFP Photo/Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev)

The bestselling Israeli author of “Sapiens” and “Homo Deus” has approved changes in the Russian translation of his latest book that omit examples of lies told by Russian President Vladimir Putin and references to Moscow’s takeover of Crimea as an invasion and occupation.

Instead, a section of Yuval Noah Harari’s 2018 book “21 Lessons for the 21st Century” illustrates fake news spread by world leaders with examples of false or unfounded statements made by US President Donald Trump, according to Russian press reports citing readers of the new edition.

Harari admitted to Israeli media that he approved the changes to avoid “deterring certain audiences” and to avoid local authorities censoring the book.

In the Hebrew and English editions of the book, a chapter called “Post-truth: Some fake news lasts for ever” immediately gives an example of falsehoods uttered by Putin.

Yuval Noah Harari. (Courtesy)

“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,” the chapter begins in the English edition.

“Examples are not hard to come by. Thus in late February 2014 Russian special units bearing no army insignia invaded Ukraine and occupied key installations in Crimea. The Russian government and President Putin in person repeatedly denied that these were Russian troops, and described them as spontaneous ‘self-defence 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.”

Later in the chapter, Harari writes: “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. 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.”

And several paragraphs down: “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’ that Russia has set up to mask its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.”

In the Russian edition, all that is gone.

Instead, the first example of “post-truth” deals with Trump.

“Donald Trump is of course the main culprit,” it says, according to a translation by the Hebrew-language Ynet news site. “The Washington Post, for instance, found that since entering the White House, he has made 6,000 false statements. In a speech in May, 2018, Trump made 98 statements, 76 percent of which were either lies, false or unfounded.

“In reaction, Trump and his supporters regularly brand the Washington Post, New York Times, CNN and other media outlets ‘liars,’ and accuse them of distributing fake news meant to slander the Trump administration.”

In other parts of the book, references to Russian’s occupation of the Crimean Peninsula use the word “annexation” instead, and sections critical of Moscow are replaced with sections neutral toward it or even praising it.

In a statement to Ynet, Harari admitted he approved the changes.

“The book ’21 Lessons for the 21st Century’ focuses on the danger of dictatorship, extremism and radicalization, and I very much hope the book’s ideas reach diverse audiences around the world, including audiences living under non-democratic regimes,” he said.

“The English edition of the book contains examples that can deter certain audiences or lead to the text being censored by certain governments,” he added. “Therefore I sometimes approve local matching of examples, but I never approve changes to the book’s fundamental ideas.”

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