In early May, Arkady Ponomarev, a member of the United Russia Party’s faction of the Russian State Duma, introduced a bill that would ban the dissemination of information that “distorts patriotism” among children. According to writer Alexander Podrabinek, teaching “correct” patriotism in schools will be accompanied by restrictions to any ideology alien to the current government.
The Russian authorities have been thinking of children. No, these thoughts are not about supporting disabled children, sick children, orphaned children, or children in large families. In this matter, the situation is the same as it always is: poor and hopeless. The authorities are concerned about the patriotic education of Russia’s young citizens. It seems that the government has sensed its unpopularity with the public, and has decided to rectify the situation the only way it knows how—by hammering children’s heads with propaganda.
United Russia deputy Arkady Ponomarev has proposed a bill banning the dissemination among children of information that distorts or denies patriotism. In the explanatory memorandum to the law, he cites the sociological servey of the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center (WCIOM), according to which the number of patriots in the country dropped from 88 percent in 2008 to 80 percent in 2012.
Ponomarev proposes to define patriotism as “love for the Fatherland, devotion to it, a desire to serve its interests with actions.” The bill says nothing, however, about who will determine the interests of the fatherland.
Over a year ago, in April 2013, the Coordinating Council under the speaker of the Federation Council, Valentina Matviyenko, commissioned the government to develop a concept of Russian state-patriotic ideology. It was instructed that this concept should ensure the “spiritual and moral development, national unity and cohesion of the army and society, as well as the general population, and the strengthening of Russia’s state system.” As part of the concept, the government had to submit a draft bill “on the patriotic education of Russia’s citizens” to the State Duma.
In Russia, patriotic education always starts with symbols. The State Duma has recently passed a law requiring that state flags be hung on school buildings or displayed in properties adjacent to school buildings. Previously, at the initiative of local authorities, the performance of Russia’s national anthem was required during school activities and celebrations only in the regions of Chechnya, Kostroma, and Belgorod. As of September 1, 2014, it will be mandatory in schools across the entire country.
If previous propaganda campaigns are any indication, the government’s attempts to teach children “correct” patriotism will be accompanied by restrictions to any “alien” ideology. Hence why the Ministry of Education and Science refrained from including Ludmila Peterson’s textbook on mathematics for the first grade in the federal list of textbooks for the 2014–15 school year. According to ministry officials, the textbook “does not encourage development of ethical feelings, goodwill and moral generosity.” Moreover, it turns out that the “characters of Gianni Rodari, Charles Perrault, the Brothers Grimm, and Astrid Lindgren are not helpful in developing a sense of patriotism and pride for their country and people.” To make this ban impossible to ignore, the ministry has also decided that educational institutions can only select textbooks from the approved federal list.
These restrictive measures are not limited to fiction and mathematics, of course. In January 2014, president Vladimir Putin announced that all school exam materials must be formulated on the basis of the new concept of Russia’s history. Immediately following this revelation, education and science minister Dmitry Livanov announced that over the next two years, more than 60,000 history teachers will be sent to training courses to learn the basics of this new concept of Russia’s national history.
State Duma speaker Sergei Naryshkin has said that students will study history up to 2012 and the re-election of President Putin. The fact that this is Putin’s third term in office will not be mentioned. Neither the protest movement of 2011–2012, nor the opposition movement, will be mentioned in any textbook. The opposition will only be mentioned in the context of Emperor Alexander I’s reforms.
In addition to this revised history curriculum, physical conditioning will become a new priority for schools. President Putin has formulated an important (in his view) goal: recreating the USSR’s GTO system, a sate-wide program of physical education aimed at making all Soviet citizens “Ready for Labor and Defense.” After 2015, passing the GTO examination will be a prerequisite for admission to Russian universities.
In addition, the Ministry of Education is considering introducing a student passport, in which GTO grades and other achievements will be indicated. A plan to extend the GTO program to all ages, including adults, is being discussed as well.
The authorities have also endeavored to provide children with the “correct” explanation of Russia’s current political situation. Since March, Russian schools have held lessons on Russia’s relations with Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea. Guidelines on this topic and reference materials were sent out to the teachers of all Russian schools. According to these materials, children need to know that Crimea is “spiritually bonded” to Russia, because the Russian Orthodox faith started there. Giving Crimea to Ukraine in 1954 is portrayed as a “whim” decision on the part of Nikita Khrushchev, and rejoining Crimea to Russia in 2014 is portrayed as a righting of history on the part of Putin. Teachers are required to refer to Putin’s speech on this topic in their lessons.
Apparently, the current Russian government has decided to make children the main target for its propaganda. This suggests that the regime has long-term intentions.