As war on Ukraine rages, Russian children targeted for ‘patriotic’ education


“One does not become a patriot by proclaiming slogans” execute the text of an upcoming compulsory lesson for children of higher grades in Russian schools. “Truly patriotic people are ready to defend their country with a gun in their hands.”

“Patriotic education” has been a slogan in President Vladimir Putin’s Russia since at least 2005. But now, with Moscow‘s unprovoked war on Ukraine and Russia caught in a tense standoff with the West, the country is doubling its emphasis on ‘patriotism’ in schools. With the new school year opening on September 1, the Department of Education is launching mandatory weekly first-hour classes every Monday with the title Important Conversations.

[The government] always enacts new laws that you must follow carefully in order to avoid trouble when discussing “Special Military Operation”.

To demonstrate how important these new conversations are for the Kremlin, Putin launched the initiative himself by hosting one with specially selected and pre-quarantined schoolchildren in the western exclave of Kaliningrad on the first day of school, an event that was transmitted to schools across the country.

Although neither of the children asked Putin about the war in Ukraine, he insisted on raising the subject himself, repeating false Kremlin accounts of the so-called “special military operation” Moscow launched against the country. Ukraine on February 24.

“Everyone says Russia is carrying out some kind of aggression today,” Putin said. “Nobody knows or understands that after the coup in Ukraine in 2014, the people of [the eastern Ukrainian regions of] Donetsk and Luhansk, at least most of them, and Crimea did not want to recognize the results of the coup. Our goal – the mission of our soldiers and Donbass militias – is to end the war, to defend the people and, of course, to defend Russia itself.

A pro-Moscow Ukrainian president fled the country after months of pro-EU protests, anti-corruption protests known as Maidan culminated in a violent crackdown and clashes in Kyiv in 2014, events that Russian officials wrongly describe it as a coup. Although it denies being an aggressor, Russia launched a massive military invasion of Ukraine in February involving hundreds of thousands of troops, who have been repeatedly accused of targeting civilians and other war crimes.

Putin and the children then sang the national anthem together.

Since April, Russian schools have started each day with a flag ceremony and the playing of the national anthem. This year, however, the ceremony has become more formal and institutionalized. Over the summer, the government allocated 1 billion rubles ($16.6 million) to equip the country’s schools with the necessary attributes, and in June the Ministry of Education published an official manual on procedures.

From September 5, Important Conversations lessons will be a regular weekly feature of Russian schools at all levels, although lesson content will differ for each age group. Detailed lesson plans have been posted online. The ministry prepares films and other materials for the classes.

The youngest children will learn about the natural wonders of Russia, while the children of the third and fourth years will learn that you have to support your country and work to enrich and embellish it. The lesson plan for this group includes a discussion of phrases such as “It’s not scary to die for the country”, “Love your country, serve your country” and “The happiness of the country is worth more than life. “.

The youngest children in Russian schools will learn about the natural wonders of Russia. The theme of the war against Ukraine will only be presented to students in grades five and up.

The theme of the war against Ukraine will be presented to the pupils of the fifth grade and up.

The instruction informs students that soldiers fighting in Ukraine provide “examples of true patriotism” and repeats Kremlin language about the “Kyiv regime” and its supposed “intimidation and harassment” of the people of Donbass, some of whom parts are controlled by Russia.

Other justifications for the war include “disarming Ukraine” and “preventing the establishment of NATO military bases” in Ukraine, a step the Western military alliance apparently did not take. intend to take before or after last winter’s invasion.

The objective of the lesson is “to convey an understanding of the cultural and historical unity of the Russian nation and the importance of preserving this unity, as well as to instill love for the fatherland and pride in one’s country”.

At the end of the lesson, students should write “what I would like and what I can do for my homeland”, after which students will attach their answers to a birch tree, “the traditional symbol of Russia”.

Ksenya, a teacher in Moscow who asked that her last name be withheld for fear of reprisals, said the new lessons put teachers in a difficult position because the government “always enacts new laws which you must follow carefully. to avoid trouble during discussions. the “special military operation”.

“I would prefer not to discuss political or politicized issues at school,” she said. ” It’s my opinion. How am I supposed to reconcile my personal opinions with those of the school administration or with the opinions it imposes on the administration? I have no idea how I’m going to do this.”

Young children in military uniform take part in a march marking the anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two in Roston-on-Don.  (file photo)

Young children in military uniform take part in a march marking the anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two in Roston-on-Don. (file photo)

Another teacher from Moscow, who specializes in Russian language and literature and who also asked that his name be withheld, agreed: “If a teacher deviates from the ‘conversations’ plan, he could end up in a very dangerous position.”

Technically, parents can request that their children be excused from important conversations, but it remains to be seen whether this right can be exercised.

“We will have to see what happens,” Ksenya said. “Maybe that would get the school administration’s attention.”

In early 2021, it was announced that a new position of “advisor to the principal” was being created to oversee student organizations and the implementation of “patriotic education”. At the time, critics said the government installed “political commissars” in Russian schools. The new post is part of a program called Navigators Of Childhood led by a former pro-Putin Nashi youth movement activist.

The imposition of the important conversations lesson comes after years of trying to get schools to implement such lessons on an ad hoc basis, said former geography teacher Kyamran Manafly, who was fired for his anti-war statements.

“I was a class leader and we were sent such lessons, films and presentations,” Manafly recalls. “Half the teachers just didn’t use them because the kids just weren’t interested. The other half just turned on the movie and the kids watched and then left.

Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the Significant Conversations initiative by hosting one with specially selected and pre-quarantined school children in the western exclave of Kaliningrad on September 1.

Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the Significant Conversations initiative by hosting one with specially selected and pre-quarantined school children in the western exclave of Kaliningrad on September 1.

The new classes could be just the start of new conformity in Russian schools, said Novosibirsk high school historian and principal Sergei Chernyshev.

“People from the Ministry of Education apparently dream that all schools in the country teach identical lessons with identical materials and that all teachers from Kamchatka to Kaliningrad say exactly the same thing to children,” Chernyshev said. “Essentially, they want to turn teachers into robots.”

In March, Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of state broadcaster RT, met with a group of teachers from Moscow, sources told Current Time. She said teachers may have their own opinion on Putin and the war in Ukraine, but they must never forget that they work for the state and are obliged to defend the interests of the government, said the sources.

At the end of his September 1 appearance with the Kaliningrad schoolchildren, Putin recounted a conversation he claimed to have had in the 1990s with an elderly KGB agent with whom Putin said he shared an office shortly after he joins the feared security forces. Putin said he asked the man if he was “offended” to now share an office with a novice after 25 years as an undercover foreign agent.

“‘My homeland trusted me in a way that everyone else doesn’t trust,'” Putin said, quoting the former. “I was needed. And I’m grateful to the motherland, and I don’t expect anything [in return] From this.'”

RFE/RL’s Siberia.Realities and North.Realities contributed to this report.

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