Lessons of patriotism used to justify the invasion of Ukraine to Russian children | Russia

When Pavel Tkachev heard about special lessons on the war in Ukraine taking place at his son’s high school in St. Petersburg’s Primorksy district earlier this month, he was livid.

“I called them and said it was ridiculous,” he told the Observer. “We are the parents and we are the ones who have to talk to the children about patriotism and the ‘special operation’, not the schools.”

Similar lectures were given to students in schools across the country, decrying “fascists” in Ukraine and suggesting that Russia was acting in “self-defense”. Tkachev said he was particularly angry at the World War II comparisons, which he called “unforgivable”.

School officials “shrugged and said those are the instructions,” he said. “I was disgusted.”

Russia’s plans to overhaul education have gone hand in hand with its war in Ukraine. Officials are writing programs to justify the invasion and have suggested that schools hold flag raisings and sing the national anthem each morning starting in September. A major Russian textbook publisher is reportedly using automatic verification software to remove positive references to Ukraine from its textbooks.

According to the Russian Ministry of Education, history will become a compulsory subject from the first grade. “We will never allow it [to be written] that we have treated other nations badly – ​​our sister nations of Ukraine and Belarus – in one way or another,” said Education Minister Sergey Kravtsov, who announced the new initiative during the opening of an exhibition entitled “Nazism in everyday life”. “We will do everything in our power to ensure that historical memory is preserved.”

There is a clear degree of political expediency in the use of school children for propaganda. As Russia declared a contested victory in Mariupol last week, Andrei Turchak, leader of the ruling United Russia party, walked to a local school in the city.

There, he told the students, “Victory will be ours. The enemy will be defeated and peaceful life on this land will finally come…we will liberate this territory and clean it from fascist demons.

But there is also a new level of pressure on teachers, sometimes to hold pro-war photo ops with children, or in other cases to hide their anti-war sentiment from their students. “I know a lot of teachers who have hidden their profile online, they are very cautious when talking about politics at school,” said Maria, a middle school teacher in Voronezh.

Lyubov Zhiltsova, a mathematics teacher and politician from Pskov, was investigated by police last week for an image on social media of her holding a sign saying “No to war”.

Graffiti saying ‘No War’ in Moscow. Photograph: Getty Images

“The whole world has changed for me. I am preparing events for May 9 [Victory Day] every year, I write a screenplay, I rehearse… And now, how do you talk about it with the children? she told Radio Svoboda. “I couldn’t shut up, I was burning.”

One of the first Russians targeted by a new law banning ‘forgery’ about the Russian military was a teacher who now faces 10 years in prison. “I was hoping to break through the propaganda that feeds this country. But look where it got me,” Irina Gen, a 55-year-old English and German teacher, said this month. She was denounced by her own students.

Education officials have promised new changes to the Russian school curriculum and new patriotic initiatives clearly inspired by the war. Some, like the flag and the anthem, seem inspired by similar right-wing efforts in the United States.

Others are specific to Russia’s war in Ukraine. Kravtsov told Putin last week that they had already started to develop lessons on the “objectives of the special operation – to help our people, denazification, demilitarization of Donbass”.

The aim was to fight “the flurry of misinformation…fakes about Russia”.

The lessons were “conditionally called ‘Conversations on Important Topics'”.

“And from September 1, in addition, there will be the raising of the national flag at the start of the school year, the performance of the national anthem,” he said.

Leaked textbooks for this year’s special lectures showed that Russian teachers are being asked to tell students that Russia has not invaded Ukraine, but rather is practicing “self-defense against threats to us.” created and against a calamity even greater than what is happening today”. ”.

In a separate lesson on “anti-Russian sanctions”, teachers are invited to ask students if the sanctions are fair, if they will really strengthen the Russian economy and who will they harm (everyone).

“The teacher, together with the students, concludes that the economic policy of recent years has aimed to increase the protection of domestic producers, ensuring its sustainability in the face of external crises,” the documents say.

Lesson manuals, or metodichki, are not currently compulsory, notes Denis Lanshchikov, history teacher at a private school in Moscow. But many public school teachers and administrators seemed to have leaned on them of their own accord, either because they supported the war or because they thought “big brother is watching.”

“It seems to me that this is not yet a top-down attempt to make schools totalitarian,” he said. “But then each person…creates this totalitarianism himself.”

Even elementary school students face a certain level of indoctrination. “In all the schools they organized these special events dedicated to the subject that Russia is fighting with the fascists,” said Marina Litvinovich, an opposition politician in Moscow. In her son’s CM1 class, the children received a “lite version”. “They don’t quite understand. So they went through [second world war] Blockade of Leningrad – and during the lesson they also said that “look, this is how Russia continues to fight fascism.”

“Kids are pretty cool with it,” she said of her son. She compared it to the indoctrination she went through as a student in the late Soviet period, saying, “When the Soviet Union fell, all that indoctrination went away… so I’m not extremely worried about it, it will fly away when they meet reality.It’s bad but not a disaster.

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