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“Uncle Vova – we’re with you,” or the magic of Russian school textbooks in Ukraine

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Nazi theory indeed specifically denies that such a thing as ‘the truth’ exists. […] The implied objective of this line of thought is a nightmare world in which the Leader, or some ruling clique, controls not only the future but the past. If the Leader says of such and such an event, ‘It never happened’ — well, it never happened. If he says that two and two are five — well, two and two are five. This prospect frightens me much more than bombs — and after our experiences of the last few years that is not a frivolous statement.

George Orwell,

 

Did the liberation of Crimea solve all the problems? Then why isn’t there a joyful crowd of liberated people? Why isn’t anyone speaking Ukrainian? Why do they look at the Ukrainian Armed Forces as if they are new “green men” while young people and children march in formation with red ties and weapons? At first glance, this may seem unbelievable. Still, it could become a harsh reality today, all due to the efforts of the Russian state in its fight against everything Ukrainian – history, culture, and education.

 

Since 2014, the Russian Federation has occupied part of Ukraine’s territory – the Crimean Peninsula and parts of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions – and has imposed its order, laws, and principles there. Despite the precise requirement of international law not to interfere in any processes on occupied territory unless necessary for public order and security, the Russian Federation ignores all warnings and acts at its discretion. It deems it essential to be present in every sphere of life in the occupied territories and leave its unmistakable mark on each of them. Russians understand the importance of such a policy unequivocally – it serves as their means of rescue if the Ukraine conflict escalates. And the first thing the occupying state laid its eyes and paws on is the media, culture, and education.

In the media and cultural sphere, the policy of the Russian Federation is visible and understandable – the total physical destruction of everything Ukrainian, the use of hate speech, the labeling of Ukrainians as “Banderites” and “fascists,” and so on. However, when it comes to education, Russians are true virtuosos. We’re not just talking about extracurricular activities for children (“Young Army,” cadet classes, after-school activities on “Important Conversations,” military-patriotic competitions, and so on).

The Occupying Power skillfully conceals its attempts to destroy Ukrainian identity behind a bright media image of well-equipped school classrooms, happy children, smiling teachers, and beautiful textbooks. However, it is precisely in these textbooks for children of different ages that the greatest danger is concentrated.

 

Structure of Russian education

According to national law, the education system in the Russian Federation is built on the general principles of availability, accessibility, acceptability, and adaptability of education. In other words, discrimination is legally prohibited, and priority is given to life, health, personal interests, thoughts, beliefs, freedom of choice of form and means of learning, protection, and development of ethnocultural peculiarities, and so on.

The essential documents in this framework for the Russian Federation are the Constitution of the Russian Federation, Federal Law No. 273-FZ “On Education in the Russian Federation” (“Law No. 273-FZ”), other federal laws of the Russian Federation, as well as relevant normative legal documents of its subjects.

Additionally, Law No. 273-FZ imposes an obligation on federal institutions, subjects of the Russian Federation, and self-governing bodies to ensure the proper implementation of these principles. Let’s consider this in more detail.

At the federal level, responsibility for the formation and determination of the directions of development of Russian education rests with the Government of the Russian Federation, which is accountable to the President of the Russian Federation and accountable to the State Duma of the Russian Federation. The primary role of the Government is developing and implementing a unified state policy in the field of education, as well as monitoring its implementation by executive bodies. In this framework, the Government of the Russian Federation prepares an annual report on implementing a unified state policy in education. It reports to the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation.

The executive bodies accountable to the Government of the Russian Federation are the Ministry of Education of the Russian Federation and the Ministry of Science and Higher Education of the Russian Federation (existed from 2004 to 2018). Their direct responsibilities include developing and implementing state target programs, Federal State Educational Standards (FSES), and teaching concepts.

Federal state educational standards are mandatory requirements and rules for state and private educational institutions at all levels. FSES determines the principles of organization of the educational process, the management and control system, the content and directions of education, and the results students should achieve upon completing their studies. Accordingly, based on FSES, textbooks, teaching manuals, and other educational materials are issued.

To best reflect the requirements of FSES, there are particular examples of working programs (Russian: примерная рабочая программа общего образования) for different subjects and grades in the Russian Federation. The decision approves the programs of the federal educational and methodological association for general education. In practice, they provide teachers with a framework for developing individual working programs that reflect all the ideas, theses, and narratives presented in sample working programs based on FSES.

 

Of course, every country can determine how to fill its educational standards and programs. However, it should remember the fundamental principles and freedoms enshrined in universal international documents and norms, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and others. The state should build its educational policy to promote the formation and preservation of individuality, the expression of one’s thoughts, opinions, and the ability to seek and use information of any kind regardless of borders, among many other things.

However, the Russian Federation has different views on the organization of the educational process. We do not deny the right of the Russian Federation to do so at its own discretion on its territory – it is its responsibility. But the Russian Federation actively spreads and forcibly imposes its views on education and standards on the temporarily controlled parts of Ukraine. And the first to suffer are Ukrainian children just beginning to form their identity and individuality.

 

Standards of Russian Education

Three ideas are traced in Russian standards and programs regardless of the level and subject:

  1. “Pan-Russian civil identity.”

Decoding: Although there are a large number of different nationalities and ethnic groups living in the territory of the Russian Federation, the preference is given only to the Russian people, language, culture, and “pan-Russian civil identity” to which the Russian Federation forcibly pushes other nations on its territory. And this identity is formed through the prism of “patriotism, respect for the Motherland […] upbringing of a sense of responsibility and duty to the Motherland.”

 

The Russian language is a language of communication and a language of opportunities. The Russian language is the foundation of Russian culture. The development of the Russian language: contributions of the peoples of Russia. Russian language as a culture-shaping project and a language of interethnic communication. The importance of a common language for all peoples of Russia. Opportunities provided by the Russian language.

 

Fig. 1. Approximate basic general education working program

“Foundations of Life Safety” (for 8-9 grades of educational organizations).

 

The values of “pan-Russian identity” also include the idea of “unity of the peoples of Russia,” or in other words, “the importance and advantages of this unity over the demands of national self-determination of individual ethnic groups.

 

Conclusion: The idea of shared values and identity of all peoples, including those living in the occupied territories of Ukraine by the Russian Federation, is unequivocally dangerous. Since this idea effectively destroys the concept of other nationalities in Russia, apart from Russian, it erases any opportunities for the formation and development of their own national and cultural identity, mainly Ukrainian – and all of these are practically irreversible processes.

 

  1. “Patriotism”

Decryption: Russian-style patriotic education, formed based on “pan-Russian civic identity,” is the forced implantation of love exclusively for the Russian Federation as a state, its language, culture, and history, and through the forced imposition of a sense of respect for the so-called “heroic deeds” of past generations of Russians.

The cultivation of a sense of “patriotism” is a mandatory component for a “harmoniously developed personality,” and self-awareness should occur through “consciousness of oneself as a citizen of one’s Homeland.

 

Conclusion: The forced imposition of such “feelings” on children from the occupied territories of Ukraine leads to their rejection of Ukraine as their homeland. Instead, affinity towards the Russian Federation is formed, which allows it to manipulate and exploit the population of the occupied territories (including children) for its aggressive goals. The promotion of Russia’s concept of patriotism will also significantly complicate the reintegration of these territories after their de-occupation in the long term.

 

  1. Militarism

Decryption: Excessive focus on military power, heroic acts, and self-sacrifice during the war, including cases of children sacrificing their own lives, encouragement to emulate such actions, and actual preparation for military service from a young age, including voluntary service. All these ideas are implemented primarily based on the existing Russian identity and sense of “patriotism” and are presented as “civil duty.” Duty should be manifested as a mandatory requirement through “serving the Fatherland and being responsible for its fate” and “forming a sense of pride in one’s homeland and a responsible attitude towards fulfilling the constitutional duty of defending the Fatherland.

Another component of the concept of militarism is focusing attention on Russia as a state, dominant in matters of international order and security, particularly concerning the “protection of Russian-speaking population worldwide.”

 

Conclusion: In tandem with the forced formation of Russian identity and patriotism among Ukrainian children towards Russia as their homeland, this can lead to “conscious and sincere” fulfillment of military duty in the ranks of the Russian army or, on its side, participation in armed aggression against Ukraine, and creating a dangerous situation in the region as a whole.

 

How are the narratives of educational programs manifested in Russian textbooks?

The following link in the educational system is school textbooks, methodological guides, etc.

The Russian Federation has a particular system regulated by the Ministry of Education of the Russian Federation, which contains a defined list of approved textbooks. These lists are periodically updated, including interesting ones from 2014, 2018, 2020, and 2022, as textbooks from these lists are actively used in the occupied territories of Ukraine.

Analysis of at least 130 textbooks[1] from these lists has revealed some formulations, ideas, and images that are capable of fundamentally changing the attitude of those who study them towards Ukraine as their land, its language, history, and culture and forming a positive perception of the Russian army and, in general, justifying Russia’s aggressive imperialistic policy, mainly directed against Ukraine.

 

So, in short:

 

“Pan-Russian identity” forms through a distinct “transformation or processing” of a child’s consciousness.

On the one hand, the Russian Federation demonstrates its friendliness towards representatives of other nationalities different from Russian – describing their history, culture, and traditions and speaking about how the Russian people are multi-ethnic and multicultural. However, in this rainbow spectrum of nations, the leading role is inevitably occupied by the Russian ethnicity, its language, and customs: “[…] the multi-ethnic people of the Russian Federation as the Russian civil nation and at the same time the leading role of the Russian people in the creation and preservation of Russian statehood and Russian culture.[2]

This Russian identity is formed through the imposition of one language, culture, and customs – “In our country, many peoples live, they have their native language, their national culture and traditions. But they must all know Russian – the state language of Russia and the culture of the Russian people.[3] Quite often, this imposition occurs through the prism of historical science, mainly through the myth of fraternal nations, where the Russian Federation plays the leading role and portrays itself as the sole inheritor of Rus and the owner of all its achievements and accomplishments: “the ancient Russian state with its center on the banks of the Dnieper [ukrainian version – Dnipro river] is the ‘childhood’ of the three fraternal nations – Russian, Belarusian, and Ukrainian.[4]

Russian textbooks encourage children to believe in the existence of one nation that united others around itself and “saved” them. Other ethnicities, cultures, and beliefs are portrayed as inferior or imperial and colonial ethnic stereotypes. Otherwise, one is guaranteed to be labeled an “ethnic separatist.[5] According to the logic of Russian education: “[…] the civil nation is destroyed when ethnic separatism cannot be overcome in the process of state building. A political (civil) nation is not born out of ethnic nations. National unity is maintained not on ethnic grounds, but on more significant ties and interests […] patriotism plays an important role as a feeling of belonging to one’s country called the Motherland.[6]

 

And here, “All-Russian identity” smoothly transitions into ideas around “proper patriotic upbringing.” In Russian, this means:

  • blindly and fanatically loving the state-Russia (“Love for the Fatherland, Motherland is comparable only to the love for one’s parents father and mother. Losing the Motherland means losing one’s dignity and happiness[7]), as well as
  • unquestionably giving oneself entirely and trusting the “Fatherland,” expressed in readiness to aggressively defend the interests of the Russian Federation (“The highest manifestation of citizenship is patriotism a deep, sacred feeling of love and loyalty to the Fatherland,”[8]A serviceman is a patriot, carrying the knowledge of a defender of the Fatherland with honor and dignity[9]).

 

“Patriotism” is essentially nurtured in the spirit of “inseparable connection with the Fatherland, involvement in its destiny.”[10] During lessons, educators are strongly recommended to discuss with children how they should express their patriotic feelings and how their destinies and lives are closely linked to Russia. They are also advised to raise such topics such as “Losing the Motherland means losing one’s dignity and happiness,[11]Examples of heroic feats of representatives of different peoples of Russia,[12] and “A patriot, a citizen – a son of the Fatherland, its defender. When a citizen grows up, the Motherland is at peace,[13] and so on.

During patriotic upbringing, Russian textbooks focus not on instilling a love for the culture and history of one’s homeland or the region where the child lives but on imposing the idea of constant defense of the state, including with weapons, the idea of accomplishing feats and becoming a better person through military service.

 

Children’s exploits during World War II are depicted with extraordinary inspiration: “There were children among the partisans. The kids did not want the boots of the fascist invaders to trample their native land. […] The young partisans became excellent messengers and scouts,[14] or “In 1942, a 13-year-old […] became a fighter in a partisan detachment. […] There he had his last battle.[15] In textbooks of civil defense training for senior classes, only the advantages of serving in the Russian army, its prestige, and its guarantees are told.

 

The narrative of “pan-Russian identity” and “patriotism” becomes the basis and foundation for militarizing education. And here, it is not only about stories of past generations’ exploits or the Russian army’s glorification.

So, in all the analyzed textbooks (even those from the “World Art Culture” course), ideas about the acceptability and sometimes even the necessity of aggressive foreign policy of the Russian Federation – territorial and border expansions are traced. After all, only in this way can Russia achieve prosperity and power.

 

For example, in one of the textbooks, it is written that patriotism is fundamentally different from nationalism, equating the latter with the concepts of “Fascism” and “Nazism” (solely based on the similarity of sounds). And nationalism is about “the manifestation of the weakness of a nation, not its strength,” which is “born out of […] malice, hatred towards other peoples,” and over time “combined with racism […] and manifested in the form of genocide.[16] And in light of such ideas, Russia’s mission is to “help” weaker nations eradicate nationalism, replacing it with its equivalent. A perfect embodiment of such statements is the calls for “denazification and de-Ukrainization of the Ukrainian minority” in Ukraine.

Russian textbooks also draw parallels between the events of World War II and the armed conflict in Ukraine, where Russia embodies the Soviet Union, and Russian military personnel wears St. George ribbons on their uniforms – a symbol of the “brave Soviet army fighting against Nazism.” In this way, a parallel is drawn to a supposed “just war” where Russia is fighting against “Nazis” in Ukraine, supported by NATO, the US, and other Western countries: “the collective West” – the main enemies and opponents of the Russian Federation.

 

Russia teaches children from books to see threats in everything non-Russian – culture, language, religion, desires of other nationalities and peoples for self-determination, and there is only one way to resist all these “dangers” – to be a bearer of Russian identity to be a patriot of the Russian Federation, ready to defend it with weapons and, if necessary, sacrifice one’s life.

 

How to counteract and respond to Russia’s actions?

 

Education is particularly important at times of armed conflict. While all around may be in chaos, schooling can represent a state of normalcy.

A/51/306, General Assembly, 1996[17]

 

The prolonged influence of Russian educational narratives has irreversibly changed the consciousness and self-identification of part of the population in the occupied territories of Ukraine. Through education, a fundamental right, the aggressor state forcibly assimilates Ukrainian children with Russian ones, spreads the cult of war and national hostility, and incites children to join combat actions against Ukraine. Temporary occupation authorities prepare children for armed activities, violating international law and constituting a war crime.

 

Such actions indicate Russia’s violation of international law, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the norms of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and international humanitarian law. Russian policy towards Ukrainian children violates their right to Ukrainian education and the preservation of their national and cultural identity. Russian education for Ukrainian children is destructive, while Ukrainian education is inaccessible. Such circumstances may be considered “cultural genocide.” They may serve as additional evidence of genocide committed by Russia against the Ukrainian national group under Article 6(e) of the Rome Statute – deportation and transfer of Ukrainian children to Russian families during the armed aggression of Russia.

 

It is possible to counteract and prevent such criminal actions by Russia. For this, the following steps are needed:

 

At the national and international levels:

  1. Launch an information campaign to raise awareness, understanding, and condemnation of Russia’s latest international crime (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Reintegration, Ministry of Culture and Information Policy, President’s Office Representation in ARC).

 

At the national level:

  1. Develop strategic and program documents aimed at reintegration in the field of culture, education, and information policy for each specific region of Ukraine that is under the control of the Russian Federation, taking into account the impact of Russian educational policy narratives on Ukrainian children (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Reintegration, Ministry of Culture, Information Policy and Youth, Office of the President in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Youth and Sports, Office of the Prosecutor General).
  2. Initiate imposing restrictive measures (sanctions) on the Russian Federation and critical representatives of Russian educational policy for internationally unlawful acts of the Russian Federation. The executors and ideologists of this policy are employees of specific departments of the Ministry of Education of the Russian Federation, Council for Federal State Educational Standards, and occupational educational institutions in Crimea (“Ministry of Education, Science and Youth of the Republic of Crimea,” “Department of Education and Science of Sevastopol”) and others (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Reintegration).
  3. Open a national criminal investigation (or supplement existing ones) to collect evidence, including for submission to the International Criminal Court (Office of the Prosecutor General, Security Service of Ukraine, Ministry of Justice).
  4. Provide for the responsibility for crimes against humanity in the Criminal Code of Ukraine (Ministry of Justice, Office of the Prosecutor General, Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine).

 

At the international level:

  1. Utilize the mechanisms of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, the “Moscow Mechanism” of the OSCE, and the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine to document and condemn the assimilationist educational policy of the Russian Federation in the occupied territories as an international crime (Ministry of Foreign Affairs).
  2. Initiate the inclusion of condemnation of the assimilationist educational policy of the Russian Federation in the occupied territories as a potential war crime and a crime against humanity in the following resolution of the UN General Assembly on “Human Rights Situation in Temporarily Occupied Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol, Ukraine” (Ministry of Foreign Affairs).

____________________________________________

 

Darуna Pidhorna,

Lawyer at NGO “Regional Human Rights Center”

Member of the Expert Network of Crimea Platform, a member of the Interagency Working Group established by PARCS for developing, coordinating, and implementing joint measures to prevent, detect, and deter criminal offenses against cultural values commissioned by the editors of the newspaper “Krymska svitlytsia”

 

Materials for the article were borrowed from the research “School Education: Russia’s Hidden Weapon against Ukraine,” prepared by experts from the NGO “Regional Human Rights Center” within the project of NGO “Almena Civil Education Center,” with financial support from the Prague Civil Center.

_________________________________________________________________________________

Link to the research: https://krymbezpravil.org.ua/analytics/shkilna-osvita-prykhovana-zbroia-rf-proty-ukrainy/

[1] Textbooks from such courses were taken into account: “Geography” (grades 5-11), “Social Studies” (grades 1-4), “Social Studies” (grades 5-11), “Foundations of Religious Cultures and Secular Ethics” (grade 4), “Foundations of Life Safety” (grades 5-11), and “World Art Culture” (grades 10-11).

[2] Social science. Grade 10: textbook / V. A. Tishkov, R. S. Grinberg, G. E. Koroleva, O. B. Soboleva. – Moscow: Ventana-Graf, 2020. – 415 p., p. 237

[3] Vinogradova N. F. The world around us. Grades 3-4: Methodological guide / N. F. Vinogradova. – Moscow: Ventana-Graf, 2019. – 223 p. – (3), p. 202

[4] World Art. Grade 10. In 2 parts. Part 1: [textbook] / L.A. Rapatskaya. – M.: Humanitarian. ed. center VLADOS, 2016. – 375 p. : ill., p. 297

[5] Social science. Grade 10: textbook / V. A. Tishkov, R. S. Grinberg, G. E. Koroleva, O. B. Soboleva. – Moscow: Ventana-Graf, 2020. – 415 p., p. 230-231

[6] Social science. Grade 10: textbook / V. A. Tishkov, R. S. Grinberg, G. E. Koroleva, O. B. Soboleva. – Moscow: Ventana-Graf, 2020. – 415 p., p. 230-231

[7] Fundamentals of religious cultures and secular ethics. Grade 4: methodological guide / N.F. Vinogradov. – M. : Ventana-Graf, 2015. – 184 p., p. 158

[8] Bogolyubov L. N. Social science. Grade 8: textbook / L. N. Bogolyubov, A. Yu. Lazebnikova, N. I. Gorodetskaya. – Moscow: Education, 2014. – 255 p., p. 85

[9] Fundamentals of life safety. Grade 11: studies. for general education institutions / V.V. Markov, V.N.Latchuk, S.K.Mironov, S.N.Vinogradsky. – 13th ed., stereotype. – M. : Bustard, 2013. – 302, [2] p. : ill. p. 196-213

[10] Fundamentals of religious cultures and secular ethics. Fundamentals of secular ethics. Toolkit. Grade 4: a manual for general education teachers. organizations / A. I. Shemshurina. – M. : Education, 2015. – 78 p., p. 17-18

[11] Fundamentals of religious cultures and secular ethics: Grade 4: methodological guide / N.F. Vinogradov. – M. : Ventana-Graf, 2015. – 184 p., p. 158

[12] Ibid, p. 39-40

[13] Fundamentals of religious cultures and secular ethics. Fundamentals of secular ethics. Toolkit. Grade 4: a manual for general education teachers. organizations / A. I. Shemshurina. – M. : Education, 2015. – 78 p., p. 29

[14] The World Around. Peoples of Russia: The Road of Friendship. Golden Book of the Russian People, Grade 4: textbook / A. Tishkov, S. N. Rudnik, V. I. Vlasenko, O. N. Zhuravleva. – Moscow: Education, 2022. – (2), p. 60-61

[15] Ibid, p. 60-61

[16] Social science. Grade 10: textbook / V. A. Tishkov, R. S. Grinberg, G. E. Koroleva, O. B. Soboleva. – Moscow: Ventana-Graf, 2020. – 415 p., p. 232

[17] Impact of armed conflict on children, A/51/306, General Assembly, 1996. URL: https://digitallibrary.un.org/record/223213

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