News / Europe

    On Crimea, Russian Teachers Forced to Tout Official Line

    FILE - A teacher leads a history lesson for seventh graders in the Russian village of Bolshie Khutora, about 440 km west of Moscow.
    FILE - A teacher leads a history lesson for seventh graders in the Russian village of Bolshie Khutora, about 440 km west of Moscow.
    It will take some time to revise Russia's history textbooks to reflect the annexation of Crimea. But that's not preventing the authorities from moving quickly to assure the country's school curriculum sticks to a politically - and patriotically - correct line on the issue.
     
    In recent weeks, a new course titled "We Are Together" has been introduced in high schools throughout the country. The course presents the annexation as a "reunification of Crimea with Russia" - the exact phrase used by Russian authorities.
     
    Officials from the ruling United Russia party, which is spearheading the educational campaign, have joined teachers to give lectures on patriotism as part of the course.
     
    "As a former teacher, I understand that the events in Ukraine, Crimea, and Russia need to be clarified for students," Nikolai Bulayev, a State Duma deputy from the United Russia party, said in remarks reported by Russian media. 
     
    "We need to explain the position taken by our president to them," Bulayev added.
     
    'I am proud of my president'
     
    During a lecture at School No. 28 in the city of Ulyanovsk, on the Volga River some 900 kilometers from Moscow, history instructor Lyubov Moskalyova is busy clarifying and explaining.
     
    "Of course, not all states want to see a strong Russia that carries out its foreign policy according to its national interests," Moskalyova tells students as an official from the local mayor's office looks on.
     
    "I am happy for Russia, I am proud of my president," she adds, her voice cracking with emotion.
     
    The students appear bored and listlessly repeat memorized information about Crimea's economy, geography and history.
     
    At another school, Ulyanovsk's Gymnasium No. 1, the class discussion is much livelier. 
     
    One student, Yegor Tsvetkov says the annexation - which he obediently calls a "reunification" - is just a first step toward a Russian takeover of eastern Ukraine.
     
    "A referendum should be conducted in [eastern Ukraine] to see what percentage of the population supports unification with Russia," Tsvetkov says. "I'm sure, an absolute majority would vote in favor."
     
    Tsvetkov adds that he favors the use of military force and says he would be willing to fight to unify eastern Ukraine with Russia.
     
    Another student, Arseniy, who gave only his first name, disagrees, adding that he has "increasingly negative" attitudes about the Crimean annexation.
     
    "I support my country but I think the confrontation with the West is stupid," he says. "I hope there will be some kind of peaceful solution [for the crisis]."
     
    Fears of brainwashing
     

    Not all teachers, however, are enthusiastic about the new course. 
     
    "This is outrageous. It's an outright brainwashing of children," says Tamara Eidelman, who teaches history at School No. 567 in Moscow.
     
    Eidelman says important facts, like the mass deportation of the Crimean Tatars during World War II, have been left out of the course.
     
    Eidelman says she "would teach the patriotism classes with great pleasure," but only if she could do it her way.
     
    "I would tell the class what I really think," she says. "Possibly, that's why the [school administration] wouldn't ask me to teach patriotism," she says.
     
    But amid today's patriotic frenzy, such opinions can be dangerous.
     
    Mikhail Kopitsa, a history teacher in the northwestern city of Arkhangelsk, says he was reprimanded and required to write an official letter of explanation after criticizing Russia's military presence in Crimea.
     
    "I see my role is to - at least slightly - counter the flood of propaganda coming from the media," Kopitsa says, adding that he is disturbed by what he describes as the "mindless" and "one-sided" patriotism prevalent in Russia today.
     
    Written by Farangis Najibullah in Prague based on reporting by RFE/RL's Russian Service correspondent Lyubov Chizhova in Moscow. Sergei Gogin also contributed to this report from Ulyanovsk. The piece is republished here under a revised headline.

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