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Freedom of speech in Russian classrooms is declining

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In Russia, September 1st is known as “Knowledge Day”. The day traditionally marks the beginning of the new school year and is celebrated in schools and universities. But after his six-month war in Ukraine, this school year in Russia is anything but ordinary.

To gain support for President Vladimir Putin and the invasion of Ukraine, Russian authorities passed a new education law, revised school textbooks and introduced educational guides to help teachers conduct “patriotic” classes. . Russia’s new national children’s and youth movement called “New Pioneers” has already taken off.

What explains the great change in wartime Russian education? Studies show that education serves as long-term insurance for tyranny. School subjects and activities teach young citizens to be loyal to the authorities. This helps promote long-term social and political stability. Promoting patriotic education has always been a goal of the Putin administration, but our own data suggests that education reform accelerated in the aftermath of the 2014 annexation of Crimea.

Is Russian wartime propaganda stronger than family ties?

A study conducted in collaboration with the Varieties of Democracy Institute shows how national experts rate changes in educational content and delivery around the world from 1945 to 2021. I declined the classroom. Teachers also found themselves under threat of being fired for political reasons. The invasion of Ukraine fostered patriotism and put a new sense of urgency on educational rules that crack down on academic freedom.

Dictators use education to create loyal citizens

The expansion of mass education in tyranny, especially in the aftermath of war, goes hand in hand with efforts to create a national identity. Dictators recognize that schools share dominant values ​​and principles and help produce generations loyal to their regime.

For example, even minor changes in school curricula can help create pro-regime attitudes in an authoritarian environment. For example, revisions to Chinese textbooks enacted from 2004 to 2010 heightened students’ views of government and increased skepticism of the free market.

Since coming to power in Russia in the early 2000s, Putin has insisted that students learn patriotic values ​​in schools. He argues that history, language and art classes should inspire pride in Russian youth and strengthen their loyalty to their homeland. have had only moderate success.

Russia expands ‘patriotic’ education since 2014

From January to May 2022, a global survey will be conducted to investigate whether and how governments, including dictatorships like Putin’s Russia, are using education for political purposes. survey of 760 country professionals. In collaboration with the Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Institute, we asked experts to answer a series of 21 new questions about the structure and content of education in over 100 countries from 1945 to 2021.

Our data suggest that Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 coincided with renewed investment in patriotic education. Patriotic symbols such as the Russian flag and national anthem were more likely to be celebrated in the years after Crimea’s annexation than in the decades before it, according to the experts surveyed.

In 2014, Russian authorities also approved a new set of history textbooks. These featured revised narratives of historical events, praising Putin’s achievements and Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

But as “patriotic” education became more emphasized, freedom of speech in Russian classrooms declined. Her responses to two questions in the survey suggest that after the annexation of Crimea, students had fewer opportunities to critically discuss what they were taught in history classes. Since 2014, teachers are also more likely to be fired for publicly expressing political views that conflict with those of the authorities.

What happened after the invasion of Ukraine this year?

Within days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, Russian authorities began organizing a war-promoting campaign in the country. “Patriotic” lessons in schools were designed to justify aggression and generate support for Putin.

For example, in the first week of March, “All-Russian Open Classes” were held in Russian schools. The Ministry of Education was unusually quick to distribute instructions on how teachers would present the aggression and answer students’ questions.

Putin’s iron rule over Russia is an imperial legacy

Six-year-olds returning to school this month are expected to participate in a new lesson on “patriotism,” entitled “Conversations About What Matters.” These weekly lessons remind students that “a true patriot must be ready to defend his country” and “die for his country”.

Russian authorities have also introduced laws to keep vaguely defined “foreign agents and influencers” out of schools. In recent months, teachers across the country have been indicted for voicing anti-war views inside and outside the classroom.

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Propaganda efforts are not limited to curriculum. Earlier in the summer, President Putin authorized the creation of a nationwide children’s and youth movement modeled after Soviet pioneers. was integral to the Soviet effort to The revival of these types of youth-focused movements in contemporary Russia may reflect similar aims.

If these efforts are successful, they could create children’s support for undemocratic values ​​and Russian expansionist policies, reducing optimism about political change. This may be wishful thinking. Parents and school teachers across the country are beginning to resist educational change.

Professor: Check out TMC’s latest topic guides in the classroom.

Eugenia Nazrulaeva Postdoctoral Fellow at the London School of Economics School of Public Policy.

Anja Neindorf (@AnjaNeundorf) is Professor of Politics and Research Methods at the University of Glasgow and Principal Investigator on a project funded by the European Research Council. “Democracy Under Threat: How Education Can Save It” (DEMED).

Xenia Northmore-Ball Assistant Professor of Comparative Politics at Queen Mary University, London.

Katerina Tertychnaya (@KTertytchnaya) is an Assistant Professor of Comparative Politics at University College London.