Russian teachers are being placed on the front lines of a push to turn Russian children into loyal, militarized nationalists at younger and younger ages. Radical changes are being made to the educational system, and the Education Ministry is taking a back seat to hard-line propagandists.
Schools must now conduct “patriotic” classes teaching the Kremlin’s views on the war. Teachers that refuse are being fired. Textbooks are being rewritten and purged of information regarding Ukraine and its capital, Kyiv. The Russian Parliament overruled the Education Ministry’s plan on how they wanted to revise the textbooks stating that it was a matter of “national security.”
Nikolai Patrushev, chief of the Russian Security Council and close Putin ally, is including this educational reform as part of a government-wide push to create loyal citizens from the cradle to the grave. The Young Army is a Russian military youth group that was founded by the Defense Ministry in 2015 following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea. There are those who are quietly drawing comparisons between this program to the Hitler Youth of World War II.
Anton Litvin used to be a happy Moscovite with a nice house, a good job, and a growing young family. When his local schools began to be used for propaganda purposes in the war against Ukraine, he pulled his kids out of school, sold his house, and moved out of the country. He was sickened by the idea of his kids being what he called “brainwashed” with Putin’s new take on patriotism. He realized he had had enough when his eight-year-old son’s teachers began sending home literature encouraging Litvin to enroll his child in the Youth Army summer camp.
Says Litvin, “I don’t want my kids to join the regime at this young age and to be someone’s soldiers to fight against peaceful people.” He’s currently looking for a new job in his new hometown of Tbilisi, Georgia, after leaving a lucrative position in a Moscow aeronautics company.
The increase in patriotic and propaganda-filled materials in Russian schools started off slowly at about the same time as their invasion of Crimea. Putin is trying to build a solid national identity based on the Soviet Union’s role in defeating Nazi Germany in World War II, or, as the Russians call it, “The Great Patriotic War”. Litvin sees the government as trying to give the people the same mindset they had in the old Soviet Union days. “Children are taught war is good,” he says, “From the perspective of our government.”
Many Russian Millennials Oppose the War
With strict restrictions placed on Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social media, Putin is essentially doing a great deal to silence the voice of an entire generation. They are not buying into his propaganda, and this is why he is starting the militarization of younger and younger children. Russia currently has well over half a million official members of its Young Army.
In Ukraine, Putin saw a youth revolution in the Euro Maidan Protests that resulted in Putin’s handpicked leader of Ukraine being forced to step down. This prompted Russia to seize Crimea and move troops in to Donbas and Luhansk. The invention of the Russia Youth Army program is probably an attempt to head off any future youth revolution of this kind in Russia by early indoctrination of children to compel loyalty to the state.
However, not all young Russians are so easily persuaded. One seventeen-year-old named Nikita tells the press how his school is failing to indoctrinate him in this new patriotism. He says of his school, “I don’t trust my history teacher. He is more of an overly patriotic propaganda man.” He adds that many other students pay no attention to the patriotic lessons. When it got to be too much, he says, “I just stood up and left the classroom. Two others did the same.”
But younger children will not be able to do this. They are far more impressionable and likely to buy the official state line.
These children are the future of Russia, or at least that’s what Putin is counting on.