Things to die for
In this context, the Kremlin has recently launched a number of initiatives aimed at a “patriotic” indoctrination of kids. In particular, recently a new state-organized movement for children was founded
, which seems to be a version of the Soviet Pioneers. Moreover, legislation submitted by the Russian government would require every school in Russia to have a counselor
who is supposed to facilitate the “civic” and ”patriotic” upbringing of the students. Furthermore, starting in September 2022 all schools are expected to conduct a flag-raising ceremony every week.
The ceremony is supposed to be followed by extracurricular lessons that are called “Conversations about Important Things.” They are expected to promote “traditional” and “patriotic” values, as well as boost national pride among kids of various ages. The first class in the year-long series of these “conversations” was symbolically taught
by Putin himself on September 1, while they will be conducted by lead teachers of each class every Monday starting from September 5.
Recently, the Russian Ministry of Education started publishing recommendations
for teachers responsible for the “conversations, which represent a list of themes for each week of the school year with suggested lesson plans, including videos and slides. In addition, there are a number of online lectures in which teachers are shown how to conduct the classes. Many of the speakers who appear in these lectures are affiliated with the Znanie Society, another recently revived Soviet institution in charge of mass education and propaganda.
The materials are quite helpful to make sense of the ideology that Putin promotes – among both children and adults. So what does the “kid version” of Putinism look like? Overall, the ideological message of the “Conversations about Important Things” boils down to national unity and social solidarity. Moreover, the lessons are designed to systematically emphasize the imagery of heroism and self-sacrifice, as well as “traditional family values.”
In particular, the new guidelines suggest that the teachers are expected to promote
national unity by referring to historical narratives that illustrate the dangers of disunity and show that “national consolidation” is a key tradition of the Russian people. More specifically, the “tradition of unity” is supposed to be exemplified by the stories of consolidation around political leaders in different epochs, such as Alexander Nevsky, Dmitry Donskoy, Dmitry Pozharsky and Kuzma Minin, and Alexander I. Conversely, the Russian civil war of 1917-22 and “the collapse of a great country” in the 1990s are to be shown as the examples of “social catastrophes” caused by disunity.
The themes of self-sacrifice and heroism are emphasized in the “Conversations about Important Things.” Children are expected
to learn that "the happiness of the Motherland is more precious than a human life" and that "dying for the Motherland isn’t to be feared.” The teachers are advised to promote these ideals by referring to a pantheon of heroes
that include not only the war heroes of the Russian Empire and USSR but also the “heroes” of the “special military operation” in Ukraine. “Civil” versions of heroism are also on the menu. In particular, one of them is represented by the “Mother Heroine
,” i.e. a mother that gave birth to more than nine children, in line with the idea of the “traditional family values.” Additionally, the values of self-sacrificial service and heroism are given an anti-Western spin as they are contrasted with the consumerist orientation
of Western societies.
Another ideological construct that is central for the emergent program of “patriotic” upbringing is that of solidarity
, which is declared as an important principle both domestically and internationally. In particular, the “social state
” in Russia and “mutually respectful” partnerships with “friendly countries”
are presented as vectors that should guide the nation. Importantly, the solidarity ideologemes also carry anti-Western connotations as they are opposed to the supposed egoism and the “competition without rules
” of the West.
The final motive that emanates from the new pedagogical guidelines is that the state is the most authoritative source of information. Teachers are supposed to broadcast this to the students and set an example themselves. In particular, in the lessons about “Important Things” students are supposed to be informed about important political events that happen in Russia and around the world (including the “special military operation”), so the teachers are advised
to exclusively use information from official Russian government sources or official religious institutions, which are positioned as remedies against “fake news” and information overload. Ideology without a future
At first glance, the constellation of ideologemes that emerges from the new recommendations for teachers in some respect resembles Umberto Eco’s famous account of fascist ideology
. In particular, Eco lists the cults of tradition and heroism among the properties of fascism. The emphasis on national consolidation and dangers of disunity, as well as distrust toward alternative sources of information, also makes Putinism similar to Eco’s “ur-fascism.”
However, what is lacking in contemporary Putinism is a clear image of national rebirth, which, according to Roger Griffin
, is essential for the fascist worldview.