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Ethnic groups to get own schooling

A new policy aims to allow people to keep their traditions. Nick Holdsworth reports

Russia

Ethnic education is making a comeback in Russia decades after communist policies trumpeted the socialist brotherhood between Soviet republics.

Moscow education committee's pilot programme to establish special "ethnocultural" schools is set to become a key component of a city-wide scheme to promote ethnic harmony through language, cultural and history classes.

Special national schools have been set up in recent years in other parts of Russia, but Moscow's programme is the first to tackle the issue systematically.

Lubov Kyezina, chair of the city education committee, said the policy, which has the enthusiastic backing of Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov, was designed to offer all Muscovites the opportunity to keep their unique traditions, languages and cultures alive.

Speaking at the city's second annual international education exhibition "School 98", she said: "Moscow is a city of more than 150 different nationalities and they have a right to education in their own cultures. After the break-up of the Soviet Union many Russian children were left in other republics and have mostly managed to maintain their right to education in Russian.

"Moscow is a multicultural city and to be a Muscovite is not simply to be Russian."

The city now had 47 special ethnocultural schools, eight of which had been opened since last September, she said. They include special Ukrainian, Jewish, Tartar, Georgian, Azerbaijani, Armenian and Gypsy schools and one multinational centre where 24 minority cultures, including courses for one Assyrian boy are taught.

The schools - where basic federal curriculum courses in Russian language and literature, maths and sciences are taught in Russian, but the ethnic components, such as literature, dance and cooking, are tailored to the specific nationality - are funded from the general city education budget of 7 million roubles (pound;700,000).

Larisa Portyanskaya, deputy chief of the city's northern education district, where 14 special ethnic schools and six after-school clubs are situated, said that promoting multicultural education was critically important in a country where the break-up of the Soviet order had been accompanied by bloody ethnic conflicts. "Moscow must be seen as a common home for all Russians and constituent nationalities. Fostering good inter-ethnic relations in childhood is the key to promoting ethnic harmony in the future," she said.

Encouraging a sense of identity which bridged ethnicity and Russian nationality was especially important in a city where police harassment of minorities - many of whom do not have the propyska (official papers) permitting them to live in Moscow - was a daily occurrence.

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