Teachers confront rise in extremism;Briefing International

2nd April 1999 at 01:00

Anti-Semitism and crude patriotism pose problems in the classroom, reports Simon Pirani

NATO action in Kosovo and the rise of extremist groups in Russia is fuelling nationalism among the young, posing new problems for secondary teachers of citizenship and social sciences.

Yan Solovev, who teaches at Moscow school no.1414, says that nationalist tendencies have become very noticeable among secondary pupils in the past year.

The nationalism takes two forms, he says. "First, a sceptical attitude to the West. Not long ago, young Russians were very fond of the West and its ideals, but now they have fewer illusions. They tend to assume that each country is just looking after its own interests - for example, that the United States is concerned about Kosovo only for its own narrow, strategic reasons.

"The second kind of nationalism is very negative: sympathy among students for the Russian National Union (a fascist group) and other extreme organisations. In Moscow, it is not at a catastrophic level, but it is worrying."

Anti-Semitism has become a national issue in recent months. The Duma has rejected calls to act against two leading deputies, General Albert Makashov and Viktor Ilyukhin - both members of the Communist party, the biggest parliamentary party - for making anti-Semitic speeches.

Fascists recently attacked a synagogue in Novosibirsk, Siberia, and attacked Jewish homes in southern Russia.

Crude patriotism, tinged with anti-Semitism and appeals to the Russian "fatherland", motivate the "red-brown opposition", which unites a host of nationalists with some communist parties and holds constant demonstrations.

Yan Solovev takes time out to explain to his pupils the importance to Russia of all its 140 nationalities and languages. At Moscow school no.1414, this comes into lessons on "knowledge of society", which combines politics, philosophy, aesthetics and ethics. "It is a study of society but also introduces pupils to global problems," he says.

A more common subject at secondary level is "good citizenship". A standard textbook for 11-year-olds discusses the United Nations' Declaration of Human Rights and defines not only political concepts such as "democracy" but also human ones such as "honesty", "spite" and "envy".

The book describes without comment the existence of separatism in Chechnya - the bete noire of Russian nationalism - and compares it with separatism in Quebec.

Not all textbooks are so even-handed, says Andrei Gurov, who works at a Moscow teacher-training college. "In the teaching of history, we see some nationalist trends in the educational establishment itself. It is very much in fashion to talk about 'Russia as a special civilisation, a special world'. In the worst cases we see 'national self-consciousness' being introduced as a curriculum subject."

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