Young Russians and the Soviet Past

Posted in Europe | 30-Apr-07 | Author: Mari-Ann Kelam

Russian President Vladimir Putin.

That a seeming preponderance of young Russians - even many of those born and living outside Russia - seem to yearn for the restoration of the Soviet Union and are undertaking acts of violence and vandalism in this connection should come as no surprise. Beginning soon after the collapse of the USSR, statesmen, scholars, former dissidents, journalists, even ex-KGB members – a shocking number at the cost of their lives - have been warning us. Because Russia, as the legal successor to the Soviet Union, has never been brought to account for the crimes of totalitarian communism and has instead, under Putin, embarked on a path of glorifying the Soviet past and curtailing democracy and freedom, young Russians have no knowledge of the terrible past and are susceptible to manipulation by extremist and chauvinistic forces.

Books by Aleksander Yakovlev, Anna Politkovskaja, Aleksander Litvinenko all paint a frightening picture of the reality of today’s Russia, its rule by an authoritarian President and his old KGB colleagues and the roots of all this in Russia’s Soviet past. Yakovelev’s message is clear: : "The main source of our troubles has yet to dawn on us: without the de-Bolshevization of Russia there can be no question of the nation's recovery, its renascence and its resumption of its place in world civilization. Only when it has shaken free of Bolshevism can Russia hope to be healed."

One of the most ominous warnings comes in “Kremlin Rising; Vladimir Putin’s Russia and the end of Revolution” by Washington Post Moscow correspondents Peter Baker and Susan Glasser (Scribner, 2005). The descriptions of what is happening in the classrooms nationwide and the kinds of textbooks and teachers approved by the Putin regime show that students are not taught the facts of history. Textbooks that present the historical facts have been banned. Putin permits only books that “foster a sense of pride for one’s history and one’s country.” Only a handful of courageous teaches encourage any kind of discussion on what really happened and what the future may bring, or on the differences between democracy and authoritarianism. It is not an exaggeration to say that Putin is intent on creating a new generation of blindly loyal uninformed citizens who believe they need a strong leader.

Polls of young Russians confirm that Putin’s education system is working – many idealize Stalin and wish to see Russia’s borders take in the whole of the former USSR.

In Estonia the situation is also not good since most Russian children attend Russian language schools, where many of the teachers are the same ones who taught there during the Soviet occupation. In addition, the vast majority of Russians do not watch Estonian broadcasts, even those in the Russian language, but get their news and entertainment from television programs originating in Russia.