Monday, April 9, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Educational Changes in Russia Seen Leading to ‘Ethnic Explosion’

Paul Goble

Vienna, April 9 – The commercialization, clericalization and ethnicization of Russia’s educational system over the last decade are undermining the common national identity of Russian citizens and may lead to “ethnic explosions” among both Russian and non-Russian groups.
According to Moscow commentator Kirill Martynov, education is in addition to everything else “the basic instrument responsible for the formation of national identity and national self-consciousness,” something that he suggests most Russian officials appear to have lost sight of (
Unlike France, which in the words of Michel Foucault first standardized its canons and then its schools, Moscow has failed in the years since the collapse of the Soviet Union to focus on this issue and to recognize the three ways in which the educational system can divide the country.
First, the commercialization of education not only is creating a divide between privileged elites and underprivileged masses, Martynov argues, but it is thereby creating a situation whereby those in the latter category may turn to extremist groups just as “poorly educated whites” in the United States at one point turned to the Ku-Klux-Klan.
But commercialization has other negative consequences as well, Martynov argues. It promotes indifference among the better educated or at least more schooled elite toward their fellow citizens, and it makes it less likely that there will be broad support for national tasks, including fundamental scientific research.
Second, the ongoing clericalization of the schools, actively promoted by the Russian Orthodox Church, not only represents an obstacle to “the development of common civic principles and values acceptable by all citizens of Russia” but also opens “the school room door to representatives of radical groups” from various religions.
This threat is compounded, Martynov says, by the fact that as a result of changes in public support for education since 1991, teachers at the primary and secondary level are among the most poorly paid and least respected of the professions, something that can mean that “marginals’ can more easily enter it.
And third, the ethnicization of schools, as a result of the inattention of the Russian government as well as widespread corruption, is exacerbating divisions among various ethnic communities in that country – exactly opposite the direction that the country should be moving in, Martynov says.
This ethnicization of the education system takes several forms. At the university level in Moscow, groups of students from one or another ethnic group have organized themselves to the point that they represent “a parallel power” within these institutions, able to “control academic structures or at the very least lobby for their interests.
But the situation with regard to ethnicization, Martynov continues, may be even more serious in public primary and secondary schools where “the epicenter of the problem is not the periphery of the country but in the major cities and in the first instance Moscow” itself.
Officials in the Russian capital, he reports, are not keeping track of the rising tide of non-Russian pupils in Moscow schools. On the one hand, he says, to do so is considered “not politically correct.” And on the other, this lack of data is designed to cover up a fundamentally corrupt system.
Because Moscow schools require medical insurance certification for enrollment, parents of non-Russian migrants there, who typically lack such paperwork, often are forced to “enter into ‘informal’ relations with the leadership of the school,” a practice that at least some poorly paid school administrators have no wish to end.
Even if Russian officials make a commitment to overcoming this situation, Martynov concedes, they will face an uphill and possibly losing struggle for as experience of schools in Western Europe shows, it is very difficult to create “a balance between mutli-culturalism and national values.”
But unless Russian officials and Russian citizens begin to do so and soon, the Moscow commentator concludes, there is a very real threat that in their country, the educational system, which could help to promote national unity, will have just the opposite effect.

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