These days, a lesson is being taught in Russian schools by order from on high, during which teachers are forced to justify the need for the war in Ukraine. Maria Zakharova provides political information for the teachers themselves. In addition, students are forced to study Putin's anti-Ukrainian speech, and then answer the question: «Which of the above arguments touched you the most».
Conversations for the record
Both teachers and children are against it
Propaganda lessons justifying the need for the attack on Ukraine began Monday. For example, yesterday the Siberian website NGS55.RU reported that teachers in schools in the Omsk region, by order of the regional Ministry of Education, will conduct lessons in which they will have to explain to children why the Russian authorities are conducting a «special military operation» in Ukraine. The newspaper says, the studies will take place as lessons in history and social science themed «My Country», and two types of presentations have been sent to schools from the Department of Education - for seniors and juniors. Novaya Gazeta posted a recording of a «peace lesson» at a school in Balashikha, Moscow region, to its Telegram channel yesterday.
The Insider was able to obtain a recording of a Moscow citywide teachers' council meeting convened by officials to instruct history and social studies teachers on how these lessons should be conducted, and to familiarize them with the materials and methodological guidelines distributed to teachers by the Moscow authorities prior to «propaganda lessons.»
«On February 28th, an urgent video conference call brought us all together for a council meeting. The topic was not told in advance. Maria Zakharova, director of the Foreign Ministry's information department, spoke online in person and for an hour and a half, explaining her position on Ukraine,» told us one of the teachers who took part in the event, speaking on condition of anonymity.
«Living in this country, you understand well the urgency of the moment, you are at the forefront of this information war,» the teachers were told at the meeting, and then they were warned they would have to discuss Ukraine with students as part of their history lessons in the near future, «with our methodological support.»
In her speech, Zakharova referred to the war as a «peacekeeping demilitarization operation» to protect Donetsk and Luhansk. She lectured teachers on how the «Maidan» first imposed the «will of the minority» on the Ukrainian people in 2004, with Western support, by electing Viktor Yushchenko president. And then, «with the help of armed fighters trained in Polish camps,» the same West ousted Yanukovych in 2014.
She did not forget to emphasize that «Yushchenko's wife is an American citizen and an employee of well-known agencies,» while «there were no problems with Yanukovych, either in terms of the law, or corruption.» In the end she suggested that the actual events, which the upcoming lessons should be devoted to, «began long ago, when people were forced to swear allegiance to Bandera.
According to a recording available to The Insider, only one of the teachers who attended the Moscow meeting publicly questioned the need for the proposed political information lessons for children. «I wonder if all the people who came here share Maria Zakharova's point of view,» he questioned the audience. «Of those who didn't come here, the majority are now out shouting «No to War!»»
In response to his remarks, the host stressed that should it prove impossible to conduct a lesson, the teacher must convey the government's position via informal conversations with students in order to «prepare them for what is happening.»
At the end of the meeting, the teachers received not one, but two guidance books. «The Answers to tough questions about Russia's special military operation in Ukraine,» intended for «private» conversations, and the official materials for the «Events in Ukraine» lesson.
Both documents are available to The Insider. The first one prompts teachers to answer the question, «Is there really a war going on in Ukraine?» - «Yes, it has been going on for eight years, Ukraine is waging it against its own citizens who live in Donbass.» This is one of the main points of Russian propaganda, which appeared on Russian state TV channels after the war began and became popular among the uniformed agencies officials after the scandalous statement by General Konashenkov, the official representative of the Russian Ministry of Defense.
Moreover, according to the guidelines, teachers will have to tell children in private conversations that the goal of the invasion of Ukraine is «the establishment of peace,» the war will not spill over into Russian territory because our country «has powerful forces of strategic deterrence that reliably ensure the security of our country,»; as for any videos of cities being shelled, of dead soldiers and civilians, «which are posted on social media, on Instagram and Tik-Tok», they shouldn't be believed. Because Ukrainians «purposefully make videos that denigrate our military.»
For its part, the official methodology for the lesson, suggests that teachers should begin by saying that Ukraine emerged as an independent state only in 1917 after the revolutionary events in Russia, and recounts in great detail, as the ultimate truth, Vladimir Putin's speech that he made at the Security Council meeting prior to the invasion and that was broadcast on the same day by the state TV channels.
Conversations for the record
Earlier, Mediazona published a presentation for one of the lessons, but for junior schools. It is the same as the documents already cited, supplemented by strong visuals: the burning Maidan, the bombing of Yugoslavia, a timeline of universal history from the baptism of Russia to the recognition of the DNR. Putin's portrait next to Alexander Nevsky's.
«On the first of March, as far as I know, there was another meeting, which I did not attend. As a result of it, according to the top brass, we all have to talk to the children and explain the position of the country in private conversations. As for the lessons based on the methodology, they will now be conducted only in those schools which previously received the orders,» The Insider's source reported.
«At my school we have not yet been required to conduct lessons based on the methodology, but in some schools such lessons have already been conducted; in fact, my colleague told me that when he gave such a lesson, the head teacher and another person who videotaped the lesson were also present,» The Insider's source said.
The teacher said his colleagues from the same school received a similar instruction from the school administration: they were asked to secretly make audio recordings of their conversations with students.
«They were told use Dictaphones to record what the teacher says to the children, and especially the children's opinions, i.e. what the children say in response. However, the colleagues refused to do so and demanded a written order, after which the school administration let the matter slide,» the source told The Insider.
He believes the school administration intended to use those records for reporting to higher-ups.
Both teachers and children are against it
It is difficult to say just how widespread «political information» lessons on the Ukrainian war have become. Teachers in St. Petersburg whom we were able to contact told The Insider that they have not yet received any instructions in this regard, let alone methodological materials. Their colleagues in Nizhny Novgorod reported the same.
Meanwhile, some schools in the provinces took it upon themselves to post detailed unofficial «photo reports» of how they conducted the lessons on their VKontakte pages. Like, for example, a school in the Bashmakovsky district of the Penza region:
«Students watched President Vladimir Putin's address to the citizens of Russia, studied information related to the 2014 coup d'état in Ukraine,» says the legend under the photos of children sitting attentively at their desks and listening to the teacher. The children and their teachers «discussed current events in Ukraine. They learned a lot about international security and Russia's measures to support it,» the author of the post states.
Official reports have also appeared on some local television channels, such as those in Kaluga. «[The students] will digest the knowledge they have now acquired during the homeroom period, at this lesson of pride. They will be able to correctly perceive the information that has been presented to them from the TV screens,» the author of the GTRK Kaluga proudly declares in the video description (the video itself cannot be played for technical reasons).
«If I am going to hold such conversations, I will do it in a neutral key, because I will have to talk to kids who will soon be 17 years old, and in a year they may find themselves in rail cars travelling west, and I wouldn't not want to be involved in that,» a teacher told The Insider.
Some of the teachers we spoke with had a similar approach. «Our school has had no such lessons yet, but our administration does not always pass instructions on to us if they think they are irrelevant,» a teacher told The Insider speaking on condition of anonymity.
«Many teachers have different opinions, some have already had such conversations on their own initiative, one lady I know well was very dissatisfied after that, she supports the government, and the children turned out to be against the war and for Ukraine, although the reaction among children may also vary,» he said.
According to him, some of his colleagues are even planning to hold some «evenings of anti-war poetry» as a counterweight to the state propaganda, while he himself, if he gets an order from his superiors to hold such a lesson, intends to hold it in «neutral tones».
«As a teacher I reserve the right to choose the material and conduct the lesson the way I think is right, any methodological guidelines are optional,» the teacher says. «Because under the Law on Education I am free to do as I think fit.»
Dmitry Kozakov, a board member of the independent teacher's union, agrees. «Most teachers are trying not to comment publicly on the situation, because our schools are very dependent on the authorities, but we must remember that any orders from on high are usually carried out ineffectively, for show, as a formality,» he says.
He doubted that anyone who received such an order would «jump with joy». Those who are against it «will find a way to conduct such a lesson in a neutral manner,» while the school «should be outside of politics after all,» the teacher added cautiously.