15 Apr 2020
Conflicts and Militarization of Education: Totalitarian Institutions in Secondary Schools and in the System of Extracurricular Education in Russia (Part 4)
*This article is the first part of the co-authored piece Conflicts and militarization of education: Totalitarian institutions in secondary schools and in the system of extracurricular education in Azerbaijan and Armenia, Ukraine, and Russia by Sevil Huseynova, Jafar Akhundov, Eviya Hovhannisyan, Ksenia Babich, Katya Myachina.
Already by 2013 visible changes in the implementation of state programs related to military-patriotic education of youth were brewing up. In the same year, the pan-Russian youth movement “Nashi” (“Ours”) and youth intraregional movement “Idushchiye vmyestye” (“Walking Together”) closed down. An obvious increase of militarization and references to military themes in youth education were already visible since 2014. Currently, patriotic education plays a key role in the upbringing of the youth. This transformation is clearly linked with the annexation of Crimea, conflict in Ukraine, and participation of Russian military forces in the military actions in Syria.
In the education sphere, the topic of “defending of the homeland” is usually limited to events related to May 9 (Victory Day in the Great Patriotic War) and June 22 (the day of the official invasion of GermanNazi forces on the territory of the USSR). Another relevant date within this context is February 23rd – the day when Russia celebrates as “Defender of the Fatherland Day.” This holiday is usually celebrated at secondary schools as well, in particular at the high school level. At the same time, no specific courses and subjects on military-patriotic education are included in the mandatory school curricula. If such courses or programs existed in selected schools, those usually were part of the extracurricular program.
During the period from 2008 to 2014 military-patriotic festivals and gatherings were the only events organized for school children. Usually, children who were involved in certain thematic clubs at some schools were the main participants of these events. The children were invited to a reenactment of battels that carry significance for Russian history. For example, in February 2014, students from the city of Istra participated in the reenactment of the liberation of the Istra district of Moscow region from Nazi invaders, which happened during the Moscow offensive operation of the Western Front (Forum of Military Historical Reenactors 2013).
It is important to mention that since 2000 the state started to invest significant resources into the development of a positive image of the Russian army. However, new and more consistent approaches and methods of military-patriotic education were introduced only after 2014. Some military experts stressed that such programs had a certain level of success. For example, Ilya Kramnik stated that the “image of the army has improved among pre-conscripts and older adults – almost 20 percent of 2014 spring conscripts have higher education” (Kramnik 2014).
The political regime has decided that it would be best to start improving the image of the army starting from the school level. As a result, special cadet classes were introduced in secondary schools, and many of the students became “Young Army cadets” and participated in the AllRussian military-patriotic public youth movement – “Young Army”, officially registered in 2016. “The goal of the movement is for each young army cadet to believe in his Fatherland, love his homeland, know his history, be proud of the deeds of his fathers and grandfathers, and understand what we can and should strive for ”- this is how the values of the movement were formulated by Sergey Shoigu, the Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation since November 2012. (RIA novosti 2015)
The main document that guides patriotic education in Russia is the state program of “Patriotic education of the citizens of the Russian Federation.” This program is adopted for the period of 2016-2020. The main body responsible for the coordination of the tasks and implementation of planned activities in this context is the Federal Agency for Youth Affairs. The program was signed in 2015 by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. The program is being executed by the Ministries of Education and Science, Defense, Culture and the Federal Agency for Youth Affairs. The program was signed in 2015 by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. The program is being executed by the Ministries of Education and Science, Defense, Culture and the Federal Agency for Youth Affairs.
The main provisions of the program called for “ensuring Russian civic identity, continuity of education process aimed at the development of Russian patriotic consciousness in a challenging environment of economic and geopolitical competition” (Government of Russian Federation 2015). Before the adoption of the last document, during the period from 2001 to 2015, three state programs on patriotic education were implemented in Russia. After completion of these programs, monitoring of their effectiveness was conducted. Based on monitoring results one of the main forms of engagement with the youth of pre-conscription age was developed. The main form of engagement is organization of defense-sport camps. Around 2000 of such camps are operational all across the Russian Federation. In addition, centers of military-patriotic education and youth military training operate in 78 regions of Russia. As part of the same program, a process of gradual renaming of organizations engaged in such activities in honor of the heroes of the Soviet Union and the heroes of the Russian Federation is underway. At the time of writing of this article, there were 4870 such organizations in the country. According to the official data, annually on average, 21.6% of youth is involved in the program of military-patriotic education.
By 2020 321 509 thousand rubles from the federal budget and 18 350 from extrabudgetary sources will be allocated for implementation of events envisioned by this program (Government of Russian Federation 2015). The “Young Army” attracts a wide range of sponsors who are ready to finance the events of the movement and the production of specialized uniforms.
The movement has developed ongoing contacts with the leading enterprises of the military-industrial complex of Russia. For example, at the “Techmash,” which is part of the state-owned Rostec group, a new Young Army center is being built. In the future, the center will be used to train Young Army cadets on the professions that are in high demand within the military-industrial complex (Obshaya Gazeta 2019).
The state program stipulates that all the above-mentioned activities are designed to “develop moral, psychological and physical readiness among young Russian citizens to defend the homeland, demonstrate a commitment to constitutional and military duty during wartime and peacetime” (Government of Russian Federation 2015). Development of sport-patriotic education, cooperation between military-patriotic clubs and veteran organization to prepare the youth for the military service and to defend the homeland, introduction of advanced experiences into the military-patriotic education of the youth, and development of positive attitude towards military and state services are aimed at the same goals and objectives.
The program envisions various physical and sports activities that involve large numbers of school children. This approach allows making this program attractive to more students and their parents. For example, one of the interviewed parents, a mother of a female student of a cadet class, stressed that enroller her daughter in this class “not because of patriotism, but because of extra sports activities.” A mother of another student explained that for her it is important that her child is part of “right” (in her own interpretation) community and values: “Let it be kids with patriotic feelings and not those that represent subcultures that I don’t understand.”
The most popular events that are part of the military-patriotic curricula of activities are the search parties. Students are engaged in search of the remains of Soviet soldiers who died during the Second World War. There are about 141 search parties in Moscow and Moscow district and over 2.5 thousand students are engaged in these activities.
So, when considering the nature of military-patriotic education in RF, we need to focus on the two main state institutions in this field: cadet classes in secondary schools and patriotic movement the “Young Army.”
At the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year, more than 7000 cadet and Cossack classes were operational in Russian secondary schools (Government of Russian Federation 2015). These classes follow the regular school curricula. The main difference is the involvement of a mentor-officer who is working with the students after the end of a regular school day. Schools recommend these “cadet classes” to parents in certain situations: for hyperactive kids, for kids who come from single-parent families or if the family is going through a difficult life situation, as well as kids from low-income families. The students in these classes are called platoons, and the lead student is called the Capitan of the class. In Moscow and Moscow district the competition to get into such classes is 2-4 children per each available slot. Only students that are residents of Moscow are eligible to be accepted to cadet classes in Moscow. The graduate of such a class can later apply to continue education at a military school (“Education in Moscow” Magazine 2019).
A student of cadet class E. (female, 13 years old) talking about the education process in a cadet class with specialized English language course stressed: “For me, such words as conscience, honor, duty are part of the cadet vow that we must observe. I know how to act correctly in the ranks, respond to lieutenant colonels and people above me in rank. I like the everyday school uniform. For us, it is a green, camouflage uniform.” The difference between these cadets and Young Army cadets is significant. The same student underlined: “I am afraid to interact with the Young Army cadets at school and I don’t plan on joining their organization.”
The cadet classes emphasize the study of Russian history and certain subjects such as math, physics, and foreign languages. Different students can get interested in various historical topics. Answering the question on the favorite topic of History of Russia student E. mentioned that she is most interested in the history of the family of the Emperor Nikolay Romanov. The cadet classes in Moscow can be either only all-boy classes or only all-girl classes. However, they can also be mixed-gender classes. After the regular school day is over, cadets march to the cafeteria and then practice drills.
A student of cadet class E. (female, 13 years old): “I like taking part in parades, memory watch and military drills. I enjoy being with the class when we leave the school premises. Usually, we visit Poklonnay Hill or even Red Square.” However, some cadets may express dissatisfaction with the level of preparation of such field events. M. (female, 14 y.o.): “Usually these events are painfully long. They don’t feed us enough or good enough food.”
Moscow secondary school N1631 is one of the schools that established cadet class in September 2014. Many students enrolled in this class dream of a future military career. A student of school N1631 D. (male, 15 y.o.): “I like history and foreign languages – German, French, and Spanish. I decided to become a cadet because I want to serve at tank corps.”
Often these are kids from military families. One of the students of the same school E. (female, 14 y.o.): “I am interested in military topics and I like tanks. I decided to join the cadets. My grandfather was in the military and I also want to be in the military.” Another student from the same school A. (male 15 y.o.) shares his story: “I train in boxing and soon will be competing for a third-level class. I joined cadets because I want to continue the family tradition and join the military.”
Another student of school N1631 A. (female, 15 y.o.) also points to a future career in power structures: “I enjoy walking around the city with my friends. We like visiting new places. I decided to become a cadet because I want to work for law enforcement agencies in the future.” A male student of the same school K. (13 y.o.) shares: “I like video games and I think they help to develop logic and thinking. I decided to join cadets because in the future I want to serve at the Ministry of Emergency Situations. I want that helping people becomes my profession.”
Sports and militaristic style draw students to such classes. A 13-year-old female student from the same school A. stated: “I attend swimming classes as I think that this particular sport helps to maintain good posture. I decided to join cadets because I am attracted to the military uniform.” Similarly, another female student D. (13 y.o.) said: “I like music and I learn to play on a cello. Why did I join the cadets? I like the uniform.”
Based on the conversation with one of the instructor-mentors of cadet classes at a Moscow secondary school it is clear that students take additional military-oriented classes (after the regular school program): fire and drill training, medical, radiation and chemical safety. Teacher, 50 years old, male: “I am a veteran of military service. I curate all the usual tasks related to the preparation of adolescents for service in law enforcement agencies. As for the teaching staff, then each teacher undergoes a special pre-training and receives a certificate. We engage in a lot of extracurricular activities with children. We also are responsible for kids from 8 am until 5-6 pm hours when they are attending a regular school.”
According to the instructor, an additional subject on etiquette is introduced to the cadet classes. The instructor believes that he carries an extra workload compared to a regular full-time position. “I participate in getting children prepared for parades and honor guards at the eternal flame, cadet and art competitions. I train them to pass the preparedness exam, swimming, driving and horseback riding. We participate in different university projects. In addition, I lead the youth musical ensemble and I am responsible for the webpage of the class.”
The instructor of the cadet classes says the following about his personal preferences: “I like the May 9th celebrations and participation in cadet competitions.” The discussions with the students of one of the Moscow schools revealed that teachers get a 20% pay added to their paychecks for their involvement with the cadets. At the same time, students that participate in the movement or are enrolled in cadet classes get extra 20 points added to their Unified State Exam (USE) for college admission.
The Young Army
The “Young Army” movement was established on October 29, 2015, at the initiative of the Defense Minister of RF Sergey Shoigu. The children and youth organization “The movement of young patriots” that was operational since the late 1990s until 2016, became the foundation of this new movement. According to the official data by 2016 more than 140 thousand Russian students ages 8 to 18 were members of the “Young Army.” According to the official webpage as of 2019 506 thousand children and teenagers are members of the “Young Army” (“The Official Webpage of the ‘Young Army’ Movement” 2019).
Interaction with children who are currently members of the “Young Army” is strictly regulated by the teacher. The children themselves refused to discuss the experience of military-patriotic education without the supervision of adults and parents. The movement is especially relevant for the Moscow district, however, it is popular also in the regions of Russia. A student can attend a regular school and enroll in the “Young Army” on his own, and in addition to the regular school curriculum, he will get an extra workload.
The movement attracts students by its paraphernalia, as well as various types of events. These include volunteer movements, military-patriotic clubs and other types of associations, ecological activism, information security that includes IT security, journalism and blogger activity.
All “Young Army cadets” in the Moscow region take mandatory participation in all patriotic events that take place on the territories of military units, in the village of Monino, at the Central Museum of the Air Force and the Military Technical Museum. In addition, there are three bases in the Moscow region were gatherings of Young Army cadets are held: Chernogolovka, Kubinka, Stupino (“The Official Webpage of the ‘Young Army’ Movement” 2019).
The main events are decided a year in advance. They include annual military-sport games and competitions: “Lightning,” “Victory,” “Еaglet,” “Star,” “Young Army Cadet,” “Navy Lightning,” and “Siberian Shield.” Additionally, there are separate military-tactical field training events “Dawn,” and “The Race of Heroes” taking place on the military ranges of the Ministry of Defense. School children participate in military-field gatherings, camps, and expeditions. Many Young Army cadets go through a special selection process to spend time at former popular pioneer camps “Artek,” “Eaglet,” “Ocean” and “Change” for special camp programs organized for them. Additionally, other patriotic events are being organized. These include the festival of children’s essays “Letter to the Soldier,” the children’s drawing contest “The Young Army” is walking around the country,” such projects as “Learn to Remember,” “The Road to the Obelisk,” “At Home of the Hero,” special campaigns the “Draftee Day,” “Memory Watch,” “St. George Ribbon,” and “Heroes of the Fatherland Day,” and historical quests from “Victory Volunteers.” The paraphernalia of the movement was approved by the Ministry of Defense. It includes patches (for backpacks and T-shirts), badges that are given for achievement at school. All badges are recorded in the cadet’s record-book. Immediately after joining the organization a teenager is promoted to the third rank and is given a patch. Later, based on the performance on the tests and the regularity of participation in the activities of the movement the teenager can be promoted to the second and first rank. This promotion happens after the first and second year accordingly. After the third year, the Young Army cadet receives a “star” and the teenager becomes an instructor. From that point forward he can initiate and organize events within the movement. Special badges are given out for special achievements: parachute jumping, participation in a regatta and etc. (The Official Website of the Clothing Supplier of the Movement “Young Army n.d.). Additional lessons, classes, and participation in the public activities are listed in the school schedule of the Young Army Cadet.
Student V. (male 14 y.o.) Gymnasium. Currently holds a rank of an “instructor” and plans to become a military doctor and continue his education at the Kirov Academy in St. Petersburg. “Patriotic education for me is a process of imparting love towards the homeland into a person. For me, it means that I am capable of loving my homeland and I am ready to create necessary conditions for its existence. Within the Young Army, I like all the events that are featuring important events in Russian history. There is no separate section of participation that I would single out. I like the overall activities and I participate in all of them.”
As for favorite places in Moscow, the student and Young Army cadet mentioned Patriot Park and the Central Museum of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. On weekends he is leading additional classes with junior Young Army cadets. He feels specifically strong about the “Victory Day” (May 9) holiday. The mother of this student (female, 43 y.o.) does not share her son’s enthusiasm. “I did not enroll my son in a special class. I chose a class with good teachers, and my son enrolled himself in the “Young Army.” I don’t see any advantages. They wear a uniform and often miss classes because of the Young Army events.”
Not all the parents are happy with such an additional load. “Everything related to patriotism is not my cup of tea. But I have to let my son attend the “Young Army” camp and take into account his interests and respect his choices. The kid knows that I have extremely negative views of his military-patriotic focus.” The parent points out that for her son participation in the Young Army is equated to belonging to a certain subculture. “Very often all the participants of the movement are taken out of the classes to participate in trainings and it negatively affects the academic performance and the grades get lower. His passion for this movement worries me. I would like to mention, that a year ago when my son was not allowed to participate in Young Army’s away event he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown because of anxiety. Teachers had to watch him closely because they were worried that he would hurt himself.” Not all students are happy with the rules presented by the “Young Army.” For example, in some schools unions are being formed that oppose the militarization of education. The most famous case of public protest is related to Leonid Shaydurov – a student of gymnasium N622 in St. Petersburg. In June 2019 he went on a hunger strike and started a solo protest at the building of the St. Petersburg state committee of education. He said that together with some part of the students from his school he does not support “abstract patriotism.” (Lenta.Ru 2019)
“The Young Army is a voluntary-obligatory organization, not to mention the classes that are taking place instead of regular classes. During these classes, we are taught very abstract things. I don’t like that students are prepared to directly join National Guard of Russia,” – says 16-year-old Leonid. “According to my observations, I notice that during the patriotism classes we talk about the annexation of Crimea, about the new greatness of Russia. This topic is further developed during these classes. We talk very little about Syria, and only in a fragmented way.”
Leonid points out that his attempts to influence the Young Army cadets were not successful. “I know for sure that members of the Young Army are not ready for dialogue. In the eighth grade, I realized that I sympathize more with the ideas of socialism and tried to convince the members of the movement to leave the Young Army. I did not succeed,” says Leonid. He established a union called “Student” and demanded to ban the activities of the Young Army at schools, end the persecution of students for their political views and provide students with free meals. “In regular schools, some classes were replaced with patriotism classes. This was done to involve in the militarization process those who were not part of the Young Army movement. Many of these classes were skipped and boycotted, ”Leonid explained.
Heroes of Russia, Heroes of the Soviet Union, Heroes of Socialist Labor, veterans of the Great Patriotic War, participants of military operations in Afghanistan and Syria, as well as counter-terrorism and peacekeeping operations participate in the ceremony of initiation into the ranks of the “Young Army.”
The authorities apply more and more consistent efforts to attract a larger number of students to the movement. Often direct pressure is excreted on certain youth groups. In February 2019 the Ministry of Defense of RF circulated a letter that stated that children of all military personnel at the “officer” rank have to be enrolled in the Young Army (Mironova and Sinergiyev 2019). In addition, in March 2019 the Children’s Rights Commissioner for the President of the Russian Federation issued an order and launched a project called “Young Army – Mentoring” which was going to be implemented at orphanages. In practice, we are talking about militarized reform of orphanages implemented by two official institutions: the Young Army movement and the Children’s Rights Commissioner for the President of the Russian Federation. The target groups are orphans aged 7 to 17 and teenagers with deviant behavior (Tarasov 2019).
Education in Moscow Magazine. 2019. “Реформа Кадетского Образования. Ноаве Правила Поступления и Обучения [The Great Reform of Cadet Education. New Rules for Admission and Training],”
Government of Russian Federation. 2015. “О Государственной Программе ‘Патриотическое Воспитание Граждан Российской Федерации На 2016 – 2020 Годы’ [On the Government Program ‘Patriotic Education of Citizens the Russian Federation for 2016 – 2020’].” № 1493.
Kramnik, Ilya. 2014. “Трансформация Призыва. Изменение Имиджа Армии Как Следствие Реформ [Transformation of Conscription. Changed Army Image as a Result of Reforms].” Lenta.Ru, October 3, 2014. https://lenta.ru/articles/2014/10/02/conscript/.
Lenta.Ru. 2019. “Протестующий Против «Юнармии» Школьник Объявил Голодовку [A Student Protesting against the Young Army Went on a Hunger Strike],” June 19, 2019. https://lenta.ru/news/2019/06/19/unarmy/.
Mironova, Ksenya, and Ivan Sinergiyev. 2019. “Военным Заводам Заказали «Юнармию» [The Young Army Was an Order Placed to Military Factories].” Komersant (Коммерсантъ), March 12, 2019. https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/3908185.
Obshaya Gazeta. 2019. “Потенциал «Юнармии» привлекает спонсоров и партнеров со всей страны [The potential of the Young Amy attracts sponsors and partners from all over the country],” January 24, 2019. https://og.ru/society/2019/01/24/101815.
RIA novosti. 2015. “Шойгу: цель Юнармии – воспитать патриотов, а не кадры для Вооруженных сил [Shoigu: Young Army’s goal is to educate patriots, not personnel for the Armed Forces],” May 28, 2015. https://ria.ru/20160528/1440286164.html.
Tarasov, Aleksey. 2019. “Детство — под ружье [Childhood is under arms].” Novaya Gazeta, March 13, 2019. https://www.novayagazeta.ru/articles/2019/03/13/79863-detstvopod-ruzhie.
“The Official Webpage of the ‘Young Army’ Movement.” 2019. 2019. https://yunarmy.ru/.
The Official Website of the Clothing Supplier of the Movement “Young Army. n.d. “Форма Одежды и Символика Юнармии [The Uniform and Symbolism of the Young Amy].” Accessed November 19, 2019. https://forma-odezhda.ru/encyclopedia/forma-odezhdy-isimvolika-yunarmii/.
“Календарь Реконструкций На 2014 Год [2014 Calendar of Reenactments].” 2013. Forum of Military Historical Reenactors. http://livinghistory.ru/topic/39013-kalendar-rekonstruktcii-na2014-god/.
 Different parties to the conflict carry a different level of responsibility for conflict escalation. For example, even with all its complexities the conflict in Eastern Ukraine never would take such a large-scale and bloody turn without Russia’s direct military intervention there.
 Including related extracurricular education organizations and practices (summer camps and others).
*** The featured image is taken from mil.ru.