According to the universal consent of Russian democratic politicians, Russian children eventually became a special resource for Putin’s government, with the help of which it is possible not only to educate a “patriotic generation”, but also to use it to manipulate the entire population. The Russian authorities clearly believe that such “material” is very malleable compared to adults, who, as a rule, have the ability to question, which is completely unfavorable for the Kremlin, especially after February 24, 2022.
The “children’s topic” has been mastered by Putin since the mid-2000s, when the eccentric, albeit under the supervision of the Kremlin, but relatively grassroots movement “Walking Together” was replaced by the Nashi organization. Being under the close patronage of the Russian Presidential Administration, Nashi was a prominent part of the increasingly authoritarian state domestic policy for a decade, especially notable for the Seliger forum, which embodied the hopes of some young people for bureaucratic careers that eclipsed in popularity careers in business and organized crime. It was at this forum, in the context of the first war against Ukraine in 2014, that Putin tested his propaganda on the Ukrainian question on young Russians.
With the development of Putinism, there also appeared a simple technology of restricting the civil rights and freedoms of Russians under the pretext of “protecting children”. From being justified by threats related to the propaganda of drug addiction or child pornography, the authorities have moved to the widest range of imaginary threats, including all the “horrors of Western propaganda” that are contrary to “primordial traditional values.” Besides, the legislative machine carried out a superstructure on the Dima Yakovlev law, when not only certain Western villains were accused of destroying the Russian future, but also the Russian opposition — of involving minors in political activities.
Since the beginning of the full-scale war in Ukraine, the Kremlin has reached its peak in its work with childhood and youth, trying to combine the principles of the Soviet triad of ideological education “oktyabryonok-pioneer-Komsomol member” and the fascist Hitler Youth. However, with the growth of ideological pressure on children, parents, and teachers, the potential for civil resistance increases. Having briefly outlined how the “Russian military childhood” is taking shape today, I will try to show how, despite the well-known moral confusion of Russians and the difficulties of communicating on the topic of war and under conditions of psychological and informational pressure, resistance to Putin’s childhood policy can lead, albeit not always in the form of direct open protest – to some positive trends for society.
A special resource of Putinism
As you know, the Kremlin diligently condemns the “involvement of minors in politics” when it comes to activities independent of the state, especially those with the potential to criticize the authorities. In particular, since 2017, since the beginning of anti-corruption protests, Alexei Navalny and his supporters have been accused of “political pedophilia”. Putin’s Russia itself, as an obedient daughter of the USSR, actively uses the knowledge that an obedient “patriot” must be brought up from the cradle. In 2016, Yunarmiya became a truncated copy of the aforementioned communist educational triad, and after February 24, militarization began to actively spread even with the help of kindergarten teachers. There are more “patriotic hours” in schools, teachers with the “wrong attitude” are being intimidated, and parents are being put in a position where it is difficult for them to save their child from extracurricular work devoted to discussing the “feats of Z heroes”. The authorities, therefore, either really see the future of endless Putinism in children or create an additional safety cushion through the indoctrination of those who have not yet managed to grow a critical consciousness to provide the opportunity to rule and steal as much as the existence of the Putin regime allows.
Continuing the logic of the Law of Scoundrels1, the Kremlin’s reaction to the new unprecedented international sanctions was a bill prohibiting the adoption of Russian children by citizens of now all “unfriendly countries”. The explanatory note of the authors of the bill reads: “For many years, the “collective West” has been replacing the concepts of good and evil, destroying traditional family foundations and moral values. “If you want to conquer the people, raise their children.” Transferring our children to be raised in “unfriendly countries” is a blow to the future of the nation.” In support of the bill, VCIOM shared a survey on August 17, according to which 60% of Russians agree that children should be brought up in Russia, even if they have to be brought up in orphanages until they are 18 years old. At the same time, patriotism nurtured by propaganda does not show a desire to fight the negative consequences of such bills in the form of continued orphanhood in poverty and humiliation, since an earlier study on the To Be Precise platform showed that Russians have become less likely to adopt children and more often return them to the orphanages.
Launch of total indoctrination
Since the beginning of the war, the Kremlin’s “children’s policy” has made a giant leap toward total propaganda. The first wake-up call came when terminally ill children from a Kazan hospice were lined up in a Z to be photographed from a drone in support of Putin’s aggression. The initiator of this monstrous event was the chairman of the board of a charitable foundation, Vladimir Vavilov. At the same time, the parents themselves claimed that they wanted to support the children of Donbas in this way, using memorized propaganda slogans.
Later, there appeared a video with a kindergarten teacher explaining the following to children: “Maybe the president did the right thing by starting a war in Ukraine to protect Darina, Dina, Sofa? […] Still, which of you is in favor of the fact that it is right that we are now fighting and going to war? Hands up. Who agrees? Just be honest. One two Three. Marat! Have you refrained?” This is how the substitution “Putin started the war – Putin is protecting your friends” is carried out, which becomes the main method of propaganda, designed for the consciousness that is just beginning to form.
Things are no better for older children either: the educational authorities have decided that schools will solemnly raise and lower the flag every week to the anthem of the Russian Federation, and from September 5, weekly extracurricular activities “Talks about the important” have been launched. To this end, on August 26, the Ministry of Education published guidelines containing several fundamental points. For example, in an instructive video for students in grades 3-4, the announcer says that love for the motherland is manifested, among other things, “…in courage and determination to defend the Motherland at a dangerous time for it. (…) Russia does not originate from the mountains, but from you!” At the same time, children are offered various kinds of indoctrinating texts.
Independent media and social networks immediately noted that such actions of the educational authorities have already provoked the rejection of many parents. Teachers Alliance Chairman Daniel Ken believes that “due to the criticism and dissatisfaction that we are already seeing from teachers, thousands of people will violate and sabotage this, which will serve as an example for students. The effect will be in both directions, and what it will lead to we will know only after a while.”
At the same time, it is important that already at this stage, the consequence of civil discontent was the removal of the mention of the DPR, LPR, and the “Special Military Operation” from the developed methodological materials after September 5.
So, after almost two weeks of actively expressed public dissatisfaction, the authorities guessed that from their methodological recommendations it follows that the purpose of such extracurricular activities is political, and therefore illegal. However, there is no reason to believe that the temporarily omitted elements of indoctrination will not return.
Do all adults support the war?
The situation around Putin’s “children’s policy” once again gives reason to doubt that all Russian parents and teachers are pro-government. In particular, in Yasnogorsk, the mother of one of the kindergarteners was fined for “discrediting the armed forces of the Russian Federation,” as she tore the letters Z from the windows of a kindergarten, expressing a negative attitude towards what is happening in Ukraine.
They simply try to get rid of those who disagree in schools: Professor Tatyana was fired from BelSU for anti-war statements on the VKontakte network, and in the case of Raushan Valiullin, a teacher from Nizhnekamsk, the school administration first tried to intimidate him with video surveillance because of his anti-war position, and then simply illegally fired him.
Knowing well that the democratic public will begin to fight against military children’s propaganda, from December 1, 2022, the authorities will introduce into force a law on monitoring the activities of persons recognized as foreign agents, who are completely prohibited from educating minors, as well as from carrying out pedagogical work in municipal and state structures. Under such conditions, people who are qualified and willing to tell about the history and everything that happens objectively simply will not be able to do this under the threat of criminal liability.
What to do?
It seems that in the conditions of pressure on educational institutions, parents become the main agents of the fight against psychological and informational violence against minors. Child psychologist Larisa Surkova believes that it is important and necessary to speak correctly in the family about the war even with the smallest and offers advice applicable to different ages. The newspaper Zhenskaya Pravda instructs parents in detail, as well as teachers, on how to avoid propaganda lessons, and the Alliance of Teachers in this regard has distributed an appropriate application template addressed to a school principal, with the help of which parents can receive an official release of the child from extracurricular patriotic activities. The Soft Power project released a series of materials on how important it is now not to leave children alone with their own fears, the Antifond telegram channel released cards containing links to the main federal laws to help the parent, and the Feminist Anti-War Resistance (FAS) analyzed in detail how the political agenda is woven into educational materials. The Telegram channel “First Bell” also released information with answers to basic questions.
Assuming that as the state propaganda pressure in the field of “children’s policy” grows, the degree of dissatisfaction with it on the part of society will increase. It is clear that due to the radically increased repressions since the beginning of the war, organized resistance to school propaganda is problematic, however, given the decentralization and flexibility of civil initiatives, the already outlined protest has a chance to develop. At the same time, it is impossible to predict how the spontaneous resistance of families and increasingly disadvantaged and humiliated educators will develop. As is the case with many other types of open and covert resistance, almost everything will depend on how the situation develops on the battlefields in Ukraine.
1 A 2012 law, one of the amendments of which prohibited the adoption of Russian children by US citizens. The Russian oppositional community called it the Law of Scoundrels, as a response to US sanctions against Russian officials (Magnitsky Act)