- Share to or
‘Almost greater than most countries’ A required ideological curriculum is about to be thrust upon Russia’s colleges. Here’s the syllabus for Russia’s future ‘patriotic intelligentsia.’
A new curricular module called “Fundamentals of Russian Statehood” will soon become a graduation requirement in Russia’s colleges and universities. Russia’s Higher Education Ministry has forwarded the course guidelines to schools, expecting that students will take 72 hours of instruction in the new subject, starting next fall. The syllabus was designed under the immediate supervision of the Kremlin’s inner “political bloc,” headed by Deputy Chief of Staff Sergey Kiriyenko, with the apparent aim of reshaping Russia’s undergraduates into a “patriotic intelligentsia,” in the words of the program description itself. Among the learning objectives of the course, the guidelines name a “developed sense of civic responsibility and patriotism” that students should acquire, together with a sense of belonging to the so-called “Russian civilization.” Meduza has reviewed the curriculum guidelines published on an official Federal Education Standards website. Here’s the gist of how the Kremlin wants young Russians to think.
Starting with the new academic year, freshmen in all majors will be required to take the Fundamentals of Russian Statehood in their first semester at school. The total required instruction time in the new subject is 72 hours.
According to the curricular guidelines, the course will be aimed at “fostering a developed sense of civic responsibility and patriotism” in students. The idea is to close the gap between the “psycho-behavioral particularities of the younger generation” and the “realities of higher education.” Although the program doesn’t describe the exact nature of this gap, its consequences, it says, “may result in political instability, escalation of social tensions, and the aggravation of existing schisms within society (generational, for example).”
Upon completing the course, students are expected to develop “a feeling of patriotism and civic responsibility.” They will also understand the “particulars of the Russian state’s historical path and the uniqueness of its political order.” As a consequence, they will supposedly attribute their own personal qualities and achievements to Russia and the benefits of “political stability” in the country.
‘Keep working, brothers!’
The course syllabus is divided into five segments:
- What is Russia
- The Russian civilization-state
- The Russian worldview and the values of the Russian civilization
- Russia’s political order
- Future challenges and the country’s development
In the first segment, the instructor is expected to highlight the country’s unique characteristics like its “unprecedented territorial spread” and its “exceptional natural bounty.” Russia’s major industrial and business achievements (Yandex, Sberbank, and the Russian Railways are the recommended examples) will be highlighted and celebrated, together with the country’s landmarks like Moscow’s Stalin-era high-rises, St. Petersburg’s Lakhta Center, and Grozny’s post-war redevelopment.
Instructors are also expected to tell students about exemplary Russians, treated in the course as “heroes” and role models: statesmen, scientists, and other “exceptional examples of selfless service and self-sacrifice to the Motherland.” The curriculum doesn’t say who should be spotlighted, but there are some “regional recommendations” for whom an instructor might choose.
In the Far Eastern Primorsky Krai, for example, students may hear and read about the Lagutenko dynasty that includes both Ilya Lagutenko (the lead singer of Russia’s immensely popular rock band Mumiy Troll) and his grandfather Vitaly Lagutenko, an architect made famous by his Khrushchev-era mass-constructed apartment buildings known as “Khrushchevkas.”
In January 2023, the Russian authorities outlawed Meduza, designating our media outlet as an “undesirable organization.” In other words, our newsroom’s work is now completely banned in the country our founders call home. And Russian nationals who support Meduza can face criminal prosecution. Today, Meduza’s need for support from people across the globe — from readers like you — has never been more important. Please, support our work.
In Dagestan, the suggested role model is policeman Magomed Nurbagandov, captured by armed fighters on July 10, 2016, while camping in the woods with his family. When his captors discovered Nurbagandov’s police ID, they demanded that he record a video calling on his co-workers to quit their jobs in the police force. Instead, Nurbagandov said “Keep working, brothers!” and was shot on the spot. His phrase has since become a slogan of Russian propaganda.
Scaling the civilizational peak
The next segment of the syllabus covers the “Russian civilization-state.” Here, students are expected to adopt the so-called “civilizational approach to history,” frequently criticized by historians but nevertheless popular with the Kremlin ideologues. In this view, several distinct civilizations are concurrently inhabiting the Earth in isolation from one another. Each of these civilizations must go through certain developmental stages: inception, growth, flourishing, decline, and death. Proponents of this model often claim that the West (as they understand it) is in decline, while Russia (as a distinct civilization) has not yet reached its full flourishing but “marches towards the peak” of its development.
Vladimir Putin himself appears to sympathize with the civilizational view. His speeches have often invoked the ideas of its key proponent in the Soviet Union, Anna Akhmatova’s son Lev Gumilyov.
The syllabus describes a civilization-state as a historical formation marked by a “naturalness in its emergence and development, a stable value system, political weight, long history, and the capacity for dynamic adaptation to changing conditions in international relations and global politics.”
Russia’s civilizational ‘pentabase’
The next section of the syllabus is devoted to the “Russian worldview” and identity. This segment is largely based on an article on “basic values perception” in Russia, written by Andrey Polosin (deputy provost of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration) and Alexander Kharichev (head of the Kremlin’s State Council directorate), two close associates of Deputy Chief of Staff Sergey Kiriyenko. The thesis they advance in their article (published in the Russian Journal of Political Research) is that the Russian worldview rests on a “pentabase” of five key entities: man, family, society, state, and country. Each of these entities is tied a certain “dominant value,” namely:
- man ➡ creation
- family ➡ tradition
- society ➡ concord
- state ➡ trust in institutions
- country ➡ patriotism
Next, the instructors have to advance the idea that Russia is a “welfare state” with “democratic foundations” and a presidency that “stands above all the branches of government.” (The syllabus doesn’t try to confront the clash between this model and the very idea of democracy.)
The biographies of Russia’s three presidents to date will also be studied during the course. Boris Yeltsin, Dmitry Medvedev, and Vladimir Putin will each be considered. “This will permit students to develop less of a sacralized notion of the presidency as an institution, cognizant nevertheless of its significance,” the prospectus says.
‘Almost greater’ (whatever that means)
In the final segment of the curriculum, “Future Challenges and the Country’s Development,” students will have to master the “guideposts” of Russia’s civilizational unfolding. These are four: stability, mission, responsibility, and justice.
The curriculum’s architects expect the instructors to teach “stability” as a “key outcome of the previous decades of consolidation of Russia’s political system,” that is, as a direct result of Vladimir Putin’s (almost) uninterrupted governance. The syllabus doesn’t dwell on what exactly it means by “stability.” (Presumably, this has to be something other than the country’s current embroilment in aggressive war, the resulting sanctions, or the internal repressions against the dissidents.) It does define Russia’s mission, though, which it describes as “protecting Russian civilization and its interests,” along with Russia’s special role as the “guarantor of human values” in the world.
The next guidepost, “responsibility,” is unpacked as the “necessarily forthcoming stage of perfecting the country’s civic identity and political life.” Finally, “justice” should be understood as Russia’s “most significant strategic goal and valuational guidepost.” (Beyond this, the syllabus has no explanation of the meaning of “justice.”)
When discussing Russia’s global challenges, instructors will have to demonstrate that, in some particular areas, Russia has achieved “almost greater success than most European countries.” Students will also learn about the external political challenges like the threat of populism in the West (treated as a challenge for Russia, even though the Kremlin has actively supported a number of Western populist parties). Another “challenge” is the “failure of multicultural projects” in Western countries, followed by a loss of “cultural continuity.”
In this way, the course arrives at its optimistic end-of-term conclusion: “Russia’s civilizational development has once again placed it in a potentially far more advantageous and promising position relative to these negative trends.”
Translated by Anna Razumnaya
- Share to or