Harri Tiido: New scientific communism in Russian higher education

Harri Tiido.
Harri Tiido. Source: ERR/ Ken Mürk

Harri Tiido touches on the new Russian curriculum of "foundations of Russian statehood" and the "Russian genome" project in this episode of Vikerraadio's "Harri Tiido taustajutud." Social brainwashing is in full swing in Russia and promises to be successful, Tiido notes.

People my age, who attended university during the Soviet period, probably remember the subject of scientific communism. According to one description, it amounted to trying to catch a black cat in a dark room, knowing that the cat is not there, but still yelling, "I got it, I got it!" every now and again. But it also held a promise of something positive – a bright communist future that was never achieved but that some still believed in.

The authorities in Russia seem worried by the fact that modern university programs seem to lack a worthy counterpart and have now put together the curriculum of the "foundations of Russian statehood."

Based on Russia's 1993 constitution, the country is not supposed to have a state ideology. Therefore, we are not dealing with an ideology but merely an attempt to explain the foundations of statehood.

But let it be said that the Russian presidential administration also put together a new alleged ideology where treating with the future has been replaced by looking back into the past. Other pieces of the big picture include a Ministry of Education and Higher Education project dubbed the "Russian genome" – an entire plan for teaching the humanities in Russia based on new principles.

The latter are not all that new, of course. Several elements have been taken from recent statements and written works by Russia's representatives. The proclaimed aim of the "Russian genome" project is coming up with a package of values that all of society would immediately adopt. On the state level, that would be patriotism and trust in national institutions. Let us hark back to a collection of writings by Putin from 2017 titled "Patriotism as the Russian National Idea."

Under society, there needs to be a social contract, while the family level is reserved for traditions and personal creativity. The project's authors claim that the Anglo-Saxon and Asian cultural foundations are not a good fit for Russians, – the former expecting people to be active in the pursuit of their own interests, while the latter prefer to serve the interests of the collective. Russian people are apparently prone to working in the interests of "the other," whatever that means.

Let us move on more specifically to the foundations of Russian statehood. The main goal is to process young people attending school in a way to make sure they do not develop hostile ideas and their brains are washed in the correct way. After all, students have always been suspiciously prone to thinking for themselves in all lands.

A civilizational approach to history is therefore offered. It is claimed that every historical period is crowned by a major civilization, and that civilizations, like human beings, are born, grow, flourish, wane and eventually die.

Where this is going is that the Western civilization has had its day and is on its last legs one way or another, while the Russian civilization is in its development phase and therefore meant to achieve supremacy over the West. In other words, the Russian civilization is about to come out on top no matter what is happening. This gives the authorities the chance to claim that because this is an objective process, there is little sense in striving for economic development and sensible foreign policy. Russia will become the world leader anyway.

The concept prescribes no debate. Everything is preordained, and all one needs is blind faith in what the rulers say. People must adopt the worldview simply because they are part of the Russian civilization. The authors claim that all Russians agree that the authority is capable and active, the power and people united, elections trusted and more citizens are needed.

Historian Mikhail Suslov adds to this canvas the authorities' messianistic worldview as a conviction that Russia is the guarantor of peace and stability in the world – an interesting vision on the backdrop of the ongoing war for sure.

Secondly, the Kremlin is convinced that Russia must bring the West back to true traditional or Christian values. Thirdly, it is believed that Russia unites different nations, cultures and faiths pursuant to its imperialistic structure, offering an alternative to liberal multiculturalism.

Suslov also adds a thought worth keeping in mind. Namely Putin's claim that Russia never ends, that it has no borders. This morphs into a recipe for constantly moving toward new frontiers. In other words, seeing Ukraine as just the beginning and Russia as the center of everything.

And while we're on the subject of messianism, allow me to recall the idea of Russian nationalist publicist and monarchist Yegor Holmogorov from 15 years ago according to which Russia is a doomsday country. That it is Russia's mission to end the world. That should God decide he wants to end the world, he will pick Russia as his tool. Hence more than a few Russians' nuclear saber rattling of late.

We can add to this nonsense aimed at universities and the general public the fact that the two final high school grades have been issued new and homologized history textbooks, with relevant efforts now aimed at younger grades. So far, history is rewritten between the 1970s and the modern day. We learn that the Soviet Union did not collapse and was brought down by evil Mikhail Gorbachev, a CIA conspiracy and the like.

Various programs exist to condition children and youths all over the country where the school week starts with the national anthem and a flag ceremony; there are youth camps, military education, dressing babies up in war uniforms and placing them in strollers made to look like tanks.

Social brainwashing, especially among the younger population, is in full swing. And we have reason to believe it is quite effective. The carrot and stick go hand in hand, and those who do not agree belong behind bars, on the other side of the border, the front line or indeed a casket.

The modern period is depicted as Russia's heroic struggle in the face of a military attack from the West. And during a time when the homeland is threatened, there can be no complaining about the poverty of the people and the opulence of the bosses. There is a holy war to be fought, and whining about minor inconveniences deserves public condemnation and punishment by law. It is to be feared that in Russia, these efforts might prove successful.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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