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Russia, Explained

School brainwashing — Persecuted journalists — IKEA vs Siberian forests

13:08, 21 июля 2021«Новая газета», редакция
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13:08, 21 июля 2021«Новая газета», редакция
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Photo: Alexander Ryumin / TASS

Here what’s in store for you this week:

  • This week we report on new creative ways the Kremlin attempts to brainwash Russian school kids, as well as the government’s obsession with the rewriting of history and historical fact;
  • A major Russian investigative newsroom suspended work after the government declared it ‘undesirable’ — we explain what it means for the future of independent journalism in Russia. Spoiler: things look grim;
  • Plus, Swedish furniture giant Ikea has been profiting heavily from illegal deforestation in Siberia.

Want to get the full story? Click the links below for full-length articles in Russian.

Kremlin’s Brainwashing at Schools, Explained

Despite mounting evidence that state brainwashing at school is ineffective and breeds corruption, the government is obsessed with packing curriculums with as much state propaganda as possible. This week a teacher and our education columnist Irina Lukyanova explains the new Federal State Educational Standards and how they will advance state brainwashing of the Russian youth.

'PATRIOTIC' EDUCATION AT THE CORE OF EDUCATIONAL REFORMS. The new laws deliberately provide for 'patriotic' education — that is, to teach children to 'love Russia' (which in practice means unquestionable loyalty to Putin and the ruling regime.) They also mention "traditional Russian socio-cultural and spiritual-moral values, socially accepted rules and norms of behavior," several times. This is a well-established government code for a mix of ultraconservative norms conditioned by Russian ethnicity, white supremacy, and fundamentalist Christianity that have upended Putin's rule in recent two decades.

THE STATE PROPAGANDA IN SCHOOLS GETS TOO THICK. IT IS OPENLY HYPOCRITICAL TOO. Lukyanova points out that according to the government's logic, an average 9th grader in Russia should now be able to explain "the danger of drug addiction and alcoholism for a person and society; the need for lawful tax behavior, anti-corruption." This is not only an increasingly thick package of concepts for kids to process but also would come across as very ironic for them. Navalny's "Anti-Corruption Foundation, whose films a rare teenager has not watched, is labeled as an extremist organization by the same government that now tries to explain to them how vital fighting corruption is.

Photo: Valery Melnikov / RIA Novosti

REMINISCENT OF SOVIET-ERA INDOCTRINATION. Lukyanova observes that the new guidelines seem oddly reminiscent of the USSR, given the contrived attempts to force children to love their motherland, as well as the more negative association that came to be attached to ideas about patriotism. The Soviet regime was notorious for a tight government grip over what kids learn in school. The propaganda was inescapable and traumatized generations. Now the Putin's regime is slowly bringing the practice back.

'I still remember how my classmates from a very ordinary school in a working-class district in Novosibirsk in the mid-eighties used the words' patriot' or 'patriot' in a contemptuous context. It meant: 'he or she who obeys authorities wholly and blindly,' Lukyanova writes in this week's op-ed.

PART OF THE LARGER KREMLIN'S QUEST OF ERADICATING HISTORICAL TRUTH. Taken straight out of the manual for any authoritarian regime, the Kremlin is keen to harness the power of rewritten history for more effective manipulation of public sentiment. Rewritten WWII narratives, of course, remain central to this effort. Over the last decades, they became a source of inflated nationalism, moral righteousness, and victimhood narrative, suggesting that Russia was somewhat robbed of 'greatness' and is on the path to reclaiming it. This black-and-white vision allowed the Kremlin to finance multi-billion foreign wars, 'reunifications' and invasions while distracting the public from growing inequality, corruption, and decay back at home.


"Here we have a synopsis of a short course in the history of modern Russia, in which there is no repression, no thaw, no stagnation," Lukyanova writes.

THIS INCLUDES A NATIONAL CRACKDOWN ON ANY VERSIONS OF HISTORY THAT DO NOT COMPLEMENT THE ATTITUDE TOWARDS 'THE GLORIOUS SOVIET PAST.' This means forgetting gulag victims, Stalinist purges, and all other victims of the 20th century. A new report from the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) notes that the "correct history" of the USSR is increasingly being used by the Russian authorities for their own legitimization. Historians are often persecuted for their work, among them Kirill Alexandrov, who has written about Soviet military personnel who cooperated with Germany, and Yuri Dmitriev, who sheds light on Soviet victims of repression in Karelia, as well as Andrey Zubov, who has compared Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea to the Anschluss of Austria in 1938.

BACKSTORY. Russia's promotion of 'traditional values' fails several sectors of society, including women, children, and queer people, as well as the memories of Soviet regime victims. More than 80 percent of crimes against children in Russia are committed in the family, and priests have a track record of blaming women who have been subjected to sexual assault. The Kremlin has further been attempting to create a monopoly on history and all other forms of education and information dissemination in the country. The pressure on independent historians, human rights defenders, and journalists has grown steadily since 2012, and the Kremlin is engaged in an ongoing campaign to whitewash the Soviet legacy.

Read all about Russia’s attempts to instill its warped ‘traditional values’ in the minds of millions, here.

Grim Future of Russian Independent Journalism, Illustrated

'First, they came for the journalists. We don't know what happened after.' On July 15, leading independent investigative newsroom Proekt ('Project')* became the first news organization listed as "undesirable" by the Kremlin. Half of the staff was also labeled as 'foreign agents.' It is not the first journalism collective forced to close by Putin's regime. Earlier other newsrooms were hit with 'foreign agent' restrictions, including Meduza, VTimes, First Anticorruption Media, RFE/RL, and Current Time**. But it is the first media targeted with an 'undesirable' label under new repressive laws. This week our reporter Daria Kozlova profiles the latest victim of the state crackdown on the few remaining independent newsrooms in Russia.

SMALL INVESTIGATIVE COLLECTIVE PUNCHING ABOVE WEIGHT. Proekt was founded six years ago by a group of prominent investigative journalists. Things were already quite hard for Russian independent journalism back then. Nevertheless, the collective managed to publish a long list of investigations that rattled the country and uncovered severe kleptocracy and nepotism inside Putin's close circle of cronies. That includes the investigation into Russian expansion into Africa, how the Kremlin was secretly helping Bolivia's Evo Morales win an election, an exposé on a secret puppeteer behind Kremlin's propaganda machine, and a breakdown on Kremlin elites profiteering on the government anti-COVID19 measures. At the moment, the collective has suspended the work and is trying to regroup.

"Proekt" team

KREMLIN TARGETS THE ACHILLES' HEEL OF RUSSIAN INDEPENDENT NEWSROOMS. In recent years, amid growing government pressure, plenty of journalistic collectives were forced to move their legal base outside Russia to protect their organizations from politically motivated lawsuits, tax crackdowns, and suffocating regulations. Proekt used a U.S. legal base to safeguard the newsroom's work. It was a working solution for many years until the Kremlin decided to crack down on it, too.

EVEN READERS ARE UNDER THREAT. Proekt's listing as 'undesirable' means that readers can even face legal problems merely for sharing their journalism on social media. However, analysts seem to agree that the persecution of the Proekt is just part of the widespread pressure currently being exerted on the press in Russia.

WHAT DID PROEKT DO THAT WAS SO BAD? Just outstanding journalism, really. But we have a theory about the trigger: at the end of June, Proekt published an investigation by journalist Maria Zholobova into Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev. It claimed that he had registered valuable real estate in the name of his wife's relatives. Shortly after, three of the publication's journalists had police visiting and searching their apartments. Zholobova has also authored several high-profile investigations, including the tyrannical ruler of the southern Russian region Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov. These always provoke government retaliation, as Novaya journalists know all too well.

Roman Badanin, editor-in-chief of the investigative media "Proekt"

TRACK RECORD FACING INTIMIDATION. In 2019, Proekt journalists reported that they received threats while working on a series of articles about the activities of Russian mercenaries and political strategists in Africa and the Middle East, allegedly connected to Russian businessman and Putin crony Yevgeny Prigozhin. In addition to threats, the journalists were spied on while unknown persons hacked into their Facebook, Telegram, and Google mail accounts.

BACKSTORY. Being a journalist in Russia has never been easy, and attacks against independent outlets have ramped up recently. Journalists are routinely taken to court as part of a campaign to silence and intimidate, and violence against them is common. Earlier this year, Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) raided the apartment of veteran investigative reporter Roman Anin. The government crackdown on independent reporters and outlets took a brutal turn in 2019 and has reached new lows in recent years. Our investigative reporter Elena Milashina was attacked in Chechnya back in February and has faced death threats over her latest reports. Six of our journalists were also murdered over the past 25 years, including Anna Politkovskaya. Her assassination still hasn't been adequately investigated.

ABSURDISTAN-STYLE P.S. Here are legal disclaimers the Russian government forces us to publish next to every mention of Proekt and their team members.

* An organization whose activities are recognized as undesirable on the territory of Russia by the decision of the General Prosecutor's Office.

** Included by the Ministry of Justice in the list of media performing the function of a "foreign agent."

Read our report on Proekt’s dismal situation, here.

IKEA Furniture Made of Illegally Destroyed Siberian Forests

Swedish furniture giant IKEA has been at the center of a Russian logging scandal this past week. Investigator, Denis Smirnov, tells Novaya Gazeta all about how the illegal deforestation took place with the aid of local officials. The initial Earthsight investigation published on July 15 exposed massive unlawful logging in the Irkutsk region, devastating an area of around 15,000 hectares of Siberian forests — the equivalent of approximately 21,000 football fields. It turned out that Ikea was responsible for purchasing the illegally-felled wood.

SANITATION HARVEST CON. A regional deputy of the Irkutsk Legislative Assembly, Yevgeny Bakurov, appeared to instigate the felling under the pretext of a "sanitation harvest" back in the noughties, expanding and peaking in 2019. Smirnov explains precisely how the hacking down of protected forests was carried out in our exclusive interview. In theory, a sanitation harvest "implies the felling of dead or diseased trees," said Smirnov. But this is not the case.

"Over the past 20 years, the sanitary hacking down of forests in Russia has just been a way of harvesting valuable timber in places where industrial felling is either prohibited or limited, including in specially protected natural areas and in protected forests," he told Novaya.

COOPERATION OF OFFICIALS. "It is interesting that at the end of last year, Bakurov's Angri LLC investment project processing 442.3 thousand cubic meters of illegally chopped wood was included by the Ministry of Industry and Trade of Russia in the list of priorities," Smirnov notes. Someone is clearly profiting. Initially, Bakurov seemed to be selling to China— his company is one of the largest Irkutsk suppliers of round timber to the Chinese market. But then it turned out that his other subsidiary ExportLes produces lumber, high-quality windows and doors, and lamellas for export to Indonesia. And it is through these chains that IKEA ended up with Irkutsk illegal wood.

Photo: Earthsight

IRKUTSK LEADS IN RUSSIAN FELLING. The Siberian region Irkutsk accounts for about 12 percent of all timber harvested across Russia through felling over the past 10 years. This figure has reached 17 percent in some years, meaning Irkutsk is a leading region for deforestation in Russia.

BACKSTORY. For some time now, the Kremlin has been stripping away environmental protections amid severe ecological degradation taking place across Russia. Deforestation is a massive issue across Russia and in the surrounding Russian-occupied territory. Last week, we reported on the decimation of forests in the Altai Territory, near the Mongolian border. The Moscow region is currently experiencing wide-scale tree-felling and deliberate deforestation. Up to a quarter of all forests surrounding the capital are falling under threat, and some 200 hectares there have already been destroyed. Annexed Crimea is also experiencing ecological destruction at the hands of the elites. Last year, we also reported how officials were razing forests near Tomsk, Siberia, to sell timber to China. Back then, officials also claimed trees were being destroyed because of sanitary felling.

Read our interview with Smirnov, here.

Other Top-Stories We Liked This Week

  • A TAMBOV RESIDENT COMPLAINED TO PUTIN AND WAS LATER STABBED. Shortly after Putin’s annual ‘Direct Line’ at the end of June, a resident of a city in southern Russia was waylaid by three assailants who stabbed him. The incident occurred in Tambov, a city of around 300,000, located some 420km from the Ukrainian border. During the direct line, Activist Roman Gerasimov asked Putin about the construction of a landfill in the immediate vicinity of several villages in the area. “We want to live in an ecologically clean area, we want agriculture and tourism to develop, but, unfortunately, this is impossible next to a huge landfill,” residents told our reporters. Read our dispatch from the city, here.

THANKS FOR READING!

To keep up with Novaya Gazeta’s reporting throughout the week, you can follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Telegram. Our video content is available on Youtube, and don’t forget to visit our website for the latest stories in Russian.

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