As the Kremlin war in Ukraine raged, Yelena Bagaeva, an English teacher from the Siberian republic of Buryatia, held a discussion with her students about the events making headlines.
“I tried to make it clear that any war is bad, that you can’t wish Ukrainians dead and hate them, they are people like us,” she told local media of the discussion. Of March.
But one of her seventh grade students recorded the discussion – and the next day the student’s mother reported Bagaeva to the school administration and the police, accusing her of spreading “propaganda anti-Russian”.
Bagaeva, 31, was charged with “discrediting the Russian armed forces” – a new offense introduced following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – and fined 40,000 rubles ($618).
Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, authorities have heavily disseminated pro-war messages and symbols in almost all levels of society – and even schools and nurseries have not been exempt.
Often it is school staff, parents and even the students themselves who contribute to the persecution of those who oppose the war, said teachers and parents interviewed by the Moscow Times.
“What we might consider pro-war propaganda is going on in most schools across the country,” Daniil Ken, head of the independent Teachers’ Alliance union, associated with jailed Kremlin critic Alexei’s movement, told The Moscow Times. Navalny.
From social media, Ken said, it could be estimated that up to 95% of schools in Russia have taken a stance of public support for the war in Ukraine.
Schools in at least two regions – the Moscow region and the republic of Bashkortostan – showed their students recordings of President Vladimir Putin’s speeches on the first day of the invasion, Ken added.
A public school teacher who spoke on condition of anonymity said all teachers at her school had been ordered to hold class meetings in support of the war.
“You could try to avoid it,” she said. “But if you did, your class would still have to listen to it. Another teacher would have replaced you.
The headmaster, who was also an MP for the ruling United Russia party, claimed the school was “apolitical”.
“However, any anti-war posters in the restrooms, social media posts or even discussions among students have been nipped in the bud,” the teacher said.
“Under federal law, education is defined by state-approved curricula,” Ken said. “And there’s nothing about ‘special military operation’ in those programs. So technically a teacher does not have to organize such lessons. That is why such guidelines are given informally.
Ken said this is why many teachers face no consequences when they refuse to engage in propaganda.
“Others have been pressured in a different way,” he said. “Worst working conditions, bickering over their work, but no official sanction for anti-war views.”
Every week, the Teachers’ Alliance receives 10-15 letters from teachers who have been fired, forced out of their jobs or fined for their anti-war views.
Ken said the true number of such cases is likely higher because many go unreported.
Some teachers have been fired for their anti-war views or their refusal to “monitor” their students’ social media accounts and report anti-war content. What’s this past to language and literature teacher Nataliya Aleksandrova from the city of Revda in the Urals.
However, losing a job is not the worst thing that can happen to teachers who do not support the invasion.
Under a new law Putin signed in March, sharing information not approved by the Kremlin, or ‘fake news’, about the ‘special military operation’ can be punished by up to to 15 years in prison. Conversations with students also fall into this category.
Last month, authorities open criminal charges against Irina Gen, an English teacher from the city of Penza in central Russia, for spreading “fake news”.
On March 18, Gen had a discussion about the war in Ukraine with one of his students. Five days later, two FSB agents came to Gen’s workplace and demanded that she accompany them. Gen followed them to their office, where she learned that the FSB had the recording of the conversation she had had in class.
If convicted, Gen faces up to 10 years in prison.
Although such cases had surfaced since the start of the war, Ken said he doubted it was a mass phenomenon.
“As far as the cases that we know of, it is the school administration who denounces the teachers,” he said. “Or teachers are fined for their social media posts, either based on anonymous complaints or police reports. But if such cases occur, most of them get a lot of media attention.
Last week, St Petersburg teacher Boris Romanov was arrested and placed in a pre-detention center for expressing his anti-war views, the Teachers’ Alliance reported.
Teachers are not the only ones who have felt pressure to vocally support the war. Parents who oppose the war have few options other than to cut their children out of school. Private schools that do not receive financial support from the government are no exception.
“Such things happen every Victory Day,” the father of a third-grade student at the private Albertina school in Russia’s western enclave region of Kaliningrad told the Moscow Times. “The instructions are given in a very strict tone: ‘All children must wear St. George’s ribbons'”, a patriotic symbol traditionally worn on Victory Day when Russia marks the anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory on Nazi Germany.
This year, however, he said one of the children in the class also wore the letter ‘Z’, which has become a symbol of support for war, during the VE Day celebration.
A photo was later shared in a group chat for parents.
“I don’t know why they do this in a private school,” the father said.
“It seems like the easiest option here is to just say your child is sick and not take them to school.”