For more than a month, the whole world has been watching the war in Ukraine. How did you react to the Russian actions?
It’s horrible. I don’t know what else to say about it. I am sad about this. But reading helps me. I love your (Milan) Kundera. If you read it, you might understand part of what is happening in Russia right now. I’m sorry, I can’t read it in Czech. But the message is also strong in translation.
You are a teacher. How has your routine changed?
The daily life of teachers has changed like any other Russian who thinks about what is happening. But there are a lot of people I meet in business or public transport who aren’t interested.
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But the teachers are scared. Show. There is now an atmosphere of fear. We are afraid to teach, to lecture, to publish. This feeling worsened when the newsrooms of some free media were closed. For example, the Novaya Gazeta publishing house, whose editor-in-chief has the Nobel Peace Prize (Dmitry Muratov a week ago someone poured red oil while traveling by train, ed. Note.). You can only get into trouble in Russia by saying words like peace, war… We don’t even have to show our sympathy to Ukraine.
When the teacher is in class, he still thinks of many things. Or at least I do. I think to myself: What do these students really like, will they understand what I am trying to tell them? I approach it in such a way that it is my duty to tell them what is really going on and, in the nature of my expertise, also to say what I think about it.
And to my pleasant surprise, everyone understands that. I have students who are both Russian and Ukrainian – they started attending school years ago, they come from different regions. Some even thanked me for my openness. Still, I sensed that some of them disagreed. But it’s their decision.
Access to students
Aren’t you worried about students reporting you to the police? We have seen cases where children have complained about the “anti-war” behavior of teachers. Some have been fined, others even face jail.
I can never be sure that none of them will. I have heard of such cases. But I don’t know if my students would do the same. Maybe someone will try after the tests if they don’t pass (laughs).
In Russian schools, children are taught what to think of the invasion. Students identify teachers who disagree with her
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It has happened to me that one of the high school officials has come to see me. But it wasn’t about Ukraine, it was purely about me. He came to tell me that we needed to talk. And you know, I’m scared. I try to balance it somehow, approach it realistically. I’m not one to be intimidated.
Can you talk directly to your students?
From the essence of the subjects I deal with, I have to talk about these things. But I mostly work with small groups. We may be divided, but we must continue to study. There are ongoing discussions, but we limit them in our circle. At least I hope so.
I even have current students who took part in the demonstrations at the beginning of March. Some were arrested, others even had to leave school. It seems important to me to talk about it, and even if I’m scared, I say to myself: calm down. It’s just our life now…
Changes after the invasion
There were also reports that students had to sing the Russian anthem before classes started. Do you come across similar practices that build nationalism?
I haven’t encountered anything like it in person. But I can’t deny that something like this doesn’t happen anywhere else. For example, I can imagine him in Chechnya, where Kadyrov reigns.
Russia is full of similar absurd orders. One day, for example, the teachers were ordered to fetch snow in linen bags. You see, the snow in them must have melted, that was clear to everyone. But they had to do the job they had been given for the rest of the day. (The case described occurred in 2019, it was written in Current Time, ed. Note.)
And has anything changed in the last month? What didn’t happen before and now is on the agenda?
Yes, we often have uninvited guests in class. Senior officials come to listen to us, twice a day. They take the students out of the classroom and then force their version of what’s going on, how to figure it out. They tell them what is the correct understanding of Russia. It is clear that something is going on, that there is a state intention behind this.
RT official Margarita Simonyan describes Russia’s covert operations to prosecute the Kremlin’s information wars by circumventing various blockages by YouTube and other media platforms: they continue to spread Russian propaganda in the West, while hiding the fact that it is Russian propaganda. pic.twitter.com/iHEjt3FofA
-Julia Davis (@JuliaDavisNews) April 13, 2022
I have an acquaintance who teaches in high school and she told me that the ministry directly creates a list of teachers, who they then call and tell them how to do their job. They also point out to them what to draw children’s attention to, what to emphasize and what to highlight. They are strongly advised on the procedure to follow. (Human Rights Watch reported last week).
One of the recommended pieces of information to pass on to students is really ridiculous. They say that if Russia did not intervene in Ukraine, boys could be tricked into becoming girls. They would try to change sex. A scandalous “joke”. I find it hard to believe that someone like that can claim something like that…
The influence of ideology
In Russia, state propaganda dominates the media. Do you observe its effects on your students? Or do they use a VPN to connect to the internet and read western media?
I don’t know how many of them actually do. But of course we have options, they are limited, but they exist. I have the impression that some students do it and that it is the majority.
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But propaganda tells them what to say. And that’s important. He cannot influence them in what they think. They have to shut up, they have to respond that way. These are mainly questions related to Russian involvement, what the Russians feel – or rather should feel. Also, what should they think of Ukrainian President Zelenský and others. But they may think differently. Most of them prefer not to talk about it at all in public. Basically, it’s their silent protest.
When it comes to connecting to the internet via VPN, that’s a bit of a hassle. It happened to me several times to be cut off from her. But you don’t solve it, you just get a new one. And when they cut you again, you do it again.
In this context, the question arises whether the students speak Russian or English? Could you then allow yourself to address more subjects and perhaps more in depth? If someone was listening to you, they might not understand you.
I mainly teach Russian. Everyone speaks and understands English, but we only speak Russian.
What development do you expect? Do you have a guess on how this might end? Where will he go?
It’s a tragedy. I wake up every day with all the other horrors that can happen. But I also get up every day in the hope that it will end. Unfortunately, what will happen is not up to us. The fear I talked about earlier is still there.
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