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Kremlin wants its new department to teach Russians to love their country

October 22, 2012, 17:01 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

MOSCOW, October 22 (Itar-Tass) — The Kremlin wants to teach the Russians to love their homeland sincerely. For these ends, a special agency has been set up within the presidential administration. It will be tasked foster patriotism and teach people to be proud of their country, its flag and laws, like it is in the United States. Experts say the whole thing looks like another attempt to build the state ideology and win over the youth.

On Saturday, President Vladimir Putin signed a decree setting up a new department – Directorate for Social Projects – with his administration. The department will be tasked to “strengthen moral and spiritual foundation of Russian society, improve public policy in the field of patriotic upbringing, and implement significant public projects in this area.” Pavel Zenkovich, a deputy head of the presidential domestic policy directorate, was appointed to be the head of the new department.

The new department will tackle several kinds of issues, including public projects in the area of humanitarian policy (education, culture), patriotic, information, youth, and regional projects. It will also have a say in issuing grants and state prizes in the areas within its competence. The new department will employ from 30 to 35 people.

Similar structures will be set up within offices of the president’s plenipotentiary envoys. It is planned to involve people of culture and science to their work.

Russian media say the new department has been established at President Putin’s personal initiative, who has long been voicing concern over moral decadency in society.

Various funds, such as the Institute of Socio-economic and Political Studies Fund under the Russian Public Chamber will be appointed operators of grant programs. “Until recently, very many government structures pro forma tackled these or those aspects of patriotic upbringing programs for the youth, but there has been no common centre to set tasks and coordinate this work,” Dmitry Badovsky, the director of the Institute of Socio-economic and Political Studies, told the Rossiiskaya Gazeta daily. “Such a department within the presidential administration, on the one hand, demonstrates the president’s striving to make such work more efficient. On the other hand, it proves that the president pays a paramount attention to boost national self-consciousness of Russian citizens and sees it as one of his top-priority tasks as the president.”

According to Badovsky, the new department is seen as a moderator of cooperation between government and public organizations, and a kind of coordinator of sectoral programs.

The Directorate for Social Projects will attend to issues of “ideology, content, systemic, conceptual matters related to the work with cultural environments, the youth, civil society,” the RBC daily cites a top-ranking Kremlin source. Thus, the department will cooperate with the educational community to introduce additional patriotic education programs at schools and will pool efforts with people of arts to make more patriotic films and television series.

“No systemic works is being done in Russia to bring up the younger generation. We have no common base to foster love to our homeland: we don’t respect state institutions, we don’t understand public values. There is a very clear patriotic attitude to the country in the United States, there are basic tenets: we love our country, we are proud of its law, we respect the authorities and the state symbols, the flag and the national anthem,” the Kremlin official said outlining the new department’s competences. He also noted that this department will work in cooperation with the “creative class,” comprised of protesting “angry urban dwellers” as well.

The ultimate task, according to a Kremlin source quoted by the Vedomosti newspaper, is to create a content to foster civil self-consciousness, to promote basic human values, to encourage the development of culture, to apprise of outstanding fellow countrymen working outside popular culture frames. The first step is to word clear criteria for a state order and to optimize the existing possibilities, such as presidential grants (of three billion roubles from 2013), ministry of culture’s support programs, etc.

According to a Kommersant newspaper source, before taking any effort to teach Russians to love their country, it is planned to conduct public opinion polls and to study foreign experience. Immediate plans are to study patriotic programs of the United States. There will be two target strata – the young and the elder, since people of the in-between generations were brought up in the time of trouble when the former Soviet Union collapsed.

Experts however are skeptical about the new department and its future work.

Nikolai Petrov, a member of the scientific council of the Carnegie Moscow Center, is skeptical about references to foreign experience. “We have an utterly different structure of the system. In the United States, the government and public organizations are contacting on a transparent basis, without any intermediate structures. In Russia, as a matter of fact, the whole thing will end in toughening control over society that will be exercised by an extra structure within the presidential administration,” he told the Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily. “It looks like the Kremlin is seeking to create an ideological conservative pier in a situation when there is a protesting minority.”

“This is all about the struggle for the minds, primarily the minds of the younger generation, because the ruling party is phenomenally unpopular with the youth,” said political scientist Boris Makarenko. “The new department is a mere attempt to moderate the situation.”

According to Konstantin Eggert, an observer of the Kommersant FM radio station, this is just another attempt to invent the state ideology. “After Vladimir Putin came to power, Russia’s ideal image looks like a kind of ‘Soviet Union Light,’” he stressed. “The corner stone feature of those times was the following unwritten pact: the authorities grant people the freedom of private life in exchange of their non-participation in political life. The pact expired when the economic crisis broke out and the Kremlin office was taken by Dmitry Medvedev. Active strata of society refused to be silent any longer, which triggered dramatic developments of the past year.”

Now, he said, the authorities still have nothing to offer to the country but for the faded slogan of “stability” and sly criticism of the “turbulent 90s.”