SCREEN

Profile

Layout

Menu Style

Cpanel

Special Issue No. 45. November 2009. Children and adolescents in the USSR and post-Soviet Russia (in collaboration with Vladimir Sirotin)

Produced in collaboration with Vladimir Sirotin

Editor's introduction to the issue
1. Vladimir Sirotin: a brief sketch of my life and thought
2. A monster of pedagogy: my objections to Makarenko and the Soviet education system
3. A manifesto for children's and adolescents' rights
4. A few observations on the situation of children and adolescents in the USSR / Russia

-

EDITOR’S INTRODUCTION TO THE ISSUE

While there have been occasional features in RAS pertaining to the situation of children and adolescents in Soviet and post-Soviet Russia, (1) my past coverage of this extremely important subject has been very patchy and limited. Recently I became aware of the work done in this area by Vladimir Sirotin, who has been an activist for the rights of minors since the late Soviet period. This prompted me to devote a special issue of RAS to the theme of ‘children and adolescents in the USSR and post-Soviet Russia.’

Below I present, first of all, a brief sketch, by Sirotin himself, of his life and thought. This is followed by three main texts.

The first is a critique of the best-known hero and ‘founding father’ of Soviet pedagogy in the Stalin and post-Stalin eras ­ Anton Makarenko (1888 ­ 1939), well known as the creator of colonies for orphaned or abandoned stray children. (2) Sirotin wrote this text in 1978, at the age of 14, when he was still a schoolboy in Kharkov. It first appeared in Russian in a samizdat journal entitled ‘Rights of the Child’ (Prava rebenka), produced by a dissident group in Kharkov concerned with defending the rights of minors.

The second text is a manifesto for the rights of children and adolescents (originally entitled ‘Letter of the Minors’). It was written in 1989 or 1990 by a group of young human rights activists with some assistance from Sirotin.

The final text discusses the situation of children and adolescents as it has evolved in the USSR and post-Soviet Russia. Sirotin has written it especially for this issue of RAS.

The explanatory notes (but not the source notes) were added by me to help readers fully understand the texts. One note I shall insert here, because it concerns a historical document to which the texts make repeated reference ­ the ‘Domostroi.’

The Domostroi is an old Russian book, dating back over 500 years. It provides a guide to the proper running of a patriarchal household, emphasizing strict hierarchy and laying down punishments for disobedience, including physical chastisement. The title means ‘domestic order.’ Its authorship is uncertain, though traditionally assigned to an Orthodox priest named Sylvester. There are in fact 43 different versions of the Domostroi, originating in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries.

The Domostroi is available in an edited English translation by Carolyn Johnston Pouncy.

NOTES

(1) For example: RAS 16 item 4 on the trade in children; RAS 23 item 4 on the ‘developmental education’ movement; RAS 36 item 3 on the poor health of children in Karelia; RAS 41 item 8 on the fate of the children of ‘kulaks.’

(2) On the life of stray children (waifs) in the 1930s, see RAS 41 item 9. The problem of stray children has again become very acute in the post-Soviet period. See: ‘Abandoned to the State: Cruelty and Neglect in Russian Orphanages’ (Human Rights Watch Report, 1998); L. Tretyak, ‘Street Children March Through Russia,’ (UNDP Newsletter, 2001, no. 1).

Back to the Top 

--

1. VLADIMIR SIROTIN: A BRIEF SKETCH OF MY LIFE AND THOUGHT 

I was born on October 29, 1963 in Kharkov. My parents were lecturers. From childhood I was interested in politics and hated the existing regime. Our family were not open dissidents, but we always thought critically. We read samizdat and forbidden literature. I read a lot of such literature and was even sometimes involved in its distribution.

I was very interested in the question of the nature of Soviet society. I realized early on that it was not socialism of any kind. At first I thought that the USSR and similar states were a special formation, a new class society, “hierarchical etatism”, but later, during my student years, I came to the conclusion that it was state capitalism. So my views have evolved, but I have always been on the left.

I have always been inclined toward human rights work, with a special concern for the rights of minors. Together with some friends, I even organized an underground ‘League for the Protection of Children.’ I was involved in the illegal production and dissemination of a manuscript journal entitled ‘Rights of the Child’ (Prava rebenka). I have always believed that the struggle for socialism is impossible without the struggle for human rights, and that a real socialist, communist, or leftist cannot but be a defender of human rights in all respects.

I graduated from the Institute of Culture. I wrote articles on various subjects ­ at first underground, then during perestroika also legally. Since 1990 I have lived in Moscow Province. For some time my work appeared in various publications, in “Moscow News” in particular, but then, in the second half of the 1990s, when the situation in the country moved further to the right, the possibility of official publication was closed to me. Later I worked in various places, until recently as a courier. I am presently unemployed.

Back to the Top 

--

2. A MONSTER OF PEDAGOGY: MY OBJECTIONS TO MAKARENKO AND THE SOVIET EDUCATION SYSTEM

No, whatever you may say, we do live in interesting times! It is now more than a decade since in our unfortunate country, despite the totalitarian dictatorship, there appeared the dissident movement ­ a movement of people who categorically disagree with the official policy of the ruling regime and quite openly express their thoughts, both orally and in writing. Of course, the dissident movement is diverse and the most varied views and opinions are represented in it. But quite a large part of it consists of the movement for democratic freedoms and human rights, which in the Soviet Union is quite rightly linked above all to the name of Andrei Dmitriyevich Sakharov. His noble efforts in the fight against violations of human rights undoubtedly deserves enormous respect and unstinting approval.


Nevertheless, I must observe that even this movement pays hardly any attention to the fight for the rights of virtually the most abused and oppressed part of our population ­ minors, children, and adolescents. And yet no end of work remains to be done on this theme! For the whole of our official Soviet pedagogy is permeated through and through by the spirit of unfreedom and compulsion. It is a great tragedy that authoritarianism, punitive methods, and the belittling of human dignity should have become the norm in most of our schools, children's institutions ­ and, indeed, families. This has already been the situation in the USSR for many decades, and the traditions, alas, go back deep into the mist of time. Moreover, the semi-official state pedagogical theory of the Soviet Union is permeated by the same spirit.

My thoughts settle on the extraordinarily sinister personality who in large measure inspired and created this theory and practice ­ Anton Semyonovich Makarenko. The bard of punitive pedagogy, the destroyer of children's souls who sought to crush all that is human out of growing generations! A man with whom freethinking young people have a special account to settle! I must say that I personally, on reading recently the seven volumes of his published works, was struck by his Jesuitical sadism as well as by his constant innuendos, his evasion of many questions.

And so, dear friends, boys and girls, let us dig deep into the abyss that is the dunghill of Soviet pedagogical dogmas. (Those with weak nerves should don their gas masks.) I warn, however, that these dogmas have already poisoned the life of more than one generation of children and adolescents.

The first dogma is the proposition that between the family and the school, among older members of the family and adults in general, there must be complete agreement on questions of upbringing. That parents should not criticize one another in the presence of their children, that on no account should parents rail against the school or their children's teachers, or one teacher against another, in the children's presence. In practice, this means that if in any dispute the adult is in the wrong it is necessary to lie and act the hypocrite for the sake of the principle that «an adult is always right.» But this is vile ­ to train children from a young age to lie and be hypocritical! And yet they have the gall to demand truthfulness of children! Although the innocent lie of a child is a quite natural and harmless thing, while adults' lies of this kind are very dangerous ­ a united front exerting terrible pressure on the child's mind. And it turns out that there is no one to whom the child can complain. And, indeed, what is the point of complaining when pedagogical dogma imposes the position that in any dispute right is on the side of the adult? The 'united front' system is thoroughly totalitarian, imbued with the spirit of the Domostroi, and highly convenient for a dictatorial regime like ours, based on the oppression of millions of people.

By the way, a similar pedagogical dogma operated with great success at the time of the Domostroi. It was very much the fashion in pre-revolutionary Russia, in Sparta, under the Jesuits, and in many other places. In general, it belongs to reactionary or conservative pedagogy. So the apostles of punitive pedagogy have not thought up anything new, but merely revived something old that had not been properly forgotten. Neither Makarenko nor others of his ilk are original. True, they are greater liars and hypocrites than many of their predecessors.

The next dogma is that the demands and instructions of parents, teachers, and elders must be obeyed ­ without fail, at any price. In particular, in his 'Lectures on Upbringing' Anton Semyonovich declares: 'It is better not to allow an instruction not to be carried out, but if an instruction has not been carried out then it should be repeated more coldly, and there is an end to the matter.' Not a peep about what to do next if the demand is still not carried out. Oh, how crafty is our pedagogical luminary! As the general rule of unconditional obedience has been set, the answer suggests itself ­ compel obedience by any means, including your fists, a belt, a stick, whatever you please.

Incidentally, although Makarenko appears to demonstrate that demands must be reasonable, comprehensible, and feasible, he still emphasizes the necessity of obeying them without reservation or argument; there is no doubt about this. He envisions no right to refuse to carry out any instruction or demand, even one that is excessively onerous, humiliating, cruel, or whimsical. In the family, at school, in the Young Pioneer detachments, everywhere: obedience is the greatest heroism! But so it was in Sparta, under the Jesuits, and in the SS ('My Honor Is Loyalty!').

One of the rules laid down in the Soviet armed forces is as follows: 'An order must be carried out precisely, unquestioningly, and promptly.' Any order ­ even an order that is clearly criminal, even an order to kill innocent civilians ­ as, for instance, in Hungary in 1956 or, according to many testimonies, in 1962 in Novocherkassk. (1) And no arguments or reservations!

Makarenko himself often called his pedagogy a pedagogy of command. He did all he could to stigmatize and pour dirt on the theory of free upbringing, which was displaced in our country by the pedagogy of command at the end of the 1920s and beginning of the 1930s.

An interesting point: in the USSR it is not only Young Pioneers, not only children and adolescents 'on vacation' in Pioneer camps who are divided up into detachments, but also prisoners in Corrective Labor Colonies and in Educational Labor Colonies (that is, labor camps for youngsters), students in special technical colleges, and, it seems, students in the special schools ­ the horrifying 'corrective' institutions for 'difficult' children and adolescents (often 'difficult' only in the sense that they are reluctant to submit obediently to our monstrous education system). The inmates in Makarenko's children's colonies were also divided up into detachments. Very symbolic, is it not?

Much else is also very symbolic. For example, such a 'minor detail' as the demand to observe a daily schedule. Why can't a person lie down to sleep, get up, and so on when he likes? The 'great pedagogue' does not even deign to answer this question. But this is slavery, this is a concentration camp. From childhood a person does not belong to himself. A strict regime of coercive regimentation exists in our country in the armed forces, in places of confinement, and in special institutions. But that is not enough for Makarenko! In his 'Lectures on Upbringing' he demands a similar practice in the family! The existence of such regimentation in children's institutions suffices to demonstrate the militarist and prison-camp character of the Soviet education system. But it seems that Makarenko and his ilk would like to turn even parents into jailers of their own children.

The ideologue of Soviet pedagogy was essentially an ideologue of slavery! In his time, Plato, bard of the slaveholding order, also demanded that no one should do anything without instructions from his superiors, even in matters of daily life. But the monster of pedagogy lived in the 20th century, when such demands are all the more intolerable.

In the institutions run by Anton Semyonovich (as in the concentration camps, as in Stalin's GULAG, as in present-day Soviet labor camps) there was forced labor with the state appropriating the greater part of the surplus product ­ labor using means of production that did not belong to the laborers (but to the state). Thus, the relations of production in those institutions were those of slavery. True, it may be objected that wages were paid. Well, sometimes the serf laborers in the factories and workshops of the 17th to 19th centuries also received wages. In any case, the relations between the inmates of Makarenko's colonies and the state bosses rose no higher than those of serfdom.

It was precisely Makarenko who wrote the sinister words: 'The foundation of discipline is demands without theory'; 'I am an advocate of the demand … without corrections and without mitigation.' (2) He called for the strengthening of punitive pedagogy in the schools.

However, the October Revolution abolished punitive pedagogy. Both the 'Regulations for the Unified Labor School' of 1918 and the 'School Rules' of 1923 stated clearly and categorically: 'No punishments are permitted in the schools.' In the 1920s, the theory of free upbringing was widely promoted. In the West, by the way, this theory has made great headway over the last 15­20 years. Free upbringing, school democracy, and real rights for students were crushed very quickly in our country by victorious Stalinism. And Makarenko, so acclaimed by our official pedagogy, played a crucial role in this development.

And what about such a 'pedagogical innovation' as having any infraction committed by a child discussed at a general assembly? This comes, in particular, from Makarenko's 'March of 1930.' Here we read that at the instigation of their elders the children's collective must bait and badger individual children; on instructions from the higher ups, the majority must persecute the minority. And if you refuse to take part, then you will become a victim yourself! I am convinced that in large degree this was the origin of the campaigns of persecution against 'enemies of the people,' 'rootless cosmopolitans,' Pasternak, Sakharov, 'anti-Soviet' dissidents, 'Zionists,' and so on and so forth. For nothing arises in an empty place, and the habits learned in childhood persist into adult life.

Further. Makarenko had a pathological hostility to sex. He was totally against any sex education for minors. In the same 'March of 1930' he claimed that there was no sexual activity in his institutions: this problem did not exist. Hypocrisy and puritanism stricter than those of Victorian England! The absence of normal sex education of the growing generation in the Soviet Union bears fruit, in particular, in the sexual illiteracy of the majority of spouses and in the ignorance of often elementary things in this field. It is indicative that Anton Semyonovich draws a direct connection between the absence of sexual relations in his commune and 'the strong bonds that unite the children's collective.' And, conversely, according to Makarenko, 'where children do not respect the pedagogues' anything is possible. So respect for pedagogues and ideological indoctrination have replaced sex education in the commune. That is, this sort of platonic love has replaced sexual love.

A rather well-known anecdote comes to mind. At some enterprise or organization people do not want to attend political information sessions or open party meetings. After some thought, the management announce that at a certain day and hour there will be a lecture on the theme: 'The Three Kinds of Love.' Of course, the hall is packed. The lecturer appears and declares: 'Well, comrades, my lecture is on the various kinds of love. The first kind is love between members of the same sex. This is not very interesting. The second kind is love between members of the opposite sex, between a man and a woman. You all know about that, so there is no need to go into it more deeply. The third kind is the love of the people for the party and government. It is this kind of love that I shall now discuss in detail…'

Any normal person, I think, must consciously reject the third kind of love. And if I ended up in a colony of this kind, I would really have to work on it! And I would try to influence the collective accordingly.

I consider that a mass organization of children and adolescents should be created in the Soviet Union for the purpose of fighting for their rights, for the complete abolition of the command pedagogy that suppresses the personality and belittles human dignity, for the free upbringing (above all, self-upbringing and self-management) of free people! At present, of course, such an organization would not be able to operate legally. But I would very much like to believe that sooner or later the totalitarian regime will collapse, and that together with it will perish the monster of our pedagogy, the whole loathsome Soviet system of 'upbringing' ­ with all its despotism, coercion, encouragement of informing, crushing of dissidence, and instilling of the «heroism» of obedience! To believe and do everything possible to speed the day of this collapse!

Vladimir Sirotin
13th School of the City of Kharkov 1978

NOTES

(1) The reference is to the suppression by troops of workers’ strikes and demonstrations that broke out in the city of Novocherkassk in protest against announced increases in food prices. See: Samuel Baron, ‘Bloody Saturday in the Soviet Union: Novocherkassk, 1962’ (Stanford University Press, 2001).

(2) 'Problems of Soviet School Upbringing,' 2nd lecture: Discipline, Rules, Punishments, and Rewards, in vol. 5 of Makarenko's Collected Works, 1951, pp. 144-5.

Back to the Top 

--

3. A MANIFESTO FOR CHILDREN’S AND ADOLESCENTS’ RIGHTS 

During the period of perestroika the situation in the country has continued to deteriorate. Quite a lot has already been said about this. People talk and write about human rights violations affecting various social groups. But, unfortunately, hardly any attention has been paid to the problems of one of the groups with the fewest rights ­ namely, children and adolescents.

Proceeding from the foregoing, we ­ members of a movement that sets itself the aim of fighting for the rights of the young generations in the USSR ­ consider it our duty to share some ideas in the present declaration.

The whole of history clearly shows that relations within the family and relations within society are very closely interconnected. The deep connection between the patriarchal family and the patriarchal organization of the state is a characteristic feature of many class societies. In pre-class, primitive societies, the growing generation almost everywhere enjoyed broad freedom. Children were hardly ever punished. In some places they took part, together with adults and on an equal basis, in settling the affairs of the clan or tribe.

Authoritarian relations between elders and youngsters appeared with the emergence of the state and of class society. Both in the oriental despotisms and in Ancient Rome, fathers had practically unlimited power over their children. As a rule, the degree of cruelty with which adults exercised power over children corresponded to the degree of cruelty in the exercise of state power.

In Russia too, the family (especially the peasant family) was, in essence, a little absolutist state. The head of the family had the labor of family members at his disposal, always acted as the family’s representative, settled disputes, made deals, and paid taxes. He had the right to hire out younger members of the family against their will. The patriarch often treated his ‘subjects’ very harshly. In the family as in society, inequality and hierarchy reigned. All were subordinate to the head of the family, the wife was subordinate to her husband, and children were subordinate to their parents. Relations within the family were in many ways reminiscent of relations between the ruling and the oppressed classes.

Who knows? Perhaps one of the reasons for the victory of Stalinism was that the broad masses had been accustomed since childhood to authoritarian relations and simply knew of no other kind. This was probably one of the most important reasons. For from the second half of the 1920s Soviet society began gradually to ‘turn back in its tracks.’

Of course, we are by no means inclined to bow down before Bolshevism and Leninism. But there took place a monstrous shift in state policy and ideology in quite another direction. As a result, among other things, an end was put to democratic equality in family relations, and also in the field of education. As early as 1926, a new, more conservative code was adopted for marriage and the family. At the beginning of the 1930s, the cult of the family and, in particular, the concept of ‘head of the family’ were finally revived. At about the same time, the authorities began to restore authoritarian pedagogy, suppression of the personality of students in the schools and educational institutions, and the principle that ‘the young must obey their elders.’

In 1935, if not earlier, children aged 12 and above were quite officially made criminally liable and subject to the same penalties as adults, up to and including the death sentence! In 1943 the so-called educational colonies for minors were established; these were the prototype for the special schools and special technical colleges, as these institutions were renamed in 1964.

In the 1930s and 1940s the Domostroi was in fact rehabilitated. In 1936 a law was adopted that prohibited abortion, followed in 1944 by a law that in fact prohibited divorce. Both these laws continued in force until Khrushchev’s time. In the first postwar decade, there was a law that categorically prohibited marriages with foreign citizens. In 1944 school uniform was made compulsory, as well as the segregated teaching of boys and girls in urban schools. (True, the latter was abolished, thank God, under Khrushchev.) Suvorov (army) and Nakhimov (navy) schools were created, modeled on the corresponding pre-revolutionary institutions. All this was part and parcel of the practice of returning to traditional authoritarian and despotic norms that culminated in Stalinist Caesarism ­ an exceptionally conservative and extraordinarily hierarchical society. And, alas, this structure has not changed in any essential way to this day.

We think that it is not so difficult to understand that no transition to democracy will succeed until there are changes in human psychology. And human psychology cannot change for so long as the family and the school largely bring children up to be practically slaves ­ or, at least, to be citizens who provide fertile soil for dictatorship, for a repressive regime in society as a whole, with all the consequences that flow therefrom.

Even the Soviet press now admits, thank God, that the growing generation is in need of protection. True, the matter is taken no further than eloquent demagogic declarations.

Alongside prisoners, military conscripts, and residents in psychiatric hospitals, minors are one of the Soviet population categories most deprived of rights. For the punishment and humiliation of the child there exist a multitude of ‘measures’ and organizations: the Inspectorate for Minors’ Affairs, ‘therapeutic-educational’ institutions, children’s reception centers, special schools, special technical colleges, the children’s room of the militia, the pedagogical council. At the same time, there are no official organizations to protect our rights and freedoms. The Soviet Children’s Fund does not count ­ first, because it is a bureaucratic organization, fully integrated with the vile structures enumerated above; and second, because it deals more with material problems.

If we look closely, we arrive at a quite categorical conclusion: the official structures of our country, the leaders of the pedagogical profession, and sometimes the mass media do not regard children and adolescents as people. We hear only: ‘do not allow children,’ ‘send children off,’ ‘if you want your children to,’ ‘children are directed to such and such a place.’ Children study in schools of one type or another ‘at the wish of their parents.’ They are placed in boarding schools or other institutions, again, at the wish of their parents. It is assumed that a child or adolescent cannot have a will of his or her own. A considerable part of adult society treats a child either as a ‘thing,’ an inanimate object, or as a ‘speaking tool’ (as slaves were called in Ancient Rome).

And the tyranny in the schools! What about the idiotic requirement to wear school uniform, the no less idiotic and humiliating prohibition on wearing adornments and pendants, and so on? And the ‘perestroika’ press, alas, often regards such a situation as normal. For example, you can read there the following: ‘The teacher showed me an invitation to an evening on questions of relations between the sexes that she had confiscated from a student.’ Or: ‘The school principal showed me objects that had been confiscated from students.’ Or: ‘The students were sent home to their parents.’ Why is the author not indignant at the high-handed actions of the teachers? (However, the students are also to blame. Often, unfortunately, they submissively listen to the teachers, go home to their parents, and hand over their things instead of standing up for their rights and sending the teacher or principal to hell.) By what right do they do such things? The young generation must recognize themselves as people and not the property of their elders, the state, or anyone else!

The criminal policy of the state with regard to children and adolescents knows no limits! Despite the declared prohibition on child labor up to the age of 15 or 16 years, they love to use the labor of minors in our country on any pretext or without one. They use it in the fields, on building sites, in vegetable storehouses, and at enterprises (under the guise of practical training, etc.). Minors often work in violation of safety rules or in fields poisoned by pesticides, especially in Central Asia; often they work hours that are long even for adults. Although this issue has been openly discussed in recent years, in the main the situation has not improved, rather the opposite. What is more, it is feared that abuse of the labor of children and adolescents will become much worse with the transition to leasing and the so-called family contract system.

We are deeply convinced that if the labor of minors is to be permitted at all, then only under the following three conditions: it must be voluntary; it must be properly paid; and a minimum age of at least 16 years must be observed.

Well, and what about the so-called official children’s institutions? Children and adolescents are so completely deprived of rights in the USSR that any sign of serious protest on their part may lead to the ‘competent’ agencies labeling them ‘difficult to bring up’ or mentally ill, and then they are free to do whatever they like with them. Over 200,000 adolescents are held in special schools and special technical colleges, and at least 150,000 in children’s psychiatric institutions, which are in fact psychiatric prisons.

The very fact of placement in a special school or special technical college and, indeed, the very existence of such institutions are deeply unlawful, because people are sent there not on the basis of a court verdict with a charge and legal defense, but on the whim of all sorts of commissions and inspectorates. At least 60 percent of the adolescents held in these institutions have committed no crime whatsoever, and yet they are deprived of their freedom.

As for the psychiatric prisons, few of their young inmates are really mentally ill. The bulk of them are there because the adults around them ­ their teachers and sometimes even their own parents ­ found them ‘inconvenient.’ It is no secret what barbaric means of ‘treatment’ are applied to them there: neuroleptic drugs that suppress the human personality, insulin, sulfazine (at least until recently). True, it is rumored that sulfazine has now been banned, but we do not know how things are in reality. There are constant beatings in all these places. And while in recent years the Soviet press has started to write about adult psychiatry, it remains silent on the topic of child and adolescent psychiatry.

Strangely enough, with a barbaric, medieval, and highly reactionary pedagogy, a pedagogy of slavery and the barracks, they still dare to express surprise at the fact that the USSR has virtually the highest level of juvenile crime in the world. This is terrible, of course, but it must be borne in mind that suppression of the personality leads to a sense of humiliation, lack of self-confidence, retreat into the self, slavish submission (in very many, unfortunately), often with a drive to ‘take it out’ on those younger or weaker than or dependent on oneself, or counter-aggression (especially in active individuals), and this is quite natural.

It is bad, however, that this aggression is often directed not against those who suppress our personalities, but against incidental and quite innocent targets. If only this aggression were directed against the pedagogical structures of the state, against specific state agencies such as the police and punitive psychiatry! But we still have work to do to reach that point. The misdirection of aggression is explicable. The population of our country, and especially young people, are very poorly informed in the matter of fighting for their rights. Young people in the West are different in this respect. They are more inclined to rebel against their elders. In the USA, for instance, according to official data, at least a million children and adolescents leave home each year as a result of conflicts with their parents. In our country, no more than 150,000 such cases are recorded annually.

The less developed punitive pedagogy is in a country, the lower the level of juvenile crime. In Britain, for example, where the law is quite strict and young criminals are quite often jailed even for minor offenses, the level of juvenile crime is considerably higher than it is in Germany, where jail sentences are not imposed for similar offenses. It is extraordinarily difficult for an adolescent to end up in jail in Germany; penalties are confined for the most part to fines or probation.

In Sweden, punitive pedagogy and child beating are categorically prohibited by law. The principles of free upbringing are also dominant in Israel. Children are allowed to do practically anything ­ in the family, on the street, and at school. Authoritarian pedagogy is wholly absent. In both these countries, juvenile crime is rare or virtually nonexistent. It is also rare in Holland, which has a very high level of personal freedom.

But even in the USA juvenile crime is less widespread than in the USSR ­ although the USA, alas, has retained remnants of the ‘traditional’ Puritan norms to a greater extent than have many West European countries. These patriarchal and hypocritical norms, thank God, have weakened over recent decades. In this sense, the majority of West European countries are more progressive than America.

In the USSR, by contrast, adolescents are often sent to labor camps for petty infractions that in other countries might not even be regarded as crimes! And this is a natural consequence of decades of a totalitarian regime that seeks to maximize its control over human behavior and crush the human personality underfoot!

It is necessary for people to understand that state authoritarianism, totalitarianism, and tyranny to an enormous extent start with survivals of the Domostroi ideology, with punitive pedagogy, with the family, where the personality is suppressed, parents exercise power over children, and the word and will of the husband or adult are law. Until we have put this crap behind us, there will be no guarantee against a return to dictatorship. A society without rights starts with children and adolescents without rights, and the rights of the child are an inseparable part of human rights in general.

In helping our people to grasp this elementary truth, the movement of children and young people can and must play an indispensible role. The growing generation must inculcate in their elders ­ above all, in their parents and teachers ­ the idea that children and adolescents have a right to free development. Relations between generations must therefore be built solely on the basis of mutual recognition of rights. But our official pedagogy categorically rejects such confidence in natural development. In practice it assumes that man is sinful from birth, just like the official church of state Christianity, especially during the Inquisition. The only difference is that the church sought to ‘save souls’ while our pedagogy ‘educates’ and ‘reeducates.’ But it is well known that if you tell a person over and over again that he is a pig, then he will believe it and start to snort. So let us not be insulted! We won’t snort, of course, but we have the right to respond to distrust in like fashion.

Parents are obliged to respect the rights of their children, to treat them as equals, and categorically renounce all authoritarianism, compulsion, and punishment! All punishment suppresses the personality, oppresses the individual, and trains him to be a slave. It generates the fetishism of so-called parental power, the right of the strong over the weak. It strengthens inequality of rights. For if a husband must not beat or punish his wife for her infractions, then by what right do parents dare to beat and punish their children?! In addition, as many specialists have demonstrated, suppression of the child’s personality, beatings, and punishments cause neurosis, psychological trauma, and in some cases mental illness. They cause stress and torment that lead thousands of children and adolescents to commit suicide in our country every year. (According to certain figures that we managed to obtain from trustworthy sources, in the RSFSR alone at least 1,800 children a year under 14 years of age kill themselves.) Probably at least half of these suicides, and perhaps well over half, are caused by family conflicts, by children being misunderstood by their elders, by punitive pedagogy, oppression, and injustice on the part of parents. And if to this we add to conflicts with teachers, the police, psychiatrists, and so on, we find that at least 90 percent of child and adolescent suicides lie on the conscience of adults! As a result of punitive pedagogy, many minors end up not only in psychiatric prisons but sometimes in the cemetery!

In addition, families, schools, and children’s institutions are not legislative or judicial bodies, and only the latter have the right to punish anyone, and only in accordance with law. After all, we are supposed to be moving toward a state based on law. The young generation must also make its contribution to this cause. The family and the school, parents and teachers cannot and must not perform the functions of the police, KGB, places of imprisonment ­ in general, of the punitive agencies of the state. Children can and must reject all punishments, refuse to submit to them, demonstratively ignore them, rise up against them, and explain to adults why they are harmful.

Human rights in general ­ including, of course, the rights of children and adolescents ­ must be firmly and reliably protected and guaranteed. It stands to reason that we consider sacred our right to make friends with whoever we wish, to return home when we like, to dress as we like, and, finally, to engage in sex freely and in accordance with our own wishes. Our right to read whatever books we like and listen to whatever music we like, not to wear an idiotic school uniform. All these, in the final analysis, are elementary norms of democracy. Let no one ever dare to deny anyone their democratic rights and freedoms!

In general, democracy also, alas, is often understood too narrowly. Even ancient Athenian democracy, which was exceptionally advanced and progressive for its time, gave no political rights to women, the young generation, or slaves, practically excluding these categories from its sphere of action ­ although, to be fair, it should be noted that even for these categories of people life was easier under even such a ‘democracy’ than it was under other forms of government.

But let us not forget that even in democracies the position of women and children under the patriarchal yoke has often hardly differed from that of slaves. Such were slave-owning democracies. Before the civil war slavery existed quite officially in the democratic USA (as it did in many Latin American republics), and right up to the end of the 1960s and beginning of the 1970s many states still officially restricted rights on the basis of race and maintained racial segregation similar to apartheid in South Africa. And the Great French Revolution, in proclaiming the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, by no means extended all these rights to women, the ‘colored’ population of the colonies, or men below a very respectable age. And it was only in the 18th and early 19th century that civilized Europe got round to adopting laws that granted equal rights to Jews. Russia did so only after the February Revolution, but it should be noted that even the program of the Decembrists contained a point concerning the expulsion of all Jews from Russia and the creation for them of a national state in Asia. There was no trace of any recognition of the right of nations to self-determination or of the equal rights of the sexes; mention was made, however, of the establishment of a revolutionary dictatorship. And yet the Decembrists are considered democrats of a sort.

In many democracies of the past, such a high property qualification was set for participation in elections that the majority of the population were in reality excluded from political life. And only in the 20th century were women granted equal political and electoral rights; previously they were deprived of these rights almost everywhere. In the USA they did not vote in elections until 1920, in France not until after World War Two. Finally, it was only toward the end of the 1980s that the civilized world became conscious of the need to adopt a Convention on the Rights of the Child. But better late than never! Now it must be incorporated into law and acted upon ­ so that all people, regardless of age, should feel like people.

Until adults begin to treat us as equals to themselves, we shall get nowhere. (Incidentally, the power of elders over youngsters, of parents over their children is on the whole no less absurd than the power of men over women, of the husband over his wife.) For a system that lacks feedback is doomed. A pedagogy that is designed to suppress the personality, to destroy the human and cultivate the slave in a person, to treat the young generation as robots or inanimate objects is doomed to the desperate resistance of those children and adolescents who are healthy and sane and possess living souls ­ although, unfortunately, antidemocratic structures in the USSR have been so effective that such young people appear to be few. But the present-day official Soviet system of ‘upbringing’ (as well as any other undemocratic, authoritarian pedagogy) must be broken at any price, above all by the active resistance of its victims, by their demonstrative rejection and disobedience!

We may propose in this connection ­ to speak in official language ­ a number of practical measures. There is currently a widespread opinion among some parts of our youth that the country needs a children’s president, who would be elected and given a mandate by children themselves. The idea is undoubtedly a good one. But until it is realized it is no less important to carry out similar measures at a lower level. Why not establish, for instance, the office of school president or children’s president of a district and elect to such positions children with authority who are known for their goodness and democratism? Candidates can be selected (for election, of course, by the children themselves) on the basis of tests and questionnaires. The president could have a small ‘presidential council’ whose job would be to oversee observance of the rights of the children and adolescents in the school, district, etc. The council could be selected by the president himself on the basis of the same qualities and tests. We consider it expedient for this council to have its own newspaper. Our various problems could be discussed in it. By the way, this would be not a bad means of ‘deflating’ and ‘sobering up’ berserck teachers and, indeed, many authoritarian parents. In any case, you feel much more self-confident when you have your own press.

In addition, psychological counseling services might be set up under these councils. A child or adolescent could turn to them for aid and advice, and if necessary they could look into his or her conflicts with adults. The counselors could be adolescents who had undergone special training in psychology, knew how to work with people, and had suitable personal qualities. It might make sense to start by taking on girls, because women are suited by their nature for such work.

Such measures, incidentally, would help to reduce or even eliminate juvenile crime. First, because protection and trust are great things! Second, because juvenile crime is greatly or even predominantly fed by the poisonous roots of the Domostroi ideology, by punitive pedagogy, by the power of elders over youngsters ­ that is, in essence, of the strong over the weak. If these roots are torn up, the noxious plant will wither. If the reaction to the injustice of adults is directed to the proper target, there will immediately be fewer pretexts for aggression against inappropriate targets. Third, such services might (quite independently of the police and courts, of course) help to prevent juvenile crime.

Laws are necessary to regulate the self-management of schools and ethical standards for teachers (e.g., to prohibit teachers from shouting at students or otherwise insulting their dignity). Let us clear educational institutions of the fetid stench of the barracks! Students attend such institutions not to ‘submit to discipline,’ ‘listen to their elders,’ or ‘to be brought up,’ but to obtain knowledge. There should be full equality of rights between students and teachers. Authoritarian pedagogues must be expelled from educational institutions! In order more successfully to overcome the prejudices of the Domostroi ideology and punitive pedagogy, it makes sense to hold student competitions by schools and districts for the best journalistic, literary, or poetic composition directed against Domostroi-type prejudices, punitive pedagogy, any authoritarianism or tyranny in the family, at school, or in children’s institutions ­ in general, in relations between the younger and older generations, or between the sexes.

It goes without saying that pedagogues who in any way persecute students for criticizing them must be promptly deprived of the right to teach. Conversely, those teachers and lecturers who are firmly committed to democratic principles in their intercourse with students, and who also have high popularity ratings among students (based on anonymous questionnaires collected, let us say, once a quarter or once a semester), must receive the maximum rate of pay. Their salaries should be substantially increased.

As for special schools and special technical colleges, these ‘noble’ institutions must be abolished and their inmates freed without delay, with the exception of the few who have committed grave crimes. And clearly those who have not committed any unlawful acts ­ who ended up there on account of their ‘behavior’ or for vagrancy, etc. ­ must be fully rehabilitated. They should also be paid compensation ­ preferably at the expense of the agency that sent them there, be it an educational institution, the police, or a commission for minors’ affairs. Moreover, the money should come out of the culprits’ own pockets.

It is the moral duty of children and adolescents imprisoned in special schools and special technical colleges to raise a rebellion, a campaign of organized mass disobedience until these demands are met. There is no place for children’s concentration camps in a civilized, democratic, law-based state. From a certain age, of course, adolescents must be made to answer for their crimes, but their juvenile status should still be taken into consideration.

In recent years, there has been a growing fashion in the country to extol and restore without restraint the traditions of ‘olden times’ ­ in reality, a Black Hundreds, great-power chauvinist vomit of various shades. All reverence is paid to the Domostroi; in many areas of Russia Cossackdom is being revived. In their boundless impudence, the ‘standard bearers of national tradition’ have gone so far as to introduce corporal punishment. Unfortunately, the bulk of the population are quite tolerant of this, as they are of the establishment in these areas of a totalitarian or authoritarian political regime. Therefore we consider it necessary to organize underground as well as open resistance. Merciless war must be declared against these shameful phenomena ­ not just a cold war but also a hot one.

Through certain channels lists are already being compiled of Cossack atamans and other gangsters who are guilty of human rights violations. We shall fight them by various means. We shall denounce the villains in the press and submit official complaints, although under the present leadership this is futile and pointless. We shall incite young people in the Cossack areas to rebel against ‘foundations’ and ‘traditions,’ against the Cossack circle and the atamans. Finally, if necessary we can and must put up physical, even armed resistance. Of course, our organization is categorically opposed to individual terror, although (we are only theorizing) the murder of two or three of these atamans or of their backers in local government would have a sobering effect on the ‘heroic Great Russian warriors.’ These warriors are heroes only when they are beating up helpless victims or publicly calling for pogroms of the Jews, the expulsion of ethnic minorities, and the suppression of democracy (Cossack atamans Gromov and Kondratenko, for instance). We shall do all we can to prevent the revival of medieval ‘glorious traditions,’ and also to obstruct the activity of the Pamyat Society and of other parties and organizations of the same ilk.

Genuine democracy requires simple, unforced, and civilized relations among people, equality of the sexes, and the abolition of superfluous constraints, embarassed silence, and hypocrisy in matters of sex. As a rule, by the way, the more authoritarian, despotic, or totalitarian the regime in a country, the greater the suppression of sexual freedom. It is no coincidence that marital infidelity by women is punished by the death penalty not only in a number of Moslem countries but also in North Korea. And, conversely, the better observed human rights are in a country, the higher the level of social protection, the freer are its customs. For instance, in contemporary Germany and Sweden adolescents start to experience sexual intimacy quite early ­ girls on average at just under 14, boys at a little over 15. And who is harmed by this?! No one suffers; everyone is satisfied; contraceptives are used as necessary, and quite competently; and civilization does not fall apart but flourishes. There are more problems with this in the USA, where hypocritical Puritan traditions remain quite strong ­ although here too there has been some progress in recent times.

We are absolutely convinced that a genuine democratic revolution is inconceivable without the sexual emancipation of the human personality or even without a sexual revolution. Dictatorial regimes strive to suppress sexual freedom both because they want to control all spheres of life and in order to channel human energy in the direction they need without ‘wasting’ it to no purpose. Historical necessity and the same features operate everywhere: in literature, music, art, painting, fashion, and so on. For example, until recent years rock music was not (to put it mildly) welcomed in our country: it was condemned and persecuted as ‘a manifestation of bourgeois culture.’ But in the 1950s, during the time of McCarthyism, rock music was condemned and persecuted as ‘subversive communist activity.’ Rock music is all the more categorically prohibited in the majority of Moslem states and in North Korea; it was banned in Albania and persecuted in Franco’s Spain and in Chile under Pinochet.

There is no doubt, moreover, that rock music as well as political and sexual freedoms will be extirpated with an iron hand in the Russia of the future should (God forbid) reactionary Orthodox-fundamentalist forces succeed in organizing the country along the lines desired by ‘Ayatollah Solzhenitsyn’ and certain other public figures (Vasilyev, etc.). Things are moving in this direction due to the direct connivance and extreme political shortsightedness of the majority of ‘democrats.’ We deliberately put this word in quotation marks because few of them have really risen above the ancient understanding of democracy, while many of them stand for the establishment of a strong dictatorial regime of the Salazar or Pinochet type. Indeed, the very concept of ‘democracy’ is far from always identical to the concept of ‘human rights.’ God save us from a tragedy taking place in the country (and, consequently, also in the world)!

So there is an indubitable global interaction and interconnection between all these diverse phenomena and democratism ­ if, of course, we mean full, real, and authentic democratism. And from these positions we must fight on all fronts against any sign of despotism, Domostroi ideology, national-patriotism, religious fanaticism, human rights violations, hypocrisy, and Puritanism ­ in whatever guise they may appear! Of course, we can and must respect religious beliefs and the Christian idea, but we cannot permit violations of personal rights or suppression of the freedom of conscience under a religious pretext. We must be Citizens, irrespective of age and sex! And enjoy all the rights of Citizens. And if rights are not granted, then they must be taken ­ that is, exercised ­ without regard to reactionary traditions and ‘foundations’ or to the permission of the powers that be. If necessary, let us talk with them from a position of strength. Human rights, kindness, humanism, freedom, and democracy above all!

We leave our manifesto unsigned. First, because we are a secret organization. Second, because if we are not of interest to certain state agencies then there is no need for us to sign, and if we are of interest then let them find us ­ if, of course, they have the skill and competence to do so, which is however very doubtful. For the time being, at least, it serves no purpose for us to reveal ourselves. Unfortunately, we sense that an offensive of extreme reaction awaits our country. So that it should not pass, we are ready to fight against it in any form it may take, against evil in all its varieties! Let us hope for the victory of our ideals.

Back to the Top 

--

4. A FEW OBSERVATIONS ON THE SITUATION OF CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS IN THE USSR / RUSSIA 

The issue of the rights of children and adolescents is of exceptional importance above all because these rights are an inseparable part of human rights in general. Their full realization is a major purpose of the existence of the left-wing movement and is possible only in a new society, free of all forms of oppression and exploitation. Very often, moreover, children and adolescents have the fewest rights and suffer greater oppression and suppression than other categories of people, despite usually being in greater need of protection than adults.

For me personally, this issue is also of special significance because it played the key role in forming my left-wing convictions and brought me into the left dissident movement while I was still at school.

When you investigate this problematic, you are struck by a very important regularity: any shift in state policy in any direction always has a radical and fully analogous impact in the area of pedagogy and upbringing. Let us take a closer look at this.

In 1918, when the revolution still bore some proletarian features, a series of laws were adopted that should have ensured the protection of children and adolescents and guaranteed their rights. Besides the prohibition on all punishments in the schools (this is more or less widely known), physical punishment in the family was likewise prohibited (this is much less well known). Probably for the first time in history, even parents were deprived by law of the right to beat, flog, and punish their children!

In the first months after October 1917, self-management was introduced and for a certain time really existed in schools and other educational institutions, just as there was workers’ control from below in workplaces. In 1918 ­ 1919, child labor was banned and adolescent labor was sharply restricted (and even for a time completely prohibited).

Students and teachers were assigned equal rights; there were even laws that privileged students, children, and adolescents. After the revolution, legislation was at first humanized: criminal liability for minors was practically abolished.

The question naturally arises: was all this observed in real life, and if so for how long? Let me answer immediately: no, not always, not everywhere, and only for a short time, these efforts were soon abandoned. For a whole series of reasons: the rapid degeneration of the revolution, the curtailment and loss of its proletarian features, the weakening of its democratic and strengthening of its bourgeois and authoritarian components, the backwardness of Russia. And then the hour struck of the Stalinist counter-revolution.

Democracy in education was quickly suppressed ­ as was democracy in all other spheres, as was workers’ control of production. First democratic bodies were forced to adopt the decisions required by the bosses, then they were closed down altogether. Conservative and reactionary behavioral norms were restored. Minors were again recruited for work of various kinds; quite often their labor was exploited. Within a brief period, not only was the fight against patriarchal, Domostroi-type customs abandoned, but they were in practice rehabilitated. (In fact, parental power over children was effectively restored even earlier, by the 1926 Code on Marriage and the Family.) Authoritarianism in the schools and educational institutions was intensified. A system of punishments, up to and including expulsion, was restored. School uniform began to be introduced; it was made universally obligatory in 1944.

What is more, few people realize that in the 1930s in a number of closed educational institutions, and especially from the 1940s even in some provincial schools, corporal punishment returned ­ birching and flogging! This was done semi-officially, although it was not publicized.

Repressive penal measures were again applied to minors. Under the Stalinist repressions, many children and adolescents (together with adults) ended up in prisons, camps, and special settlements, perished there, and were even executed. In 1935 official permission was given for the shooting of minors aged 12 and above! During the terror, especially in the second half of the 1930s, many of the under-age children of arrested parents were sent to special institutions for this category of children, in which the regime differed little (if at all) from that of the prisons and camps. Some perished there. Many others were put in the camps later, when they grew up. (2)

Minors were harshly punished under the decree of August 7, 1932 (the terrible ‘law of five ears of corn’), for petty ‘crimes,’ and in connection with political accusations under the notorious Article 58. (3) In most cases, of course, the ‘crimes’ were quite imaginary. Minors accounted for 19% of all prisoners in the RSFSR in 1937 and 15% in 1939. (4)

1940 witnessed adoption of the monstrous law ‘On State Labor Reserves of the USSR,’ in accordance with which many school students were forcibly sent to trade schools (FZOs ­ factory training schools), often with a semi-military regime. Those who refused training, played truant, or ran away were officially punished by being sent to a labor camp. The Stalin regime struck pitilessly at all categories of the population!

After Stalin’s death and the 20th party congress, some of the most odious practices were softened or abandoned. Many minors (like many adults) were released and rehabilitated. The cruel laws concerning forcible recruitment (labor reserves) and attachment to the workplace were annulled. The special settlements were disbanded. The direct use of violence declined in the schools and even in closed educational institutions and colonies.

Nevertheless, the foundations of the regime did not change. Nor did its policy, theory, and practice in the field of upbringing and pedagogy. Authoritarian conservatism, the view that obedience and submission are the most important things and that disobedience must be crushed remained the basic principle of Soviet pedagogy.

Pedagogical encyclopedias and many works on pedagogy issued in the Soviet Union condemned and ridiculed the concepts of ‘childrens’ rights’ and ‘adolescents’ rights’ as ‘bourgeois’ ­ no less! Although there was demagogic talk of the humaneness of our education system and corporal punishment was officially condemned, emphasis was placed on the need for obedience, for the unquestioning fulfillment of any demands or instructions from educators, teachers, parents, and other elders. ‘Liberalism’ in education was sharply condemned.

Moreover, some literary works and publications devoted to upbringing even contained material approving of physical punishment, ‘strict measures of influence.’ Several times, for instance, I saw such things in the journal ‘Man and Law’ (Chelovek i zakon). (True, this was a very conservative journal even by Soviet standards.) The dual or multilayered morality of Soviet society remained true to itself in all spheres of human life!

Life, however, proceeded on its way. From the 1970s onward, as the dissident movement emerged and spread, there were more and more children and adolescents inclined to stand up for their rights and reject punitive pedagogy, authoritarianism, and unquestioning obedience.

With time this phenomenon became sufficiently widespread to start to seriously worry the Soviet leadership. Let me cite a little known but true fact. At a meeting of top KGB officials at the end of the 1970s or beginning of the 1980s, one general half-jokingly suggested that it might be a good idea to compile a list of the population categories that were most ‘harmful’ to the regime. The others took up his idea with interest. In short, the matter was referred to Andropov himself. An instruction came down to enumerate the most ‘undesirable’ and ‘dangerous’ elements of our society, the people who posed the most serious problems for the regime. The list they came up with was as follows:

1) dissidents

2) disobedient children and difficult adolescents

3) members of ‘bad’ ethnic groups (above all, Jews, of course, and also a number of other groups ­ in particular, those repressed under Stalin)

4) operators and entrepreneurs in the underground economy

5) criminals of all other types

I stress that this is no joke or invention. I heard about it from various sources that were independent of one another. And despite all secrecy this information did leak through to the West. (It was pleasant, by the way, to come so high on the list of enemies of the regime. We were very proud of it.)

There appeared associations and circles that spoke out in defense of the rights of children and adolescents. Not many of them, unfortunately, but they existed. Some even issued manuscript works. For example, our group in Kharkov put out a collection entitled ‘Rights of the Child.’

Of course, crude suppression of human rights in general and of the rights of the growing generation in particular (and in certain respects especially) continued. At all levels!

Unfortunately, the dissidents ­ apart, of course, from a few left-wing, Marxist, and anarchist groups ­ paid extremely little attention specifically to defense of the rights of children and adolescents. Academician Sakharov did write something about how the education system exhausted students without giving them any real understanding; He also complained that youngsters were brought up to have excessive reverence for authoritative figures. Occasionally there was something in the writings of other bourgeois democrats. However, they ignored many of these questions, and some denied these rights altogether, opposing them or favoring serious restrictions on them. Such attitudes were by no means confined to the strongly right-wing, anti-democratic section of the dissident movement.

After perestroika burst upon us, something began to be said in public (mostly from 1988 onward) about children’s rights and their widespread violation. But, first, not enough was said. And, second, there was no substantial change in the situation despite condemnation of authoritarian, punitive methods of upbringing in the press and other mass media.

Some shocking statistics were revealed. For example, we learned that in our country two million children were cruelly beaten every year by their parents. About 200,000 of them received serious injuries, in many thousands of cases resulting in death. This, naturally, did not include ‘light’ corporal punishments or ‘moderate’ beating.

Survey data started to be published showing how widespread beatings, punishments, and humiliations of children and adolescents were in the family. According to one such survey, conducted at the end of 1987 and publicized in the magazine ‘Family’ (Semya) (1988, no. 3), at least 60% of parents use flogging, beating, or other physical punishments. (7,000 schoolchildren in grades 3 ­ 10 were questioned anonymously in many cities of the country.)

Nevertheless, the official press, as well as some pedagogical publications, periodically condemned repressive upbringing and demands for unquestioning obedience, though often with insufficient consistency and sometimes with reservations.

After the collapse of the USSR, the situation in post-Soviet Russia again started to change for the worse. Increasingly often, there appeared statements and recommendations taken from the Domostroi and other similar works. In many cases, the pedagogical literature began openly to extol ‘severity,’ punitive-repressive methods, and corporal punishment. Quite openly. The ‘works’ of many reactionaries, including reactionary pedagogues, were widely disseminated ­ authors from various countries and eras, from John Chrysostom and the priest Sylvester (author of the Domostroi) to the well-known American obscurantist Dr. James Dobson (who may well, in fact, be better known and more highly respected here in Russia than he is in the West or the USA). (5)

Official propaganda again focused exclusively on ‘obedience,’ authority, and so on. It was already like this under Yeltsin, and when Putin came to power it became even more emphatic. The theme of protecting the rights of children and adolescents practically disappeared even from ‘democratic’ media such as the newspaper Novaya gazeta and the radio station Ekho Moskvy, and in effect became the preserve of a tiny number of human rights publications.

But the facts remain extremely disturbing. As before, some two million children are savagely beaten by their parents every year.

According to human rights organizations, the numbers of child and adolescent suicides doubled in the course of the 1990s! (In the 1980s there were roughly 2,000 suicides a year among children up to 12 years alone, in the whole of the USSR. (Note that the population of Russia is only a little over half that of the USSR.) The same sources report that 16% of school students suffer physical violence at the hands of teachers (many more than during the ‘era of stagnation’ or perestroika), while 22% regularly experience strong moral-psychological pressure.

At least one million children in Russia were working during the 1990s.

Many schools have reintroduced or are reintroducing compulsory school uniform, which was abolished at the beginning of the 1990s.

Under Putin there was a revival of such a vile and repulsive thing as ‘curfew’ for adolescents: between 10 pm and 6 am minors are not allowed to be on the streets or in ‘public places’ unless accompanied by adults. In some regions of Russia this was introduced long ago. Thus, in Moscow the curfew has been officially in force since 2003. However, it is now being enforced more strictly.

This practice also existed in the USSR, since Stalin’s time, but ­ at least during the era of stagnation ­ it was not enforced very strictly. The curfew started at 9 pm during the school term or at 10 pm during vacations and ended at 6 am. I recall that we broke it constantly and no one, so far as I know, was detained for doing so. Toward the end of perestroika, the measure was legally abolished.

Recently, already under Medvedev, regional authorities were given the right to introduce curfews, and they were even recommended from the very top, on the mocking pretext of protecting the rights of minors! It is difficult to imagine viler cynicism! A number of regions have now legalized this measure.

The average study load in schools and educational institutions has increased. Even in Soviet times it was quite heavy ­ heavier than in the West ­ and recently it has increased. At the same time, the authorities do all they can to ensure that only the elite should receive a really good education! This is the main reason for introducing the Unified State Examination, raising fees for higher education, for separating baccalaureate and magistrate degree courses, and for much else.

Meanwhile, the state of health of the population in general and of school students in particular has seriously deteriorated in the 1990s and 2000s by comparison with late Soviet times. The morbidity of minors has risen considerably on the majority of indicators. There has been much more social distress in the country in the last 17 years than there was during the preceding decades ­ and that, of course, applies to children and adolescents too.

The fall of already low living standards as a result of criminal ‘reforms’ has had a harsh impact on the bulk of the people, and especially on children and adolescents. Truly, there are no limits to the criminal policy of the Russian state and ruling class!

NOTES

(1) During the period of forcible Georgianization in Abkhazia, Abkhaz children were beaten by Georgian teachers for speaking their native language.

(2) Children might escape this fate if taken in by relatives or neighbors.

(3) Under the ‘law of five ears of corn,’ a starving peasant taking a few grains from the fields was liable to imprisonment or execution. Article 58 of the Penal Code covered ‘counter-revolutionary activities.’

(4) See V. Zheromskaya, Demograficheskaya istoriya Rossii v 30-e gody. Vzglyad v neizvestnoe (2001).

(5) Dobson’s Ph.D. is in child psychology; he poses as an expert on family life. He is also an evangelist of the religious right. His advocacy of spanking children has aroused controversy.

Back to the Top 

Special Issue No. 45. November 2009. Children and Adolescents in the USSR and Post-Soviet Russia (in collaboration with Vladimir Sirotin)


You are here: Home Archives Research & Analytical Supplement to Johnson’s Russia List Special Issue No. 45. November 2009. Children and adolescents in the USSR and post-Soviet Russia (in collaboration with Vladimir Sirotin)

About

Contact

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.