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Not for kids. Schoolchildren as fodder for totalitarianism

The war with Ukraine has been accompanied by an unprecedented wave of militaristic and totalitarian propaganda in Russian schools. Among today’s soldiers, there are many of yesterday’s conscripts. At the same time, teenagers are being put behind bars for the slightest disagreement with the government line. Former Soviet political prisoner Alexander Podrabinek reminds us that the persecution of children and adolescents was an important part of the Soviet totalitarian system, and today's Russia is merelyreviving the forgotten practice.

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The punitive Russian state looks at children harshly and distrustfully. According to the authorities, children might become effective enemies of the regime, so it is never too early to subject them to repression. Last year, 173 minors were detained at a rally in defense of Alexei Navalny in Moscow alone. Children have also been detained at recent protests against the war with Ukraine. They are being reported to and registered by the police and subjected to psychological pressure at school.

We can also recall the recent conviction of 16-year-old Nikita Uvarov to 5 years in prison for «terrorism.» His entire crime was putting up leaflets in defense of political prisoners on the local FSB building and discussing the ideas of anarchism on social media. No one is surprised by adults being jailed for no reason if there are political motives in the case. But children? Uvarov was 14 years old at the time of his «crime.»

People are not used to it yet. Many do not understand the meaning of such intimidating punishments for peaceful or even playful confrontations with the authorities. Unfortunately, this lack of understanding comes from an inability to project the past into the future.

«All the best for the children!» was a slogan anyone who lived under Soviet rule remembers well. The slogan was a lie, like all Soviet slogans, but behind its ostensible humanism was a harsh intent by the state. It meant that children, if possible, should be placed under the constant tutelage of the state. Tutelage does not necessarily mean protection and kindness. Soviet tutelage meant indoctrinating children with ideology and making sure they behaved in a «correct manner» and were properly punished for ideological apostasy.

The totalitarian state sees its ideal in absolute control of all spheres of human activity, from political expression, artistic creativity, and religious beliefs to child-rearing, family life, and sexual behavior. Everything, down to the smallest detail, must be under state control, thought out, executed, foreseen and, if necessary, forestalled.

Everything, down to the smallest detail, must be under state control, thought out, executed, foreseen and, if necessary, forestalled.

The ideal, as we know, is virtually unattainable. What Plato and Campanella had imagined with such brutal totalitarian inspiration in their day could not even be implemented by the communists of North Korea. The Soviet Union, overtaking the Nazi regime, came as close to the ideal as it could, but thank God collapsed just in time.

The current Russian government is trying to replicate the Soviet experience, and it has succeeded in some respects. Unwilling to invest enough of the people's money to create an infrastructure for children's recreation, education, and health care, the authorities immediately moved on to the most important thing for them: repression of freedom-loving behavior. There is no money for orphanages and medicines for seriously ill children, but there is always money for children's prisons.

Poster "Thanks to Comrade Stalin for a Happy Childhood!", 1938
Poster "Thanks to Comrade Stalin for a Happy Childhood!", 1938

As a matter of fact, this is nothing new. During the Red Terror, the Chekists did not hesitate to shoot hostages, including children. The most famous example is the 1918 execution of the children of the former Emperor Nicholas Romanov. After the Civil War, millions of children were left without parents. The state picked them up to raise them as soldiers of the revolution. The People's Commissar of Education Anatoly Lunacharsky was quite clear on that point:

«It is not only that we are surrounded by a sea of children's grief, but also that we run the risk of turning these children into antisocial, antisocial people, fundamentally corrupt, enemies of the healthy way of life... unscrupulous people who will easily migrate to the camp of our enemies.»

The Bolsheviks were prudent in all matters concerning the preservation of their power. The cause was placed in safe and proven hands. Not some pedagogue's or doctor's, but those of Felix Dzerzhinsky, chairman of the Cheka.

Children have always been fodder for the totalitarian regime. Those who succumbed to the ideological treatment received support and «a ticket to life.» Those who could not be properly processed were considered enemies and written off. In the famous Solovki Labor Camps (SLON), an in-camp labor colony for children was organized back in 1928.

In December 1929 the chairman of the Political Red Cross K. Peshkova received a letter about the conviction of a group of teenagers under Articles 58.10 (anti-Soviet propaganda and agitation) and 58.11 (organizational activities aimed at committing counter-revolutionary crimes) of the RSFSR Criminal Code. The oldest of the convicted persons was 16 years old. They had purportedly committed the crimes in 1927, i.e. when they were 12-13 years old. Five of the boys received two-year sentences in the Solovki penal colony.

On April 7, 1935, the government issued decree number 3/598 «On measures to combat juvenile delinquency.» This decree allowed children to be prosecuted from the age of 12. And not only prosecuted, but also executed. This possibility was hidden behind the wording about the capacity to stand trial «with the application of all measures of criminal punishment.» The death penalty was in those days a very popular «measure of punishment» among judges.

The law allowed children to be prosecuted from the age of 12. And not only prosecuted, but also executed

Of course, judicial repression was only the tip of the iceberg of arbitrariness and violence against the civilian population. Without any court decisions, the children of «kulaks,» «enemies of the people,» «traitors to the fatherland,» and oftentimes simply Red Army soldiers returned from captivity shared the fate of their parents. During the deportations of the peoples accused of treason (Crimean Tatars, Kalmyks, Chechens, Ingush, Meskhetian Turks, and others), children of all ages, from babies to teenagers, were sent by rail along with adults. Many died of starvation and disease en route. The same fate was in store for the children of Jehovah's Witnesses, who were also deported to remote areas of Siberia.

In the post-Stalin era, the grip of repression loosened somewhat. But the ideological indoctrination and the daily brainwashing in kindergartens and schools did not diminish. The authorities were faced with the same task: to separate the serfs from the disobedient. To this end, a special ideological organization existed: the «October children» units for primary school children, Pioneer organizations for middle school age, and the Young Communist League (Komsomol) for high school students. It was not easy to resist joining those organizations. A refusal to participate in «social life» aroused suspicion. There were numerous reported cases of Baptist, Pentecostal, and other unregistered religious children being bullied and beaten in schools for refusing to wear the October star or the Pioneer tie.

The Soviet authorities did not stop at executing minors either. The law did not allow imposing the death penalty on minors under the age of 18. However, on February 17, 1964 the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR adopted a resolution that permitted the application of the death penalty - the shooting - to minors. Six months later a 15-year old teenager was shot for committing a double murder. The law was applied retroactively - the crime had been committed before the Supreme Soviet resolution was issued.

Today's state policy toward children is increasingly reminiscent of the Soviet policies. Thousands of children died in the war in Chechnya and during the bombing of schools, hospitals, and other civilian infrastructure by Russian military aircraft in Syria. Hundreds of children have died as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The airstrike on a maternity hospital in Mariupol was a symbol of cold indifference to children's lives. The Russian government considers it an unavoidable damage and does not regret the loss of children's lives.

More and more attention is being paid by the state to «patriotic» education, the goal of which is to brainwash children with ideology, subjugate their will, and place the unruly and free on the margins of society with the prospect of a future life in a prison-camp system.

Fortunately, ideological «educators» lack imagination. Their methods of patriotic indoctrination are stupid, ridiculous, and ineffective. The Kaluga Oblast Ministry of Education recommended that regional schools hold a lesson based on Vladimir Putin's February 21 speech. The Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation recently released the Fundamentals of State Policy to Preserve and Strengthen Traditional Russian Spiritual and Moral Values, a document so helpless and ridiculous that the ministry even had to retract it soon afterwards.

Attempts to revive Soviet-style children's and youth ideological organizations have so far been unsuccessful. There is no mass participation of children in them. Children are much more interested in the availability of the Internet, social media, and unsupervised communication with each other. In fact, this had always been the case, but there was no such thing as World Wide Web before. Today it exists, to extreme irritation of the builders of the authoritarian ideological state. That is why the authorities make great efforts to restrict freedom on the Internet, particularly under the pretext of caring about children.

Alongside restrictive measures, repressive measures are also being used. Criminal and administrative penalties for expressing one's views on the Internet have become commonplace in Russia. This is true for children as well. Teenagers who are not afraid to criticize the authorities come under operative investigations by law enforcement agencies, and in many cases, are eventually subjected to criminal prosecution. The goal of the «law enforcement» is the same: to isolate the free and brave from society, and to guide the submissive and cowardly on the path of servitude to the despotic regime.

The goal of the «law enforcement» is still the same: to isolate the free and brave from society, and to guide the submissive and cowardly to the path of servitude to the despotic regime

Nikita Uvarov from Kansk was arrested along with two of his friends. His friends quickly «confessed» to everything, gave the testimony needed by the investigation, and were released. Uvarov stubbornly refused to admit his guilt. Thus, he became an enemy of the state and got five years in prison.

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