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Study: Russian schools more tolerant
Study: Russian schools open up, but don't teach much about Jews
By Lev Gorodetsky
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
February 4, 2001
MOSCOW Russian textbooks devote an increased amount of
time to human rights but
contain only sparse and splintered accounts about Jews, according to a
just-released study conducted by the
American Jewish Committee.
The books often ``ignore the multicultural character of Russia past and
present," the study notes, and
``references to Jews and Judaism are usually fragmentary."
The release of the report, the fifth in a series of studies on Jewish
themes in schools in the former Soviet
bloc, comes as an AJCommittee delegation arrived in Russia to discuss the
study with Russian officials and to lobby
for curriculum reform in Russian schools.
Previous AJCommittee reports dealt with Jewish themes in Poland, the
Czech Republic, Slovakia and
During the Soviet era, Jews rarely were mentioned in school textbooks,
except in passages that dealt with
ancient history. Sections about World War II portrayed Slavs and Communists
as the primary victims of the Nazis,
while Israel was described as an aggressive enemy of the Soviet system.
That picture has changed since the raising of the Iron Curtain.
Many textbooks now refer to the Nazi genocide against the Jews, and many
now portray Israel in a more
One textbook for use in high schools refers to the ``death camps" where
the Nazis killed 11 million people,
``Jews and Slavs above all."
Another makes reference to the 1942 Wannsee Conference, where the Nazis
approved the ``Final
Solution," and calls the Warsaw Ghetto uprising ``one of the first acts of
The same book details Israel's victory in the 1967 Six-Day War and the
Jewish state's economic success,
and shows a photo of the 1993 handshake between Israeli Prime Minister
Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian Authority
President Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn.
But the books rarely use the words ``Zionism," which many Russians still
interpret negatively, and
References to Jews and Judaism are not as positive in a widely used
textbook on world history, which
accuses Jews of establishing a ``moral double standard" because the ``main
idea of Judaism is the idea of their status
as the chosen people over all others."
Jewish themes -- including anti-Jewish pogroms -- receive little mention
in many textbooks on 19th- and
20th-century Russian history. In several textbooks, Judaism is not listed as
one of Russia's religions.
The contributions of Russian Muslims also receive short shrift in the
``Overall, the report is positive, especially if you compare it with the
olden days," Lev Krichevsky, the
author of the report, told JTA.
But if you compare the situation to what is needed in a more open,
liberal society, ``which Russia wants to
be, there is still a long way to go," said Krichevsky, a former JTA Moscow
correspondent who now is director of
Russian affairs for the Anti-Defamation League.
Just how far Russia still needs to go is illustrated by the experience
of Marina, who graduated from high
school last year in Siberia without knowing much about Jewish life.
``I learned nothing about Jews in school, except that the Nazis during
World War II put them in
concentration camps and killed them. Our teachers were just absolutely
unwilling to touch Jewish themes," Marina
Jewish themes are not mandatory, except in a fifth-grade course on
As the report notes, there is a government plan to increase tolerance
throughout Russia. If implemented, the
``Formation of Tolerant Attitudes and Prevention of Extremism in Russian
Society'' would provide new material on
tolerance, the Holocaust and intergroup dialogue for Russian schools.
But the program, supported by the government and the umbrella Russian
Jewish Congress, is still in the
(JTA staff writer Peter Ephross in New York contributed to this report.)
© JTA Inc., 2000. May not be reproduced without written permission.