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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 Hungary.

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 balanced light.

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 European resistance."

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 ``Holocaust."

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 textbooks.

``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 said.

Jewish themes are not mandatory, except in a fifth-grade course on ancient history.

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 planning stage.

(JTA staff writer Peter Ephross in New York contributed to this report.)

© JTA Inc., 2000. May not be reproduced without written permission.


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