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Moscow pitches patriot games

An ambitious $6-million plan designed to 'increase patriotism' strikes critics as a throwback to Soviet era.

By Fred Weir Special to The Christian Science Monitor / March 22, 2001



MOSCOW

Sasha Khaliulin, a young computer specialist in Moscow, is fed up with his homeland.

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"I've become convinced that Russia has no future," he says. "Nothing ever works in this place. You build something, it sinks into mud. The country moves from disaster to disaster, and things only get worse. Staying here would mean accepting permanent failure." Mr. Khaliulin plans to emigrate to Canada or another Western country as soon as possible.

Moscow is ready to spend millions to change his mind, however, with a sweeping and controversial new effort.

Call it Retro Russia. Or Patriot Games. Or Happy Days are Here Again.

Whatever the rubric, President Vladimir Putin's recipe for restoring Russian pride and nationalism includes far more than bringing back the old Soviet national anthem.

Remember those massive Soviet-era military parades, with columns of tanks and missiles rumbling past cheering crowds? Or the nationwide youth organization that taught children to salute, strip down a rifle, and chant: "Always ready for defense and labor"?

That's the sort of mass attitude the Kremlin hopes to bring back.

Earlier this month, the Kremlin unveiled its most comprehensive effort to date, with a $6 million program designed to "reeducate" the population.

An official statement of the program's goals says it aims to counter a wave of "indifference, individualism, cynicism, unmotivated aggression, and ... disrespect for the state" since the collapse of the Soviet Union a decade ago.

Among the solutions, are more lavish military holidays, the reinstatement of Soviet-era military cadet training in high schools, and cash awards for "patriotic" artists, journalists and filmmakers.

The $6 million plan

A top-level commission, headed by Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko, has been given $6 million to devise ways to heighten patriotic feelings and stimulate a readiness to sacrifice for the motherland. The five-year project could ultimately spend $50-million or more to reshape the education system, influence the mass media, and create a net of "military-patriotic" youth clubs throughout the country.

"The main goals of this program are to consolidate social stability, revive the national economy, and strengthen Russia's defense capacity," says Deputy Culture Minister Anatoly Rakhayev, a member of the commission. "This is a top priority for the state, and we can only hope we are not getting started too late."

President Putin has outlined an ambitious strategy to revive Russia's moribund economy and restore its Soviet-era status as a global power. But while most of his reforms remain on paper, the education project appears already to be taking off. Mr. Rakhayev says his ministry will oversee the writing of a new history textbook for schools - to emphasize past military glory, such as the Soviet Union's victory in World War II, and Russia's traditional place as a great power on the global stage. "Russians need exposure to their own history to help them regain their bearings," he says. "The present generation has lost its ideals through the shocks of the past decade. It's a terrible thing to have nothing to believe in."