08/20/2009, 00.00
RUSSIA
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Religion is back in Russian schools, but under the aegis of the Kremlin

A new subject will be introduced this year into 12 thousand schools across the Federation: "spiritual and moral formation". By 2012 all Russian schools will have to offer the course that provides the opportunity to study Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Judaism or Buddhism. For religious minorities it is another sign of the alliance between the Kremlin and the Moscow Patriarchate.

Moscow (AsiaNews / Agencies) - More than 90 years after the Soviet revolution, religion will become an official discipline in public schools in Russia within three years. Elementary school students will be able to follow courses of "spiritual and moral formation" by choosing to study four traditional religions: Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Judaism or Buddhism. The lessons will develop along three formative lines: the foundations of religious culture, the foundations of one of the traditional religions, the foundations of public ethics.

The return of religion to schools in Russia is taking place under the aegis of the Kremlin. President Dmitry Medvedev in person made the announcement at the meeting with the leaders of traditional religions in the country on July 24. Andrei Fursenko, Federation Minister for Science and Education, is refining the details of the pilot project, starting in September, that will cover 18 regions and 12 thousand schools, one fifth of the institutions of the Federation. The cost will be "hundreds of millions of rubles" that will be partly covered in the federal budget. The Minister is anxious to stress that "this money will not be wasted" but used to produce new textbooks and to cover the salaries costs for 44 thousand teachers, who will be selected from among the teaching staff already in service and will follow a specific training for the school year 2009-2010. After the ban of the Soviet period, religion is back at school. In fact already in August 2006, the regions of Belgorod, Bryansk, Kaluga and Smolensk had included the history of Russian orthodoxy in their optional study courses. In response to complaints raised by religious minorities, particularly the Muslim community, Minister of Education Fursenko responded at the time that "children should know the history of religion and religious cultures," adding that "the textbooks would have dealt with the religions of the world as a whole, with particular attention to Russian Orthodoxy" .

Three years after that first experiment, the announcement of the introduction of the "spiritual and moral formation " in schools has again alarmed minority confessions who see the new project as a  Kremlin attempt to affirm the orthodoxy as the key pillar of national identity. According to recent polls, 72.6% of Russians consider themselves Orthodox, but only 3% of them go to church every week. Despite this, the Kremlin supports and promotes the emerging protagonism of the Patriarchate of Moscow. In this way, Medvedev intends to cement common values and national identity while seeking support for government policies to stem the disintegration of social fabric and to respond to the disorientation of Russian youth.

Medvedev assures that "all force and pressure [to attend the courses] will be considered completely unacceptable and counterproductive," the minister Fursenko stresses that "all learning materials will aim to please the different denominations, as well as atheists." The same applies to the textbooks: "Even if they are prepared by the Orthodox – says Fursenko - representatives of religions will be free to express their opinion regarding them".

 
 
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