KOMMERSANT

Patriotism Has Its Price In Russia

Step up for Mother Russia!
Step up for Mother Russia!
Anastasia Yakoreva

MOSCOW — This month, a new topic for discussion appeared on the regulation.gov.ru website: it was about plans for “patriotism education” beginning in 2016. The authors of the plan, which is slated to continue through 2020, say patriotism education in the country must be improved.

Here's their explanation: “In the current difficult geopolitical situation and the attempts of our geopolitical competitors to destabilize the internal political situation in our country, we need to increase Russians’ willingness to defend their country’s interests.”

Sergei Pospelov, the program’s director, is asking for twice as much funding for patriotism education as his predecessor, or about $31 million over the next five years. He has forecast that the increase in spending will lead to an 8% increase in the number of Russians who are proud of their country. The project is being spearheaded by the Ministry of Youth.


After a closer analysis of the Ministry of Youth’s expenses, we learned that one of its largest outlays was for the organization of a forum called “Arctic Expeditions” for “young people who are interested in the Arctic region.” The forum was held at Seliger Lake, which is in the Volga Basin and quite far from the Arctic. There were 150 participants, and the ministry spent about $940 per participant, per day.


Another major expense for the Ministry of Youth is for grants in a nationwide competition for youth projects. Among the winners were an infographic on “15 years of Putin," and a project from the Youth Center Against Extremism.


“The question of how effective our events are is very important to us,” we were told by the Youth ministry’s press officer. When we asked how effective any program that reaches less than one percent of young people could be, the response was: “Listening to young people is our primary role. At the moment we are continuing to modernize our activities.”


In 2010 and 2011 there was much discussion about the pro-Putin contractors the Youth Ministry worked with. In 2014, the former director of the Youth Ministry stepped down, under suspicion of corruption. The head of the national anti-corruption committee asked several agencies to investigate, because there was clearly a kickback scheme. The situation today is no different.

In Moscow — Photo: Tinou Bao

Money for love


Another major source of funding for patriotism projects are presidential grants for non-profits. In 2014, nearly half of the non-profits that received presidential grants had missions that were explicitly related to the promotion of patriotism. The sum devoted to patriotism - $2.4 million - was more than twice as much as the previous year.


The 2013 grantees have all completed their projects, and before spending more money on patriotism, it is useful to evaluate the impact of these projects. One grantee, the Siberian Press Club, received $33,000 to run a program meant to “develop patriotism among youth in Siberia and the Far East.” The organizers promised to run a photo competition called “What do I love about Russia?”, a survey called “How do I envision Russia in 10 years?” and a competition for proposals around the idea “How to improve life in my home region?” The survey, it turned out, was simply conducted on social media. The Siberian Press Club’s website hasn’t been updated since June of 2014.


Still, it is undeniable that patriotism in Russia has risen dramatically in the past several years. In a recent survey, 68% of respondents said “yes” to the question “Is Russia currently a superpower?” That is the highest positive answer since the surveys started in 1999. But it’s hard to connect that with an increased investment in patriotism projects. “We don’t evaluate the effectiveness of our projects,” said Pavel Krasnorutsii, a representative of the Russian Youth Union, who is one of the people who decides who gets a grant. “We just make sure that the schedule is respected and take care of disbursing the grants.”


It’s even harder to evaluate the results of the 2014 projects. One non-profit received a grant to “search for models of patriotic education that are appropriate for the realities of modern Russia.” Another received a grant to “assemble and catalog all existing websites that are related to the promotion of patriotism in the Russian Federation.” This year, there is even going to be a new web portal: patriot.online, built at a cost of $37,000.

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Queen Elizabeth II with UK PM Boris Johnson at a reception at Windsor Castle yesterday

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Hej!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.

[*Danish]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.

• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.

• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.

• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.

• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.

• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."

• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

98

For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.

🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.

😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.

🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.

— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.

🇮🇷🎓  IN OTHER NEWS

Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Thoughts on Facebook's new name? Zuckerverse? Tell us how the news look in your corner of the world: Drop us a note at info@worldcrunch.com!

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