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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.

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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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Forced Labor, Forced Exile: The Cuban Professionals Sent Abroad To Work, Never To Return

Noel, a Cuban engineer who had to emigrate to the faraway island of Saint Lucia, tells about the Cuban government's systematic intimidation techniques and coercion of its professionals abroad. He now knows he can never go back to his native island — lest he should never be allowed to leave Cuba again.

Forced Labor, Forced Exile: The Cuban Professionals Sent Abroad To Work, Never To Return

Next stop, Saint Lucia

Laura Rique Valero

Daniela* was just one year old when she last played with her father. In a video her mother recorded, the two can be seen lying on the floor, making each other laugh.

Three years have passed since then. Daniela's sister, Dunia*, was born — but she has never met her father in person, only connecting through video calls. Indeed, between 2019 and 2023, the family changed more than the two little girls could understand.

"Dad, are you here yet? I'm crazy excited to talk to you."

"Dad, I want you to call today and I'm going to send you a kiss."

"Dad, I want you to come for a long time. I want you to call me; call me, dad."

Three voice messages which Daniela has left her father, one after the other, on WhatsApp this Saturday. His image appears on the phone screen, and the two both light up.

The girls can’t explain what their father looks like in real life: how tall or short or thin he is, how he smells or how his voice sounds — the real one, not what comes out of the speaker. Their version of their dad is limited to a rectangular, digital image. There is nothing else, only distance, and problems that their mother may never share with them.

In 2020, Noel*, the girls' father, was offered a two-to-three-year employment contract on a volcanic island in the Caribbean, some 2,000 kilometers from Cuba. The family needed the money. What came next was never in the plans.

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