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This Is How a Russian School Principal Talked to Her Students About Patriotism

Principal Kira Gribanovskaya drops some truth bombs on her foolish pupils. Photo: Alexey Navalny

At a school outside Bryansk, about 350 miles southwest of Moscow, the principal sat down last week with a class of students to talk about anti-corruption activist and opposition leader Alexey Navalny.

Why the sudden heart-to-heart? Police had just grabbed Maxim Losyev, one of the school’s students, straight out of the classroom for urging classmates to attend an unsanctioned demonstration on March 26 calling for an investigation into corruption allegations against Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Losyev also created a student group in support of Alexey Navalny, whose Anti-Corruption Foundation published an investigation earlier this month accusing Medvedev of masterminding a vast and illicit private empire.

In an effort to prevent further activism, the school’s principal — reportedly a woman named Kira Petrovna Gribanovskaya, referring to herself in the third person — discouraged the class from supporting Navalny, and even questioned the room’s intelligence and patriotism, when students challenged her assertion that Russia is in the middle of a “civil war.”

One of the students recorded the meeting with Gribanovskaya, and leaked the footage on social media. This weekend, the news site Meduza transcribed the nine-minute encounter. You can read the Russian transcript here, and listen to the Russian audio below.

* * *

Principal: Raisa Aleksandrova [the homeroom teacher], may I say something? This is for those who have taken an interest in Navalny’s activities: Okay, he proposes that we smear our top leaders. He says, “No to corruption” and so on. But what specific actions does he propose? Assemble for a protest? Tell [Medvedev] what a jerk he is?

Student 1: He just wants answers. He filmed a video about Medvedev, and he wants answers from the authorities.

Principal: And so what?

Student 1: And the authorities are silent.

Principal: No, hold on. If you film a video about Kira Petrovna, and write about how she’s this way and that way, how she’s not doing her job, and how there are cockroaches running around all over the school, and you come out to protest, demanding answers — do you think I’ll come out to have a conversation with you?

Student 2: No.

Principal: And he [Medvedev] won’t, either! It’s a joke! A political platform is about concrete actions: strengthening the economy, developing various plans. What Navalny is doing is a pure provocation. Do you get it? You still don’t understand this. I’ll tell you this straight: right now, our economic situation is very unstable. It’s an economic pit. And why’s all this happening? You’ve taken social studies and all that. You know that we’re basically living under an economic blockade in this country. But I want to hear what you think. What’s going on right now?

Student 2: A crisis.

Principal: And what’s causing this crisis?

[Unintelligible voices]

Student 2: Sanctions, the European Union, this whole blockade.

Principal: One more time — what’s the cause? The European Union, right? And our leader is managing a very stable and very strong policy. He has an enormously high rating on the world stage. Due to what? Due to foreign policy. [Russia’s] domestic policy, of course, is rather weak. Why? Well, because there’s no money. And we’re feeling that now, most of all…

Student 2: And what exactly is our foreign policy? America is against us. Europe is against us.

Principal: And why’s that? Tell me: what’s the reason?

Student 2: Because of Crimea. We basically took it.

Principal: And do you think that’s bad?

Homeroom teacher: But did we really take it? There was a referendum there…

Principal: Okay, tell me what happened, from your point of view. I actually want to know. Tell me. Maybe there’s some side to this that I don’t know.

Student 2: I mean, why did they impose sanctions against us?

Principal: You just answered your own question a moment ago.

Homeroom teacher: As a show of force. Because they wanted to show their strength.

Student 2: Because of Crimea.

Principal: You know why… And why did the whole war in Ukraine start in the first place?

Student 2: Well, because of the revolution…

Principal: Because of the what?

Student 2: The transition of power.

Principal: Kid, you haven’t read anything about this and you don’t know a thing. You’ve got some very superficial knowledge here. What started this whole conflict? Maybe it was because America stuck its nose in?

Student 2: It didn’t intervene openly.

[Unintelligible voices]

Principal: And Crimea up and went where? And how did America react to this?

Student 2: Did you see American troops in Ukraine?

Principal: And did you see Russian troops in Ukraine?

Student 2: Yes. There are videos going around — you have no idea.

Principal: The videos are staged, for starters.

Homeroom teacher: And you shouldn’t believe them…

[Unintelligible voices]

Student 2: I’ve heard a lot of information that friends of certain people are there…

Principal: Guys, I can see that you’re looking at this problem one-sidedly. And that you lack range in your political view. It’s a very narrow problem: you see Navalny, you watch his video, and — boom — you believe it all. You don’t have your own opinion about this issue — only what’s being imposed on you. And so sometimes you embrace sources that are unverified or maybe even outright provocative.

Homeroom teacher: Like puppets…

Student 2: And what if our opinion coincides with his?

Principal: But do you even have an opinion? You go ahead and read. I’m pushing you not just to look at these sources… If they say that, yeah, it’s bad here, then look at other sources.

Homeroom teacher: Challenge every fact!

Student 2: Okay, but we’re not looking at a single source.

Principal: Well, apparently you’re only looking in a single direction.

Student 1: Yeah and our TV networks only show what’s good for the government…

Principal: You’re not listening to Voice of America?

Student 1: They [Russian TV networks] aren’t going to show us anything else.

Principal: I got it. Somehow, we messed up your civic education. In terms of civics, you’ve got big shortcomings. Do you all mean to tell me that there are no patriots in your class?

Student: And what does it mean to be a patriot? That you support the authorities?

Principal: I was speaking to Nikita…

Homeroom teacher: I apologize. [Students], please, organize a neighborhood clean-up group on your streets.

Principal: Guys, raise your hands: how many of you do any volunteer work?

[Silence]

Principal: And what’s volunteering for? There’s your civic position! You don’t need to be looking down from on high at Putin and Medvedev. Look at our neighborhood!

Student 2: And the volunteering that’s organized and supported by United Russia [the country’s ruling political party]?

Principal: Yes.

Student 2: Well, we’re against United Russia.

[Laughter]

Student 2: You see.

Homeroom teacher: Why do you say “we”?

Student 2: Raise your hand, anybody who’s against United Russia.

Student 1: I’m against them.

[Other voices: Is that everyone? Anyone else?]

Student 2: We’re against United Russia.

Principal: And you’re for what exactly?

Student 1: We’re for justice.

Principal: And what exactly is justice?

Student: It’s what we don’t have right now.

Student 1: Justice is when the authorities care about their people, and not just about themselves. When they care about ordinary citizens, and not about their millions [of dollars]. Many people want to live in a free state, in a free country…

Principal: So you think that life in this country got worse with the arrival of Putin and Medvedev?

Student 1: No, but they’ve stayed too long. They’ve just been there [in power] for too long.

Student 2: Yeah.

Principal: Did you live in some other era that I somehow missed? Under whom did you live well? And under Putin and Medvedev things got worse for you?

Student 2: We’ve studied history.

Principal: Naturally.

Student 2: Well…

Principal: What does “well” mean? I’m asking you, specifically you: Under what ruler did you live well? What do you mean “well”?

Student 2: We’ve only ever had one ruler, actually.

Principal: You said that things have become worse. But you never lived through the hard years of the 1990s. When, forgive me for saying this, everyone carried around a blade and a firearm, and the country was in chaos. And this was when I was studying in college! This was when it was scary to go out into the street after eight at night. You didn’t see this.

Student 2: And you want that all over again?

Homeroom teacher: You’re the ones who want that!

Student 2: They just arrested a person for absolutely nothing. They carried him off to the police station.

Principal: This is civil war.

Student 2: This is lawlessness.

Principal: That’s true — it’s lawlessness. Because what is the aim of any protest or any schism?

Homeroom teacher: Political crisis, and then civil war.

Principal: And then civil war. Fratricide.

Homeroom teacher: You want it to be like in Ukraine? Or like it was for us in [19]17?

Student 2: We don’t want these officials.

Homeroom teacher: Tell me: can you actually do this right now? How?

Student 2: Well, just gather together.

Homeroom teacher: And then when?

Student 2: There will be a crowd.

Homeroom teacher: A crowd. And then what?

Student 2: People will at least see. They’ll see that there are citizens.

Homeroom teacher: Citizens. In other words, a bunch of [young] people led by adults with nothing to lose, so to speak.

Principal: Guys, we tried, at least, to warn you about all this, and let you know. What’s happening now is called polemics, and nobody needs it. Regardless, what you need now… I’m advising you, I’m not insisting, but I’m advising that you listen to what we said, and you draw your own conclusions. More than anything, I’m thinking about your future.

Homeroom teacher: Remember that a lot is at stake.

Principal: I put up a fight with these law enforcement officers. I tried to defend Maxim. I said that these were just some juvenile antics that nobody needed. Believe me, he’s not having a good time right now. Not at all. I don’t want any of you to land in a similar situation. Everything that you’ve said here from behind your desks has been empty words. I’m telling you again: get up, grow up, and make something of yourselves. That’s the right thing to do.

Homeroom teacher: Guys, I’ll ask you again: think, think…

The news site Meduza transcribed the encounter found above. You can read the Russian transcript here.

57 comments

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  • […] and no longer speak their language. Two weeks ago, a remarkable video of a meeting between a principal and high-school students in Bryansk, a provincial city some two hundred miles from Moscow, surfaced online, and was widely […]

  • Resist! Authoritarianism everywhere. Oligarchy. Putin. Trump. Propaganda. Resist!

  • […] are dissatisfied – a point made by students in the south-western region Bryansk, who recorded an argument with their teachers and circulated it on social […]

  • […] as their parents. One incident pointing to a brewing rebellion of Russia’s teenagers was a video from a school in Bryansk, near the Belarusian border, which attracted attention after it was […]

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  • Putin and his friends will fall sooner than you think;

    The new generation is not drinking the kool aid and won’t let them being dragged down by the past generation of cowards/sheeps who are keen to settle for mediocrity and a dictatorship masquerading as a democracy.
    People now travel, exchange, trade, communicate faster and faster; russians see what’s going on outside of Russia and they realize the lies they are beeing fed with. The new generation doesn’t care about foreign policy and strongmen like Putin, they want a government that delivers prosperity and freedom; they want to be able to live like western europeans and Americans. Buy big cars, big houses, travel, live the high life. But for now, even the chinese are better off than the russians now and make better money.
    No need to be a genius to understand that the Putin system is not sustainable and is on its last leg.
    Under sanctions, the russian economy will likely stagnate while the rest of the world prosperes; under financial and social stress Putin has no choice but tighten his grip on power and launch costly and risky military adventures to divert the public attention, but the illusion tricks and quick fixes won’t work forever.

    I’d say, Putin and his buddie have 10 years top before a massive backlash happens.
    Just let the millennials grow another few years, let the older generation weaken and retire, and you’ll see interesting stuff happening

    • Jack Bluebird

      Unfortunately neither US or Russian youngsters define the policies of one nation towards the other. If they did there would be probably less frictions between nations.

      That being said Russians are not hated by any normal individual in western hemisphere.

      But than again normal individuals do not create policies either.

      What you fail to understand is that Russia as a nation and a state was cheated by the NATO and the west not even 30 years ago which had enormous impact on its future. Putin was direct product of that behavior by the west. To repeat such mistake again would be very costly for Russia and even the whole world.

      Policies are defined by certain power circles with certain interest regardless of who is the president. And there very strong military and political power circles in the US which would love for Russia to live through the betrayal that USSR experienced during late 80s.

      Thinking otherwise is just plain naive. I also support friendship between nations and people but not being naive and robbing someone of their dignity and future as it was the case with the Russia during 90s.

      So for smart youngster in Russia it would be smart to study their history in details before raising your voice for someone. Because as they say “Those who do not know their history will make the same mistakes again”.

      • I do well understand what’s going on with NATO and do know quite a bit of russian history my friend, my family being half russian half french.
        Most russian people don’t care about foreign policy and history, and don’t even watch the news or know what’s going on outside of the country.
        Who cares about foreign policy or history, it doesn’t bring money in the bank and bread on the table for 99.99% of russians.

        Nobody’s robbing Russia’s future; you’re just parroting the Putin’s narrative that is being played 24/7 on the national propaganda channels.

        Your understanding of foreign relations is naive; Countries do not have friends, only interests; thus it is absurd to say that the west is against Russia; every single country is against each other, spying, plotting, and trying to undermine each other and gain influence and financial benefits.
        Don’t blame the players, blame the game as they say

        The west against Russia is just a whining story to put the ruling class failure on others shoulders and escape their responsibilities.

        Do you realize Russia’s gdp is smaller than Italy’s, even though they have this immense wealth of natural ressources and educated manpower? where does the money go?

        Russian leaders had many opportunities to reset relations and play ball with Europe and the US but they never took the right path. why? because it is not their interest. All their system is based on corruption, oligarchy and privileges, so why would they reform a system that makes them immensly rich?
        They pretended for a while that they would open up and democratize, but that was just a temporary opportunistic trick to draw money into Russia’s dried up economy. Now that they are more or less afloat, they prefer to be treated as pariah, go full dictatorship, cut the bridges with the west, and keep squeezing the Russians that are too poor or not enough educated to move elsewhere.

        You have quite some nerves to criticize russian youngsters who reject dictatorship and the bs they are being fed with.
        I know many smart russians youngsters as you say, and guess what they do; they do the smartest thing they can, they move abroad
        That alone tells everything

        • Jack Bluebird

          You seem to take a superficial approach at the subject. It does not help anybody when you translate the real questions into such trivial manner.

          Saying the west being against Russia is a “whining” story makes you discredit yourself even more since it is very apparent that even though you claim your family is half Russian you know very little of even very recent Russian history and its developing obviously. I will not press this subject here anymore as over the last 4 years I have really exhausted myself explaining it again and again to people like you. You can freely scroll my previous comments on Disqus and on the Bloomberg that I made previously.

          Furthermore claiming that most of Russian people in this day and age do not watch news, and are not interested in what is happening around the world and even that they do not care about their history makes me wonder with whom are you actually dealing with in Russia to make such a statement and are you purposely downplaying the intelligence of the very people you are supposedly trying to”defend”. That is very “friendly” of you.

          I myself have enough information to stand behind what I have said. That being my position on friendly and non friendly countries. To prove my point how many times did US government placed a sanctions against Great Britain government for not seeing eye to eye on certain subject? And how about explaining German absolute passiveness regarding the fact that CIA was spying on them for so long? Examples are numerous. The fact is that you cannot equalize relations between EU members and those between countries on world stage. There are definitely some clans of nations which are far more friendly towards each other than the others. Denying it makes you look all the more uninformed of what is happening in todays world.

          Last but not least concerning todays economic situation in Russia. As I have said it before it is a result of what traitor gorbachev and crooked yeltsin trough is Belazheva gang have organized. It is a dominion of oligarchs who control most of economy in Russia. Of course it is Putins fault you will say. Unfortunately Putin came to power when things were already done and sealed in terms of ownership. It was the guilt of 2 previous quasi leaders that led to the state in which Russia was at the beginning of the year 2000.

          During his presidency Putin did bring oligarchs to order in a sense that they have to serve Russia and Russian citizens and not only themselves as it was the case with yeltsin. Those that accepted this new position of Russian government managed to hold on to their empires and those who wanted to plunder Russia for their own cause were discarded.

          Putin did this in order to not throw his country back at the beginning of the 90s when most of the Russians were going through what was probably most difficult period of their lives economically speaking. Since then he managed to pay off Russian debt to IMF and to raise their GDP 10 times ( 1999. – 2013. ). Of course he couldve done some things better concerning development of other industries in country but as you probably do not know that is extremely hard thing to do when you are not allowed to directly subsidize your own new industry which must compete with the rest of the world.

          http://www.tradingeconomics.com/russia/gdp

          One thing where we agree is the fact that their fight against corruption must be more dedicated and corruption has to rooted out. It is an ugly process in most of transitioning countries but Putin himself cannot supervise each and every state employee in order to suppress it.

          And as for smart Russians leaving the country nobody profits from it more than western immigration countries ( smart young person willing to work more for less pay ——> you do the math ).

          What you definitely fail to see is a deep and important difference between the likes of gorbachev ( weak minded and undecisive person without a character ) and yeltsin ( corrupted drunk charlatan ) and Putin ( person born with nothing, personally went through all the chaos of USSR dissolution caused by upper two, rolled up his sleeves and took the reins on a diving country ). This alone makes your commenting very naive.

          • ok mr know everything; i didn’t read your post; too long too boring.
            you may know stuff you read on internet but you’re not Russian, and i am, so please shut up and mind you own business

             
          • Jack Bluebird

            Thank you for letting me know that you are not capable of reading entire post and deduce from it. Now I know what simplistic thinking and simpleton I am dealing with.

             
          • Karl Viatuitas

            Putin owes his position and wealth to Yelstin.
            Your great leader would be a nobody if Yeltsin didn’t create a system for thugs like him to get to power.

             
          • Jack Bluebird

            Putin is the one that was elected by the Yeltsin that is true. However what you seem to fail to understand is how different their positions on almost everything are.

            1. Yeltsin was a stupid drunk, Putin is a sober smart guy
            2. Yeltsin hated USSR, Putin respected it and thinks USSR dissolution was a tragedy ( he knows it was organized dissolution he just doesnt want to say it in order to not disturb general public )
            3. Yeltsin created oligarchs. Putin controls them.
            4. Yeltsin managed to ruin Russia and to get Russia to a half of its GDP from USSR era in 10 years. Putin raised its GDP in 13 years numerous times.

            Putin may have been elected by the Yeltsin but that is only because e had some dirt on him. Yeltsin knew if he didnt endulge to what Putin said he would end up behind bars or be finished like tsar Nicolas II.

            One thing you are half true at. It is true that Yeltsin created thugs in Russia ( Putin was not a thug but a respected KGB officer working for interest of his country). gorbachev and him managed to create thugs out of ordinary people who saw their country collapsing to oligarchs who stole more or less everything while at the same time they left people jobless and without any social security or medical aid. in such atmosphere people either die out or they take matters into their own hands. I wonder what type of person you are.

             
        • Venture14

          You French are so sophisticated, but not in a good way. What has become of your country in the last 50 years, is just sad.

    • Гостья из будущего

      Which sanctions? We don’t feel any discomfort about this. Je te jure!
      The only way that Putin can be dismissed is the criminal way.

  • […] are dissatisfied – a point made by students in the south-western region Bryansk, who recorded an argument with their teachers and circulated it on social […]

  • […] are dissatisfied – a point made by students in the south-western region Bryansk, who recorded an argument with their teachers and circulated it on social […]

  • […] are dissatisfied – a point made by students in the south-western region Bryansk, who recorded an argument with their teachers and circulated it on social […]

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