Aleksandr Podrabinek: No children’s camp. How children end up as raw material for totalitarianism [The Insider]

16 April 2022

by Aleksandr Podrabinek

Source: The Insider

The stern Russian state takes a harsh and distrustful view of children. In the minds of the authorities, children can become effective enemies of the regime so it is never too early to subject them to repression. Last year, in Moscow alone 173 minors were detained at protests in support of Aleksei Navalny. Children have also been detained at recent protests against the war on Ukraine. They have been variously charged, put on special police probation and placed under psychological pressure in schools.

You might remember the recent sentencing of 16-year-old Nikita Uvarov to five years in prison on charges of ‘terrorism.’ His entire crime amounted to pasting leaflets in support of political prisoners on the local FSB building and discussing anarchist ideas on social networks. No one may be surprised when adults who have already made their way in life are jailed for no reason when there are political motives involved. But children? Uvarov was 14 years old at the time of his ‘crime.’

People are still not used to that. Many cannot see the sense in handing down such terrifying punishments for peaceful or even playful opposition to the authorities. Unfortunately, this lack of understanding comes from a failure to view the future in the light of the past.

‘All the best for the children!’ – everyone who lived in Soviet times remembers this slogan. The slogan was mendacious, like all Soviet slogans, but behind its poster humanism lay the stern intent of the state authorities. It consisted in placing children, so far as possible, under the guardianship of the state at all times. Guardianship is not necessarily a protection and a blessing. Soviet guardianship of children consisted above all in ideological education, supervision to ensure ‘correct’ behaviour and unavoidable punishment for ideological deviation.

The totalitarian state sees its ideal in the absolute control of all spheres of human activity, from political views, artistic creativity, and religious beliefs to the education of children, family life, and sexual behaviour. Everything must be under state control, thought out in the smallest detail, executed, anticipated and, if necessary, forbidden in time.

The ideal, as we know, is practically unattainable. The picture Plato and Campanella painted with such brutal totalitarian inspiration in their own day even the communists of North Korea failed to achieve. The Soviet Union, overtaking the Nazi regime on this path, came as near as it could to the ideal could, but, thank goodness, collapsed in time.

The current Russian regime is trying to repeat the Soviet experience and to some extent it has succeeded. Unwilling to invest sufficient sums of public money in infrastructure for children’s recreation, education and health care, the regime immediately went straight to what was most important for it: repressive measures against freedom-loving behaviour. There is no money for orphanages or medication for seriously ill children, but there is always money for children’s prisons.

As a matter of fact, this is nothing new. During the Red Terror, the Chekists did not hesitate to shoot hostages, including children. The most infamous example is the 1918 execution of the children of the former Emperor Nikolai Romanov. After the Civil War millions of children were orphaned. The state aimed to raise them up as soldiers of the revolution. The People’s Commissar of Education, Anatoly Lunacharsky, was quite clear on this point:

‘It’s not only the fact that we are surrounded by a whole sea of children’s grief, but also that we risk producing in these children individualistic, anti-social people, fundamentally spoiled, enemies of a healthy way of life… unscrupulous people who will easily join the camp of our enemies.’

The Bolsheviks were extremely careful in everything they did that concerned the preservation of their power. The matter was placed in safe and proven hands. Not some teacher or doctor, but the head of the Cheka, Feliks Dzerzhinsky.

Children have always been the raw material for totalitarian regimes. Those who succumbed to the indoctrination received support and a ‘ticket to life.’ Those it proved impossible to indoctrinate were considered enemies and written off. At the famous Solovetsky Special Camp (SLON), an internal labour colony for children had already been established by 1928.

In December 1929 the Chair of the Political Red Cross K. Peshkova received a letter about the conviction of a group of teenagers for crimes under Article 58.10 (anti-Soviet propaganda and agitation) and Article 58.11 (organizing counter-revolutionary crimes) of the Criminal Code of the RSFSR. The oldest of those convicted was 16 years old. They had committed the alleged crimes in 1927, i.e. when they were 12-13 years old. The five boys received two-year sentences in the Solovki prison colony.

On 7 April 1935 the government issued regulation No. 3/598, ‘On measures against criminality among juveniles.’ Under this regulation it became possible to criminally prosecute children from the age of 12. And not only to prosecute, but also, in principle, to execute. This was hidden in language that referred to the possibility of bringing children to trial ‘with the application of all measures of criminal punishment.’ In those times the death penalty was a very popular ‘measure of punishment’ among judges.

Of course, judicial repression was only the tip of the iceberg of the arbitrariness and violence against the civilian population. Without any court decisions, the children of ‘kulaks,’ ‘enemies of the people,’ ‘traitors to the fatherland,’ and often simply Red Army soldiers who had been captured, shared the fate of their parents. During the deportations of whole peoples accused of treason (Tatars, Kalmyks, Chechens, Ingush, Meskhetian Turks and others), children of all ages – from babies to adolescents – were sent off by train together with the adults. Many died of hunger and disease en route. The same fate awaited the children of Jehovah’s Witnesses who were also deported to remote regions of Siberia.

In post-Stalinist times, the grip of repression relaxed somewhat. However, the ideological education, the daily brainwashing in kindergartens and schools, did not diminish. The authorities set themselves the same task: to separate the obedient from the rebellious. To that end, there were special ideological structures – the Octobrists for the youngest school-age children, the Pioneer organisations for those of middle school age and the Young Communist League (Komsomol) for senior high school students. Avoiding membership in these organisations was not easy. Refusing to take part in ‘public life’ aroused suspicion. Quite a few cases are known of the children of Baptists, Pentecostalists and other unregistered religious communities being bullied and beaten in schools for refusing to wear the October star or the Pioneer tie.

The Soviet authorities did not stop at shooting minors either. The law did not allow the death penalty to be imposed on minors under 18 years of age. However, on 17 February 1964 the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR adopted a resolution authorizing the application of the death penalty to minors. Six months later a 15 year old boy was shot for committing a double murder. And what’s more, the law was applied retroactively: the crime had been committed prior to the adoption of the above-mentioned resolution of the Supreme Soviet.

Today’s state policy in relation to children is ever more reminiscent of Soviet times. Thousands of children were killed during the war in Chechnya and the bombing of schools, hospitals and other civilian infrastructure by Russian military aircraft in Syria. Hundreds of children have died as a result of the invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces. The airstrike on a maternity hospital in Mariupol was a symbol of the cold indifference to the lives of children lives. The Russian authorities regard these as unavoidable losses and have no regret for the deaths of children.

The state is paying ever greater attention to ‘patriotic’ education, the aim of which, as in Soviet times, is to brainwash children with ideology, bend them to its will and send those who are disobedient and free to the margins of society with the prospect of a future in prisons and camps.

These ideological ‘educators’ fortunately lack imagination. Their methods of patriotic brainwashing are stupid, ridiculous and ineffective. The Kaluga Region Ministry of Education recommended the region’s schools to hold a lesson based on Vladimir Putin’s speech delivered on 21 February. The Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation recently released a document, ‘The Fundamentals of State Policy on Preserving and Strengthening Traditional Russian Spiritual and Moral Values,’ that is so useless and absurd that the ministry even had to withdraw it soon afterwards.

So far, attempts to revive Soviet-style children’s and youth ideological organisations have failed. There has been no mass participation of children. Children are much more interested in the Internet, in social networks, in free communication with each other. In fact, this has always been the case, only previously there was no World Wide Web. Today the Web exists and it irritates the builders of the authoritarian ideological state to the extreme. The authorities are therefore taking great pains to restrict freedom on the internet, including on the pretext of caring for children.

At the same time as restrictive measures are being introduced, so too are measures of repression. Criminal and administrative penalties for expressing one’s views on the Internet have become commonplace in Russia. This also fully applies to children. Teenagers who are not afraid to criticise the authorities become targets of investigations by law enforcement agencies and, in many cases, face criminal prosecution. The ‘law enforcers’ still pursue the same goal: to isolate the free and courageous from society and steer the submissive and cowardly on the path of service to the despotic regime.

Nikita Uvarov from Kansk was arrested along with two of his friends. His friends quickly ‘confessed’ everything, gave the testimony the investigators needed and were released. Uvarov stubbornly refused to admit any guilt. For that, he became an enemy of the state and was given five years in prison.

Translated by Simon Cosgrove

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