21 June 2024, Friday, 5:02
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Comrade Balaba School

Comrade Balaba School

A button from a soldier’s underpants as a symbol of patriotic education.

Well, I confess (September 1 is the most suitable day for this): I am her, a mother of a private school student, all of whom were sent to state schools last academic year.

With a click of weighty sausage-shaped fingers, all private schools were closed. The end of the first semester, the time for tests and quarter marks, and at that very time private education was suddenly canceled in our native country (except for the Abel-Gutseriev school, of course).

Remember, back then the officials from the departments of education and the ministry told on TV how all the children from private schools were received with open arms, fed and warmed, and generally showed what it was like to have a real education instead of a dubious one, for money. So, let me tell you what those open arms looked like.

All parents received threatening notices from the district departments of education: if your child is not enrolled in a public school within a week, the issue of registering as being in a risk-status will be considered. FaR (families at risk) is the scariest acronym for any Belarusian parent.

Some, without any notification from educational officials, received subpoenas for the commission of the executive committee. One of the mothers in our class, who lives outside the city, just got a call from the district police officer who said: if you don’t send your son to a state school by the end of the week, we’ll come with a search and find something. It was clear that the end of private education, everything had long been decided and, judging by the scale of the threats to each family, an order was given: not a single student of a private school should escape the state. And so her son went to public school.

I can say that, on the whole, he was lucky: the parents of other children later said that they encountered remarks like “you got grades for grandmas in private schools, let's see how you can do here.” We didn't have anything like that. And in general, now that the new academic year has begun, I can say something that I myself did not expect last autumn: the school administration consists of smart, educated, understanding teachers. The teachers are wonderful. The class teacher sincerely believed that her mission was to protect her students and help them.

Of course, as in any school, there was a physics teacher with the inclinations of a prison guard, one of those who can neither teach nor speak, and sublimate their professional insignificance into bullying children. Surely every school has one. Fortunately, modern children have learned to not give a rat’s buttock. But in general the teachers are good. They just didn't have time to teach children. Because teaching in a public school is a secondary matter. The main thing is patriotic events for which children are taken from school. And these are orders that are not discussed. Moreover, the orders do not come from the leadership of schools, but from officials.

During three-quarters of the ninth grade, my son and his classmates attended a large number of ideological events. For example, one day school students were suddenly torn off their seats during lessons and taken to the building of the district administration, where the “deputy” Klishevich was waiting for them. This was called the “dialogue platform”. The dialogue was as follows: for an hour, semi-literate Klishevich was telling the children about the fascist Taraškievič writing and the “zmagars”. Then even the teachers, when the children quoted Klishevich's words about the fascist Taraškievič writing, asked “come again?” with sincere surprise.

And then there was a festival of military instructors of the Partizansky district. Can you imagine what a “festival of military instructors” is? I can now. Military instructors brought students from their schools (some of them in military uniform) to the stage, and they told something patriotic — for example. How they went on excursions to the places of someone's military glory. Our military instructor was lucky — once there was a BT story about this kind of excursion with the participation of the school, so he calmly downloaded it and demonstrated: here, they show us on TV.

Another military instructor launched an edited video in which a teenager plays a computer game, and his friends send him a link to a video about pioneer heroes (including, of course, about Pavlik Morozov) on TikTok, and the boy, after watching the video, becomes a patriot, quits computer and goes to sign up for a military-patriotic club. And the military instructor of gymnasium #5 named after “Heroes of the meeting on the Elbe” (!) told how every year children celebrate the meeting on the Elbe and even recreate it. The children showed how it's done. First, the boy poured sand onto the stage and said that it was sand from the banks of the Elbe. Then the girl put a button from soldiers' underpants in the sand and said that it was a button from her grandfather's underpants, he served in the Soviet army. District ideologists and supervising city officials were very pleased with the high ideological level of the event.

The ceremonial meeting dedicated to another anniversary of the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. The main speaker of the event was Balaba, an Afghan veteran, of course. Before the speaker began his speech, the children listened to the phonograms for an hour, which were approved by the ideologists. First, the song “Russians do not surrender, do not part with honor” sounded, and after that — “The Bells of Khatyn” about how “smoke curls over the ashes.” What does all this have to do with the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan? No, but ideologically correct. Just like the song of Lukashenka's daughter-in-law “What have you done for the Motherland?”, which, of course, also sounded to the delight of the children. Then Balaba said that the Russians do not give up, and Belarusian children should thank the authorities for the fact that there is no war in our country.

By the way, about the bells of Khatyn. In addition to offsite ideological events, there were also “onsite” ones.

This is when prosecutors, the military, and policemen came to the school and talked about “zmagars” and that everyone who reads extremist Telegram channels would be found and punished. For some reason, they always drew parallels between 2020 and Khatyn: they say, “zmagars” are the same policemen who burned down Khatyn, the same Nazis and fascists. And the riot police are, respectively, old people and children who were burned alive in a barn. And, of course, literary and musical montages as part of the 30 Days to Victory campaign. I can quote: “But the pilots calmly and accurately bombed the heated shelters, sneering with their malevolent Aryan grins”. Sorry for the quote, I didn't do it on purpose.

I don't know when Belarusian children had time to study. On the other hand, I know something else: the huge money allocated for ideology and patriotic education is going down a huge dumper with a triumphant champ. Because it is impossible to litter the brains of today's Belarusian children. They don't watch TV and don't consider it necessary to trust adults whose only (and even then very dubious) advantage is age. They read news on the Internet, watch YouTube channels, read Orwell and Shalamov. They laugh at Balaba and Klishevich, process prosecutorial horror stories into mocking memes and love their country much more sincerely and ardently than moldy ideologists. Children are ironic and courageous. They need a discussion, not the stereotyped monologues of riot police and prosecutors. But since the intellectual capabilities of ideological representatives are very weak, the result is festivals of military instructors and Balaba as a speaker. And, of course, a button from soldiers' underpants is an ideal symbol of the Belarusian ideology.

Iryna Khalip, exclusively for Charter97.org

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