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Georgian Patriotic Lessons Plan Raises Concern
Georgian children will start “military-patriotic” lessons to prepare them for future attacks on the country, according to a programme announced by President Mikhail Saakashvili.
Saakashvili, speaking to teachers in Batumi recently, said the Russian-Georgian war of 2008 showed children needed to be prepared, but teachers and experts were concerned the lessons might whip up aggression and bring no benefit.
“Military-patriotic education is necessary so that children at least know about their country. If this should happen again, then Georgians have to be able to defend their villages, their regions,” he said.
“There will be in Georgia a system for defending the country that will include all citizens. Just 16, 20 or 22,000 soldiers cannot defend a country of five million.”
Education Minister Dmitry Shashkin, speaking to teachers later, expanded on the nature of the plan.
“When in 2008 Georgian territory was bombarded with cluster bombs, it was not written in a single textbook that children should stay away from them, and children must know this. That is what the president had in mind,” Shashkin said.
Saakashvili has significantly reformed the Georgian army since he became president in 2003. He increased its budget, scrapped conscription and recruited new soldiers, and the new lessons could turn out to be part of his remodelling of the system, although details are still hazy.
It is currently unclear from what age the lessons would start, how many hours a week they would take up, who will teach them, and what they will teach.
A group of experts assembled by the education ministry will present a detailed plan and lessons will start in Tbilisi from September.
In Soviet times, schoolchildren underwent several hours of military education every week. Although the lessons were not labelled “patriotic” as these will be, Georgians who went through the system can recall how teachers, aside from assembling and dismantling machine guns, would repeat, “The Soviet Union is undefeatable. It has a deadly enemy in America and every Soviet citizen must be prepared to repel its aggression.”
Georgians who grew up in the Soviet era cannot help comparing these new lessons with what they were taught.
“They taught us that America is the enemy. Now our children’s brains will be filled with the fact that the enemy is Russia. Today Russia is the enemy of Georgia, but why does a child have to grow up with a constant feeling that someone will attack? Should a child think about enemies, or do his lessons?” asked Vakhtang, a 54-year-old Tbilisi resident.
His opinion finds echoes throughout society and has also been reflected on internet discussion sites like Facebook.
“A child could imbibe the information from these lessons incorrectly and become a racist, a Russophobe or a misanthrope,” said one poster called Marina, although others approved of the president’s plan.
“Russia is our enemy and every Georgian must know this from childhood. I don’t see anything bad in this,” wrote another poster called Lada.
Opinion polls would suggest that Lada’s viewpoint is more widely-held in society than Marina’s more cautious one. Some 64 per cent of respondents to a talk-show on public television said they approved of military-patriotic lessons being taught in Georgian schools.
And Giorgi Baramidze, the state minister for Euro-Atlantic integration and a former defence minister, said more work needed to be done to teach Georgians about their country and the threats it faces.
“The country must sense that great tasks lie before it. Greater mobilisation is necessary, and there must be more patriotism in our daily life. You do not see this if you go onto the street, into a restaurant, or a public building,” he said.
But teachers were more sceptical of the scheme than the public at large. Levan Gigineishvili, a Georgian-language teacher at the American Academy, was very doubtful of its success.
“You cannot inject children with patriotism,” he said.
“We previously taught patriotism as a separate subject, but the methods did not prove successful. It was too artificial, and the children sensed its artificial nature and were disappointed by it.”
Mzia Bolkvadze, a teacher at public school number 20, also wondered if it was possible to teach patriotism separately. She said she had inculcated her children with patriotic values during Georgian language and literature lessons, and worried that military-patriotic lessons might prove dangerous.
“I am worried that children might become more aggressive. They might start thinking about creating the appearance of an enemy,” she said.
And other experts worried that the government, in introducing the ideas of citizens’ defence under the cover of lessons in patriotism, was actually teaching the children its own ideology and militarised propaganda.
“Any political ideology, even if it is held unanimously by the whole country, must be a subject for free discussion, and not accepted unquestioningly,” said Simon Janashia, a professor at Tbilisi ’s Ilia Chavchavadze University .
Other commentators went even further, contrasting the introduction of such lessons with the democratic rhetoric with which the president came to power seven years ago.
“The introduction of military-patriotic training means that the president has finally given up on liberal values,” said Zaal Andronikashvili, a professor of philosophy.
“Military patriotism is a form of extreme nationalism, which uses external threats to mobilise the masses. And military-patriotic preparation is a typical totalitarian practice, which was used by the Nazis and the Bolsheviks with equal enthusiasm.”
Anna Kandelaki is a freelance journalist.
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