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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Educators in Uproar Over Decree

In between calls for impeachment and votes of no confidence, the State Duma took time out from its busy schedule recently to pass a decree designed to protect impressionable school children from the perils of foreign influence.

The decree, which bars foreigners and foreign firms from participating in the publication or influencing the content of school texts, has no binding authority, however, and is virtually being ignored by the Education Ministry.

"This is not the right path to take -- it is absurd," said Alexander Golusov, a ministry official who added that educators were in no hurry to abide by the decree.

The timing of the decree comes at a particularly sensitive time for Russian educators, who face a book crunch as the new academic year approaches. According to a report in Izvestia last week, educational printing presses have virtually come to a standstill for lack of federal funding, and Russian schools are facing a book deficit of 150 million this fall.

"We use text books written by citizens of Ukraine, Latvia and Estonia -- they are foreigners now too -- and we have no intention of throwing them away," Golusov pointed out in protest.

But the Duma's attack does not appear to be aimed at foreigners from the near abroad, but at more prominent Western charitable organizations such as the Open Society Institute, which is funded by billionaire George Soros.

"Charity is one thing, meddling is another thing altogether," said a consultant for the Duma education committee who did not wish to give his name. "What self-respecting government allows foreigners to participate in the education of its children?"

But this is not the first time Soros Foundation programs have been the target of verbal and legislative abuse from hardliners, and the Open Society Institute -- which is about to distribute 1.5 million new humanities and social science primers to schools by Sept. 1 -- is unconcerned about the new decree.

"Western organizations are seen as a threat in this time of social crisis," said Leonard Benardo of the Open Society Institute. "That is understandable, and that is why we want to make this textbook project all Russian."

While previous textbook projects funded by the Soros Foundation have been more heavily influenced by foreigners, this $5 million project, which unites seven Russian publishing houses, employs exclusively Russian authors. "We hope this project will foster the kind of primer that will be more critically centered," said Benardo. "It's time for Russians themselves to develop these types of texts."