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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Dostoevsky Enlisted in Patriot Drive

Just a block away from the old Moscow hospital where he was born in 1821, Fyodor Dostoevsky managed to preside Monday over a national conference of military, educational and culture bureaucrats tackling the elusive concept of patriotism.

"Patriotism is the close interrelationship of a person, society and the state," a poster on the stage in the former Red Army House quoted Dostoevsky as saying.

To listen to the conference's participants, a patriotic upbringing was simpler when Lenin had a monopoly on poster slogans. But the sudden advent of capitalist greed coupled with a lack of moral guidance in post-Soviet Russia has endangered the very foundation of Russian society -- patriotism. This has left the country with problems ranging from drug addiction and draft dodging to radical youth groups and neglected war memorials, they said.

Turning to Dostoevsky is the latest twist in the government's search to return some sort of patriotic indoctrination to public schools, state media and youth organizations.

Never mentioning Dostoevsky -- and speaking in a language much more bureaucratic than that of the 19th century classics -- mid-level officials spoke Monday about largely mundane issues such as how to find money to buy Russian tricolor flags and double-headed eagles for provincial public schools. They discussed how to coordinate the activities of the Defense and Education ministries in sponsoring military-style high schools for orphans and how veterans organizations and schools could work together to teach "courage classes" to schoolchildren.

The conference, which started Monday and brings together about 220 military and civilian officials, is part of a $6 million, four-year program called "The Patriotic Upbringing of the Citizens of the Russian Federation in 2001-05," which President Vladimir Putin signed three years ago. But in an example of how poorly the program is funded, organizers had to ask regional administrations to pay for their delegates' trips to Moscow. Sixty-seven of the 89 regions agreed.

Retired Vice Admiral Yury Kvyatkovsky, who heads Rosvoyentsentr, the small government organization behind the initiative, said the patriotic program was a major shift in Kremlin policy from the Boris Yeltsin-era approach, in which patriotism was left to enthusiasts.

"The government has put forward a task to build up a system that will transcend the entire government structure from top to bottom," Kvyatkovsky said.

But there is a long way to go before the program's goals are realized, he said.

The program is complicated by a lack of consensus on what people should be patriotic about, a lack of funding and lack of coordination among the relevant agencies.

A concept of patriotic education developed by Kvyatkovsky's organization was originally scheduled to be approved by the Cabinet in November but was postponed because of a slew of amendments introduced by the regions.

Kvyatkovsky said he hoped the proposal will be adopted early next year.

Military generals complained Monday that many conscripts simply don't know who won World War II and the difference between the Patriotic War of 1812-14 and the Great Patriotic War of 1941-45.

As part of preparations for the 60th anniversary in 2005 of the Soviet victory in World War II, a special committee headed by one of the 1991 coup leaders, General Valentin Varennikov, was set up to evaluate history textbooks.

A Kremlin official said 60 percent of army graves and monuments need repair and many more remain unmarked, leaving a lot of work for military patriotic groups.

One aspect of patriotic upbringing that delegates agreed on was the promotion of national symbols. But even that issue raises a problem -- not every school can afford to buy a flag or a double-headed eagle to put on the wall.

Deputy Education Minister Yury Kovrizhkin said the ministry has published a set of 13 posters featuring the national symbols that sell for 168 rubles. "Not too expensive," he said with pride.

Upstairs, among a handful of vendors selling patriotic books and posters, a company called Oryol & Co. offered fancy eagle pins and awards.

Tatyana Korolyova, a public education official from the Kaluga region, said that unlike many regions, Kaluga has sufficient funds to buy symbols. The governor allocated 1 million rubles last year to buy cloth -- not paper -- flags for every school, she said.

Korolyova acknowledged, however, that she had come to the conference to find out whether the region could obtain a federal grant for a patriotism program centered on school museums.

"It's an important subject," she said of patriotic upbringing. "We were afraid to speak about it for many years. It wasn't in fashion."

She said she didn't think the program should have a strong military slant -- as did patriotism in Soviet days.

"For me, a patriot is a man who performs his civic duty in times of peace and war, preferably in peace," she said.