Staunton, May 17 – One of the most heinous and socially destructive aspects of Soviet policy was the Communist Party’s continuing efforts to encourage children to report on or even denounce their parents. That program may have helped the regime to stay in power but only at the cost of distrust and atomization of society.
That program was always associated with the name Pavlik Morozov who at the age of 13 was supposedly killed by members of his family because he had denounced his own father to the Soviet authorities. Much of the story, more recent research suggests, was invented, but Pavlik nonetheless became a cult figure for generations of Soviet children.
With perestroika and even more with the end of the Soviet Union, Pavlik was denounced, and Russians assumed that this survival of the past would survive no longer. But now there is evidence that the Putin regime like its Soviet predecessor is encouraging children to spy on their parents and report to the authorities anything the parents may be trying to hide.
The Novy Region news agency reported this week about a discussion of this program at an all-Russian forum in Chelyabinsk on “Traditional Values of Russia – the Path to Salvation for the Family and Childhood” (urfo.org/chel/498191.html).
During the meeting, several participants raise the question about legal security in the country and about violations of the laws on personal data. Ever more frequently, they said, teachers in schools and kindergartens are gathering “personal information about residents of the country” by asking the children about them.
In many cases, such collections may be entirely innocent, but some of the participants are concerned that it may be anything but that. Mariya Mamikomyan, president of the Parents’ All-Russian Resistance, says that just how invasive these questions are was reveled when one child brought the questionnaire home.
“One of the questions” it asked, she continues, is “what do your parents talk about when they think you are already asleep?”
Asking such questions is illegal under Russian law, but parents are discovering that school officials cite directives from above whenever they challenge this process. Some parents believe, Novy Region reported, that “the juvenile lobby stands behind such questionnaires” and that the results will be use “against the family.”
Schools in almost all countries gather information from pupils who attend them. Administrators need to know some of it. But once the data are collected, the news agency said, “it is not excluded that the surveys will be studied not only by school psychologists” but by others with greater powers.
If indeed that is happening, then there is a very real danger that the Pavlik Morozov system is being restored in Putin’s Russia and in the way that many unfortunate things are – quietly and bureaucratically, under the radar screen of most of the media, and justified in new and superficially unobjectionable ways.