Friday, June 23, 2017

Bryansk Parents Fighting Putin’s Closure of Rural Schools

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 23 – Parents in rural areas of Bryansk Oblast, long dismissed as part of the red rust belt and one of the most traditional and deferential places in the Russian Federation, are now fighting to save their schools from Moscow’s “optimization” program, something they say is nothing more than a euphemism for “closing” what are often the main centers of village life.

            Given the dying out of rural Russia in recent decades, with tens of thousands of villages now ghost towns across the country, it is no surprise that the government is closing schools where there are no people left, but its “creeping optimization” has now come to places where there are still residents – and Russian parents are responding with outrage and activism.

            When schools are closed, they say, their children often cannot get to the proposed alternative because they don’t have cars and there are no buses or even roads.  One regional suggested these parents “home school” their children, an impossibility for most who work full time (

            According to Takiye Dela journalist Anastasiya Lotaryeva, this is turning the most improbably people into active protesters, who are taking to the streets, confronting local officials and writing appeals to Moscow leaders simply because they don’t know what else to do to ensure that their children get an education and their villages survive.

            One woman Lotaryeva met with pointed out that she “doesn’t’ have a driver’s license and goes everywhere exclusively by foot. I do not understand how my child will get to school.” The roads are terrible, there are no buses, and she herself works two jobs, having lost another one when she allowed her daughter to come to her workplace to wait after school.

            The regional and local authorities have tried a variety of schemes to force the closure of schools, the journalist says, seeking to declare their buildings unsafe and in no case informing the parents in advance of what will happen to their children after the school is closed.  The authorities have been equally incommunicative with teachers.

            The parents are more active than the teachers, the journalist says, because the teachers have been told that they will lose their jobs if they complain. But as one of them noted, she is a parent too and thus should have the right to defend the interests of her child. That argument has been rejected by the authorities, Lotaryeva says.

            When the Takiye dela writer attempted to find out who was behind the closings, officials tried to pass the buck, blaming others and refusing to take any responsibility. But their comments showed that they are all part of the problem and that they have no intention of yielding to parents or teachers, however much the latter try to defend their schools.

            The number of school closings in Bryansk oblast has been massive: In 2013, 38 schools were closed, and in the following tow years, 18 more.  A KPRF activist said he and the parents had tried to block these “optimizations” but without much success – they did save one school last year -- even when teachers continued to hold classes in schools that had been closed down.

            Those resisting the school closings have become increasingly Internet savvy, posting online their appeals to Moscow and pointing out that there is no way for their children to get to alternative schools: “We have no buses, we have no stops, our roads are bad, just look at how many crosses there are alongside them.”

            And they add: “We do not agree with the decisions of the authorities, but we also understand that no one asked us” before they acted against our interests and those of our children.” And many of the villagers fear that thanks to Moscow’s policies, they too are being “’optimized’” and will soon cease to exist.

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