| The Education Ministry is drawing up a new list of required
for schoolchildren that has a group of prominent writers steaming.
They fear that even 12 years after the Soviet collapse the government
is moving to give preference to big Soviet-era authors and effectively
over the country's tragic past by ignoring those who wrote about it.
The Education Ministry said its final list is far from decided and
that the main aim of the overhaul is to make school a little easier for
children currently overburdened with homework.
As it is now, schoolchildren from the fifth to 11th grades have to
read a group of novels and poems from a required reading list of more
30 authors. In addition, teachers have the option of assigning writings
a recommended reading list of 25 authors.
The bulk of the required list has remained unchanged for decades, with
several generations of Russians growing up on Fyodor Dostoevsky's "Crime
Punishment," Alexander Pushkin's "Yevgeny Onegin," Ivan
and Sons," Leo Tolstoy's "War and Peace," Alexander Griboyedov's
Wit" and Nikolai Gogol's "Dead Souls."
Nobel-Prize winning dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn was added to the
recommended list shortly after perestroika.
The names of 20th-century authors have been modified over the past
years to exclude those who focused on Communist ideology, such as Nikolai
Ostrovsky and Alexander Fadeyev, in favor of Mikhail Bulgakov, Anna
Akhmatova and Nobel laureate poet Boris Pasternak. Four of Pasternak's
are required reading.
But 13 well-known writers -- including poet Andrei Voznesensky and
authors Boris Vasilyev, Vladimir Voinovich and Fazil Iskander -- sent
open letter to Education Minister Vladimir Filippov late last week urging
him to drop authors whose books are vital to understanding the tragic
"Soviet canons are continuing to push out true historical knowledge
that has been acquired on the totalitarian regime and its hard consequences
on the people, country and culture," said the letter, which was published
Izvestia on Saturday.
"I have not had a chance to scrutinize all of the list, but from
I have seen there is a tendency to remove as many tragic books as possible
and somehow smooth over the tragic history of the Soviet years,"
said by telephone Monday.
Education Ministry officials who are drafting the new list, which will
come into force in 2005, said the letter took them by surprise. They said
some of the authors they are asked to keep on the required reading list
such as dissident writer Varlam Shalamov and poet Osip Mandelstam -- have
never been on the list and, therefore, cannot be dropped.
Filippov said Tuesday in televised remarks that the list is still
being hammered out and that making any judgment about it would be premature.
"The list is being changed in such a way that the works of some
authors are not being named in order to allow each teacher to have more
choices from the recommended works," said an Education Ministry official,
who asked not to be identified.
Anatoly Pinsky, an adviser to Filippov and a respected teacher,
conceded that the ministry has been discussing putting back on the required
list authors such as 19th-century revolutionary novelist Nikolai
Chernyshevsky and Communist favorite Fadeyev.
He said Akhmatova's presence tentatively has been cut from eight to
three poems, adding that something had to be sacrificed to ease the reading
"There is less of Akhmatova but "Quietly Flows the Don"
is gone as
well," Pinsky said, referring to the book by Nobel Prize-winning
a Moscow City Duma deputy and a schoolteacher, said the debate about the
reading list is a little melodramatic.
"Even if something significant is officially dropped from the
program, the teachers who included Mandelstam and Akhmatova in their
teaching plans before will continue doing so," he said.
"A decision that would probably please everybody these days would
to include all the debated authors on the list. But this would be
impossible, bearing in mind that the main reason for updating it is to
the burden of studies on already overloaded schoolchildren," he said.
Iskander, however, questioned whether the changes were actually being
made to ease the burden.
"Is this to create an impression on the minds of the younger
generation that there was nothing particularly tragic in Soviet history?"
"They have done it smartly with Mandelstam and Tsvetayeva by including
on the required list only their works from the pre-revolutionary period,
while their best works were written on the most tragic years of Soviet
history," he said.
Marina Tsvetayeva and Mandelstam are on the recommended reading list
along with seven other poets from the turn of the 20th century.
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