Citizenship Education in Ukraine and Russia: Reconciling Nation-Building and Active Citizenship

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It is tempting to interpret these recent differences between Ukraine and Russia as evidence of the two countries showing diverging trends. We would argue, however, that it is still too early to state this conclusion with certainty. The political situation in the post-Soviet world is still volatile, as witnessed by the recent revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, and policies may change abruptly when a new regime comes to power. Until now these turbulent developments have all been moving in the direction of democracy and the rule of law, but there is no guarantee that these trends are irreversible. Seen in this light, the recent relaxation of the nation-building project in Ukraine may well be only a temporary phenomenon.
Interestingly, a report commissioned by the Council of Europe expresses doubts about the willingness of the post-Soviet states to support education for democratic citizenship (EDC), noting that most of them do not have explicit EDC policies. It further observes that EDC is challenged by “patriotic forces, which criticise democratic citizenship education for promoting simplistic universal values” (Froumin 2004b, p. 76). These forces, it argues, are more compatible with the traditional culture of an authoritarian society than the ideas promoted by EDC, and as a result EDC is relegated to the margins of citizenship education. The Council of Europe thus realizes that its EDC recommendations are not welcomed in all regional contexts, particularly when they conflict with nation-building projects.
In sum an education agenda promoting active citizenship and independent thinking faces considerable obstacles in new states emerging from totalitarianism such as Ukraine and Russia. In these states the adoption or rejection of the democratic citizenship principles is very much dictated by the whims of domestic political events and will depend in large measure on the confidence of the authorities in the national loyalties of their citizenries. In times of instability and challenges to central state authority a discourse stressing pluralism, democracy and autonomy is easily exchanged for a programme sanctioning conformity, loyalty and patriotism in the broad area of citizenship education.
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1 For a brief history of the Council of Europe see

2 For more information on the EDC project see

3 It must be noted here that Ukraine is by no means an exception in the post-Soviet world for exchanging a communist for a nationalist-inspired account of history. Kissane (2005) has observed that the very same transformation has occurred in Kazakhstan. She argues that the Kazakh government is struggling to find a balance between a Kazakhified history curriculum, serving identity construction purposes, and a more internationally oriented history programme.

4 The Bologna process seeks to establish a European Higher Education Area in which the participating institutions issue comparable degrees, recognize each other’s diplomas and operate a system of accumulation and transfer of credits with the aim of increasing student and staff mobility.

5 All institutes of higher education have to teach these courses, regardless of their profile or status (public or private). The courses replaced a number of core disciplines from the Soviet era designed to impart Communist ideology.

6 In the Russian language the word “national” (natsional’nyi) bears two separate meanings. On the one hand, it is often applied to a particular ethnicity or nationality (natsional’nost’). When used in this way, the term does not imply all citizens of the country, but a particular ethnic group living on its territory. On the other hand, the word is also used exactly in the sense of the whole country. In this case, natsional’nyi is often applied to matters like national educational policy, national security etc.

7 Nelli Piattoeva’s interview with Eduard Dneprov in Moscow 27.5.2005.

8 Nelli Piattoeva’s interview with Igor Melnichenko 27.5.2005, specialist in patriotic education, deputy director of the Department of Youth Affairs at the Federal Agency of Education.

9 The Law on Education introduced a decentralised form of curriculum consisting of the compulsory federal component taking 75 percent of the overall curriculum and a combination of the regional and school components filling the rest of the curriculum. The regional and the school components gave local stakeholders a chance to enrich the curriculum with subjects and contents meaningful for their local environment, e.g. local languages, history, geography etc.

10 Previously, the last two grades of the upper secondary school offered lessons in literature and non in the linguistic proficiency.

11 Russia is a federal state, which is divided into 88 constituencies. Continuing the legacy of the Soviet Union, many of these constituencies are formed on the basis of the ethnic principle, i.e. they are seen as a homeland of one or more ethnic groups.

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