Russia: Schools in Chechnya

Global Voices Online
Sunday, June 3, 2007

LJ user kunstkamera (journalist Yulia Vishnevetskaya) visited Chechnya last month, wrote a magazine article (RUS) about the trip and posted photos on her blog. Amazing photos - as always (see here, here, here, and here for kunstkamera's earlier work).

Chechen journalist and blogger Timur Aliev (LJ user timur_aliev) commented on kunstkamera's 44 photos of Chechnya's rural schools:

great shots again... thank You... this indeed is the real Chechnya...

LJ user safiullin didn't seem convinced, however:

It's okay. In Russia, almost any village school looks like this. There are places that are even worse. And there's never been any war there.

To which timur_aliev responded:

but this doesn't make it any less outrageous...

Here's part of what kunstkamera wrote (RUS) about Chechnya's schools (the post contains some more photos):


In four days, we've seen 22 schools in four mountainous districts. That's a lot. As a result, most schools have merged in my mind into one cold space with white-blue walls, embellished with numerous portraits of Kadyrov as well as his aphorisms. Who is hanging all this? "Well, try not to!" - is the school principals' reply. But it's still not clear why even those building that have been restored after the war have this impenetrably Soviet look about them: what does it take to, say, paint the walls some other color? Some of these schools were exemplary, reconstructed and with playgrounds, and others were really gloomy, with barely any life left in them. At most, the main complaint was the lack of staff: "If we could provide accommodation, teachers would be coming here," we were told at the [regional government's education department]. "They say Kadyrov has brought Russian teachers to his native [Tsentoroi], pays them 15,000 [rubles a month, or about $600], provides guards for them, and they work. And our budget allows 2-3 thousand [rubles a month, or roughly $100]." It often happens that one teacher holds lessons in two classes simultaneously: gives an assignment to one group of students - and walks over to the other. In almost all schools the foreign language taught is Arabic. As a rule, the teacher of Arabic also teaches extracurricular classes on the Quran and ethics classes, during which he tells students about Chechen traditions. In one of the schools in [Vedeno] district, an imam made a stove with his own hands. In some Chechen schools, there are psychologists - and as a rule, they are truly involved with the children.


These is, perhaps, all that differentiates [Chechen schools] from the average Russian ones. Though, the situation in different localities is not the same and much depends on the condition of the village and the villagers' eagerness to build new life there. In the village of Ushkaloi, for instance, the school is squeezed into the teacher's small house, and in a neighboring village, just a few kilometers away, there's a huge building equipped with a dozen of computers - but there's no one to study there: most of the residents left for the plain with their children. The school's principal, a tired elderly woman with fatigue in her eyes, tells us how a female student of her school was killed by shrapnel, and how they had classes inside army tents, and how she, the principal, was taken away to be shot and the kids followed her - "They were crying, tearing at my skirt, and I was telling them: Don't be afraid, dyadya ["an uncle" - but also "a man" - if you're talking to a child] will show you the fireworks now." Everyone was let go only thanks to some commander's good will.


We are trying to get the principal tell us how it is possible to help this school. "We don't need anything. Put up a metal fence, because our wooden one keeps being overturned by cows."


For me, the smell of Chechnya is the smell of burning garbage. It feels as if there's a permanent [subbotnik] going on in this republic.

That day, at almost every school, they were telling us: "We've let the children go to a subbotnik." But they somehow forgot about it in the village of Gansolchu, and the children were studying as usual. They in general pay more attention to private life here, rather than to the state affairs. The principal's whole family is here, in one way or another: his wife and his elder son teach math here, the younger son studies here, the daughter is finishing the 11th grade and will sooner or later end up here [teaching] as well. Instead of the scary electrical bell, they have a rather pleasant-sounding little bell. The school's layout also emphasizes family atmosphere: two tiny buildings, a teachers' room in one and two classrooms in the other, each divided into two. The guard lives here as well, he's the owner of these two little houses. "It costs 3,000 [rubles a month, $120] in rent, this money should be paid by [the local government's education department], but they haven't paid in two years already. But he's not going to throw us out, because then he'd lose his job as a guard - and that's 2,000 [rubles a month, $80]," says the school's principal, Zelimkhan Jabaev.

The school's old building, like the majority of the houses in this villages, is completely destroyed. In 2002, after the elderly principal and the school's guard were killed one night, 16 families left Gansolchu all at once. Soon, the rest of the residents left, too. The village stood empty for eight months. During that time, the houses that had been left intact by their owners, were destroyed as well. Some think that the army was shooting at the empty village, to prevent anyone from returning, others believe that soldiers have just dissembled the houses to have construction materials. "There was an old man here, he really didn't want to leave, was the last one to go, was crying," says the principal's wife Esita. "Then he found the rest of us on the plain and tried to convince us to return. He was a very good person, everyone liked him to be their guest. We lived in [Gudermes] district. Everyone was homesick there, only women had jobs. And then Akhmad Kadyrov promised to help return to the mountains. This old man gathered everyone, we went to the administration and asked a battalion for protection of the village. And so we went back. This old man, when he saw that his house had been destroyed, had a heart attack and died two days later."


"When we returned, we at first used to follow the cattle - we were afraid of landmines," the Gansolchu school principal continues. All schoolchildren in Chechnya have been taught anti-landmine rules - in every school, there are posters with dogs and hedgehogs that keep away from unknown objects. But they still don't venture far into the forest, they even gather firewood close to home. And when they go to gather cheremsha [wild garlic, ramsons], they go in groups - if one person gets hurt on a landmine, the others will carry him out.

There are 72 students in this school - classes take place in three shifts. There are no teachers of chemistry, physics and Russian. Other teachers teach these subjects. "How is that possible? They aren't familiar with the subject, are they?" - "It's okay, they'll read the textbook and then retell it to the children." The principal teaches informatics on the only computer that the school has, and he also teaches labor and PE classes. He teaches boys of up to the 6th grade agricultural skills, and from the 7th to the 9th - construction, and the oldest ones he teaches driving his own car. No foreign language classes. "We used to have the teacher of Arabic, but he was arrested. Then he was let go, but chose not return here." [...] Above the stove, there's a mirror, and above it, a moving sign: "Teacher! Look at yourself. Smile! And go to class."


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