The new Russia: the world's largest country is waking up from a long sleep.
But once inside, you might notice a small forest of plants to cheer up students during the long Russian winter. Or you might notice that school kids here use coatracks instead of lockers to store their belongings.
Those aren't the only differences. School No. 1289 includes grades 1 through 11 (there is no 12th grade in Russia). And all 1,200 students start learning a foreign language in first grade. Those students who qualify follow a curriculum that prepares them for university study. Others attend vocational school after finishing ninth grade.
Russia today faces many challenges: widespread poverty, war, terrorism, and a difficult transition (change) to democracy. But even with these problems, Russia's school system remains famous for providing a first-rate education.
Take Anya Zakharova and Alex Korolev, two lively Russian teenagers who attend School No. 1289. They are not shy at all about showing off their English skills. Anya and Alex know that speaking a foreign language will give them opportunities of which their parents could only have dreamed.
They are both 15 years old but have visited many countries in Europe. Alex, who plays in a rock band with friends, has written his own song lyrics--in English. Some day he wants to travel the world as a foreign correspondent.
Waking From a Long Sleep
Anya and Alex belong to a young generation representing a new Russia. For the first time in history, large numbers of Russians are traveling abroad and experiencing different cultures.
Russia is waking up from a long sleep. For centuries the czars (Russian emperors) ruled the country with an iron fist. Most Russians worked on the land and had no hope of ever getting ahead. The czars' harsh rule was a major reason for the Communist Revolution in 1917.
The Communists changed the name of Russia to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Soviet Union). Communist leaders promised to share the country's wealth with all the people. But the Communists were not interested in democracy, and they used terrifying means against all who opposed them. As a result, millions of people died.
The Soviet Union made many advances in science, technology, and education. But the Communist system Failed to make all its citizens equally rich.
Instead, it made them equally poor. The government owned all stores, farms, factories, and mines. Because they followed government orders and not consumers' needs, these enterprises (businesses) were inefficient.
"I ask my parents about Soviet times. They say if they wanted to buy a sausage they had to stand in line from six o'clock in the morning! I can't imagine how people lived back then," says Alex.
Alex says his dad was thrown into jail for a week just for criticizing the government's economic policy.
Breakup of the Soviet' Union
By 1991, the Soviet Union was so weak that it broke up into 15 independent countries. Russia was by far the largest country to emerge from (come out of) the Soviet Union (see map, p. 13).
Russia's first President, Boris Yeltsin, began changing the government-run economy to a market system, in which decisions are based on what consumers want and buy.
Yeltsin sold government-owned businesses to private citizens. Most of these businesses were sold--often through corrupt means--to a small group of wealthy individuals. These people, who now control most of Russia's private wealth, have become known as "oligarchs" (ALL-ih-garks).
Russia's current President, Vladimir Putin (POO-tihn), has often clashed with the oligarchs. Most Russians get by on less than $300 a month. Many resent the rich and support Putin in his struggle with the oligarchs.
"Putin wants to destroy the oligarchs' system. It's not good for the economy. Their money could go to the government and be used to improve our lives," says Alex.
Anya disagrees. "They stole what they have--but it wouldn't be fair to take it away from them now," she says.
Some people are afraid that Putin will reverse Russia's transition to a free-market economy. Today, the economy is growing by leaps and bounds, thanks mostly to exports of oil and natural gas. Russia is the world's second-largest oil producer, after Saudi Arabia.
Anya and Alex belong to the small but growing middle class in Russia. Anya's mother works for a travel magazine, and her dad is a TV producer. Alex's mom teaches at a university, and his father is a bank director.
Like many teens in America, Anya and Alex both have cell phones, surf the Internet, and follow the latest fashion trends. There are new supermarkets, shopping malls, and car dealerships that cater to the middle class.
War and Terror
It's sometimes easy to forget that almost a thousand miles away, a war is raging inside Russia's borders. The small republic of Chechnya (CHECH-nya) was seized by Russia in the 19th century (see map, p. 1.3).
Since 1991, Chechnya has been fighting for independence. The fighting has already killed thousands of people, including 3,000 children.
"It's terrible, people are dying," says Anya.
Many Russians have forgotten about the war. But in recent years, Chechen fighters have reminded them by carrying out terrorist attacks in the streets of Moscow.
Just last December, six people died when a bomb exploded in downtown Moscow.
"I'm not afraid for myself. But when the next bomb goes off, I'll be worried for my friends and relatives," says Anya.
Putin says the war in Chechnya is part of the worldwide fight against terrorism. His critics say that it is a war without end. Even so, a majority of Russians support Putin, and everyone expects him to win the presidential elections in March.
Many Russians feel humiliated (embarrassed) that the Soviet Union, which was once a rival superpower of the U.S., had such a pitiful end. Putin promises to make Russians proud of their country again and to restore law and order.
But others are afraid that Putin might bring back features of the old Communist system. They worry that the government might take greater control of the economy in the name of fighting the oligarchs. And they say that the secret police is already growing too powerful.
But Oleg Chistyakov, a young history teacher at School No. 1289, is confident that Communism is dead.
"There were good sides to the Soviet Union," he says. "But that doesn't mean that anyone wants it back."
Words to Know
* Communism: A totalitarian system of government in which one political party controls the government and allows no opposition. The government owns all farms, factories, and businesses, and runs the economy.
* Market economy: An economic system in which individuals and privately owned businesses control the economy.
Your Turn WORD MATCH 1. transition A. embarrassed 2. czars B. business 3. emerge from C. come out of 4. enterprise D. change 5. humiliated E. emperors
THINK ABOUT IT
1. What is meant by the statement: Russia is waking up from a long sleep"?
2. In what ways are the U.S. and Russia alike? How are they different?
Students should understand
* After decades of Communist rule, Russia faces many challenges as it struggles to create a democratic and capitalist society.
Instruct students to locate Russia on a map. Ask: "What are some political, social, and economic challenges to governing a large nation?"
Some Russians fear President Vladimir Putin wields too much political power. Since becoming President, Putin has curtailed the independent news media and repeatedly clashed with a group of wealthy and influential Russian businessmen. For these reasons, some opposition parties are calling for a boycott of next month's presidential elections.
CAUSE AND EFFECT: How has the rise of the oligarchs affected Russia? (Many businesses once owned by the former Communist government were sold--often through corrupt means--to a group of wealthy Russians. As a result, the oligarchs now control much of Russia's private wealth.)
MAKING COMPARISONS: How does a free-market economy differ from a Communist economy? (A free-market economy is characterized by private ownership of property and relies on market forces to distribute goods and resources. Under Communism, the government owns all farms, factories, and businesses, and controls all aspects of the economy.)
POST-COLD WAR RELATIONS: Remind students that Russia, as part of the Soviet Union, was once a Cold War rival of the U.S. What is the current state of diplomatic relations between Russia and the U.S.? Instruct students to write a report on how these two nations cooperate and disagree on some important political issues today.
SOCIAL STUDIES, GRADES 5-8
* Global connections: How Russia has struggled to create a democratic society and free-market economy since 1991.
* People, places, and environment: Most Russians enjoy greater political freedoms and economic opportunities than they did under Communist rule.
* Murrell, Kathleen Berton, Eyewitness: Russia (DK Publishing, 2000). Grades 5-8.
* Shields, Charles, Vladimir Putin (Chelsea House, 2002). Grades 7-8.
* Russia www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/rs.html
* Russian History www.pbs.org/weta/faceofrussia/intro.html
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|Date:||Feb 9, 2004|
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