HUMAN RIGHTS AND DEMOCRACY EDUCATION: PROBLEMS IN POSTTOTALITARIAN COUNTRIES

Anatoly Azarov, Director Moscow School of Human Rights, Russia

 


History of law teaching and human rights education in the USSR and in Russia.

Under the totalitarian regime of the USSR public attention to human rights problems was not encouraged, but on the contrary, was curbed in every possible way, including criminal prosecution of distinguished human rights activists, depriving them of citizenship and expelling them from the country. The human rights question was never studied in schools and universities. Soviet law was taught in senior classes. In 1970 the course "Principles of Soviet State and Law" was introduced for schools. The course was taught with one textbook which was reissued and re-edited about ten times. For twenty years (until 1992), its contents and structure were practically not amended, but only re-edited after CPSU Congresses.

A significant part of the text book was devoted to the achievements and advantages of socialism and to criticism of the "exploitative substance of bourgeois law of capitalist countries". The course rigidly connected citizen's rights with their duties concerning the state, encouraged an uncritical law-abiding attitude rather than one of law execution and respect of law. Thus, the course was used for ideological ends to educate pupils as robots of a totalitarian regime and executors of directives and instructions from the CPSU.

As a result Russia today has no experience in teaching democratic values, positive law or human rights and there are no tested methods, textbooks or teacher´s aids available. Teachers are free to teach law but it is extremely difficult for them to keep up with the often and quickly changing Russian legislation.

The problems

Not only in Russia has history proven the hopelessness of totalitarian society. Today, the most sensitive and painful problems are is linked to the economy - recession, inflation, etc. However, it is impossible to solve these economic problems today, adjust the political system tomorrow, remove social tension the day after tomorrow and to answer humanitarian questions some time later.

The way out of crisis, the creation of a new society can only be achieved through the following steps: Reforming the economy - the transition to market instruments of production regulation, exchange and distribution, structural reorganisation and creation of the private sector.

In the political sphere it is the creation of a multi-party system reflecting social differentiation, a real democratisation of state and public life, the construction of a legal state, and civil society.

In the ideological sphere - the creation of a new world outlook, which will include national democratic ideals, and will adapt conventional democratic values.Yet the mind of "Soviet man", including pupils, preserves many myths, ideological dogmas of the past and nostalgia for the "values of socialism". It does not percieve conventional humanitarian values, tries to isolate itself from the outside world, and is suspicious of people of different culture, i.e. is sick with xenophobia.

Many are ready to follow the calls of radical political leaders "to return" Poland and Finland to Russia, to expand Russia's possessions up to the Indian Ocean. The only possible counter measure is to educate future generations in a spirit of respect of human rights, as a society based on suppression, violence and hostility is not viable and historically unpromising.

International organisations such as the UN, UNESCO and the Council of Europe have endorsed many documents on human rights education and recognised, that effective human rights education contributes to combating intolerance, religious, racial and ethnic prejudice and hatred, xenophobia and anti-Semitism.

In the sphere of public education it is necessary to introduce appropriate requirements of contemporary teaching and a course of law education, based on humanitarian values, conventional international standards in areas of human rights. Human rights training is a direct duty of the State, the Ministry of Education, schools and teachers. But, for objective and subjective reasons the State structure is not capable of resolving these problems, - of developing a teaching methods or of offering particular recommendations.

Recommondations for Human Rights and Democracy Education:

First stage: For children of primary education. Information for children in respect of their age, featuring main human rights, education in a spirit of respect for other people's rights and freedoms, understanding the value of other peoples´ lives.

Second stage: Second form groups. Propaedeutic course, acquaintance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The realisation of the idea, the spirit of human rights, democracy, and peace, in humanitarian disciplines. Humanitarian education, participation in various extracurrucular activities.

Third stage: Final-year pupils of secondary schools. Teaching the educational political-legal courses "Human Rights" and "Practical Human Rights Protection". Explain the main international standards in the area of human rights, study the main international documents on human rights and appropriate sections of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, acquaintance with the main points of RF laws regulating the realisation of rights and freedoms. Realisation of complex of extra-curricular activities with the purpose to stimulate respect for human rights and freedoms, respect of law, tolerance and a humanistic, peaceful mentality of Russia's citizens, and motivate a constant dialogue with legal principles.

Development of school self-management and democracy.

Development of mechanisms and organisational forms for the co-operation between pupils teachers and parents.

 

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