Masha Gessen: The Russian Day of Knowledge is a Link to the Soviet Past





Masha Gessen is a journalist in Moscow. She is the author of “The Man Without a Face,” a biography of Vladimir Putin.

...The first day of September, often referred to as The Day of Knowledge, is the day when classes begin in schools across [Russia]. The morning usually starts with a school assembly during which 11th-graders (the oldest students) take the first-graders by the hand and lead them into the school while ringing a ceremonial bell.

That is a rite of passage that has painlessly made the transition from the Soviet to the post-Soviet era. Other rituals have proved trickier. According to one tradition, a local World War II veteran has to address the assembly; 67 years after the end of the war, few able-bodied veterans remain, but local authorities scramble to find them and deliver them to both public and private institutions.

Back in the day, Communist Party representatives used to address the assemblies as well. Now some schools have replaced them with Russian Orthodox priests who lead the groups in prayer in clear violation of the Constitution, which guarantees separation of church and state. I know of only one case in which a parent took the school to task — he succeeded in stopping the prayer services....



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