Moscow on fire: view from space plus cartoon http://bit.ly/cjmwtj
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Politics & Society Education While funding Islamic schools may pay off in the long term, Russia’s universities face immediate challenges
Kremlin in the Caucasus: Pushing for a Moderate Islam
URY KOZYREV CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1
Yet some ordinary Dagestanis say there is only one form of Islam accepted, and no room to follow a conservative idea of Islam without repression. Aisha Yusupova said she di-
vorced her husband Eldar Nar- uzov to ease the police pres- sure on her family, which she described as Salafi, a puritani- cal or fundamentalist branch of Islam. “I was tired of him being constantly detained and per- secuted for allegedly helping the extremist underground in the mountains,” said Yusupo- va, a 30-year-old mother of four.
She said that her divorce did
not make her life easier, and that she is under constant sur- veillance. “Yes, I am a Salafi,” she said, “but I am a peaceful Muslim and I want to be left alone, if not understood.” Immediately after the fall of
the Soviet Union, Dagestan and other republics experienced an influx of Arab ideologues pro- moting a fundamentalist brand of Islam that had nothing but contempt for local traditions, according to local Sufis. “They taught us Arabic. They brought us trucks full of Wah- habi literature translated into Russian,” said Patimat Mago- medova, 37, a schoolteacher, referring to the Saudi, funda- mentalist interpretation of Islam. “They told us not to recognize Sufi sheikhs, or any of our tra- ditional knowledge of Islam.” Young Dagestanis also study
Islam at universities of Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and other centers providing free Islamic education. A local government commission estimates that 1,000 Dagestan students trav- el to the Middle East for high- er education, mostly religious education.
turn 25, they can continue their graduate and post-graduate programs at universities that Russia has agreements with. The state needs to keep records of students getting education abroad, and of universities they go to.” Not all the Islamic universi-
ties of Dagestan want funding or help from Moscow. About 150 miles south of Makhachka- la, in the five-thousand-year-old town of Gubden, the Islamic community has survived polit- ical changes. In Soviet times, Gubden’s madrasah was turned into a culture club. The Alims, or men of learning, continued to teach children secretly at homes, using old Arabic books. In the last decade, Gubden’s conser- vative Islamic community re- constructed their Madrasah. Imams put money the town’s believers contribute together to build small businesses to keep the schools independent financially. They own a gas sta- tion and founded their own fire brigade. Last year Gubden’s univer-
sity lost its state license, but the rector of Gubden Madrasah and University, Akram, said that it did not stop his 500 or so students from attending les- sons. “All we want from the state
is to please leave us in peace, please leave us alone. We taught our children Islam for hundreds of years, we have our old books and our Alims to teach Islam, Praise Allah,” rec- tor Akram said. The rector introduces report-
ers to his students, hundreds of children and college students in every classroom of Gubden’s Madrasah. They sit on the floor swaying from side to side, learn- ing the Koran by heart. This is not the kind of teach-
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The North Caucasus Islamic University Center of Education and Science receives federal funding. “One of the most important
16 million people in Russia,
or approximately 11 percent of the pop- ulation, profess a Muslim faith, though estimates vary.
$30 million was spent by the
Russian Ministry of Education and Sci- ence on Islamic edu- cation throughout the country.
2.5 million Muslims - mostly im-
migrants - are esti- mated to reside in Moscow, more than any European capi- tal except Istanbul.
ideas behind our reform of Is- lamic education is to provide students with fundamental knowledge of Islam at home, in Russia,” said Yuriy Mikhailov, an author who has urged the Kremlin to underwrite moder- ate education programs and institutions. “And then later, when they
ing the Kremlin’s educational leaders have in mind. Like Lokshina of Human
Rights Watch, Mikhailov argues that different views of Islam should be vented, not sup- pressed.
“Dagestan cannot solve its problems only by police meth- ods – this way we just push the religious opposition out of our society and into the guerilla movement,” he said. “Free media and civil society should become the channels for the heated emotions instead. And that is the biggest gap in our work.”
The Cost of a Russian Education
Experts say that despite early glitches and a few teachers taking the tests for $1,315, the new SAT-style exams are beginning to reduce corruption.
GALINA MASTEROVA SPECIAL TO RUSSIA NOW
A favorite character in “Our Rus- sia,” a popular comedy on Rus- sian television, is a provincial teacher named Snezhanna Den- isovna. She invents new schemes so her pupils can make money for her. In one episode, she has them dress in their dirtiest clothes, hold up signs and beg on the high street. The comedy, based on the Brit-
ish series “Little Britain,” is an ex- aggeration but also based on a truth: The Russian education sys- tem is rife with corruption and in need of dramatic change. Denisovna is less funny in the
town of Morozovsk in the Rostov region, where 30 teachers were caught in May preparing to take end-of-school exams for students, police allege. It cost about $1,315 for a teacher to take the exam. Police arrested and charged a local education official for organizing the fake exams. Educational reforms have been introduced by the government in recent years to combat this cor- ruption and to improve an edu- cational system seen as failing. Controversial end-of-school exams, similar to the SATS in the United States, went nationwide last year, and in 2011, universi- ties will introduce a more flexible, four-year course replacing the rigid five year-courses. “There is a lingering notion that
Russian or rather Soviet educa- tion was very good, if not the best in the world,” said Masha Lipman, a journalist now at Mos- cow's Carnegie Center. “The truth [now] is that it lags behind the rest of the world.” Educational reform is designed
to match the standards set by the Bologna Accords, a treaty that aims to create unified higher ed- ucation across Europe. Once the reforms are complete, a Russian
University education will be ac- cepted in the European Union, not only former Soviet and East- ern Block countries. “The fact that the best and the brightest go and study abroad shows the inefficien- cy of the Russian educational sys- tem,” Lipman said. The most controversial change
is the introduction of national standard tests required for entry to a university. The multiple choice tests are taken by all students and scored by computer. “The EGE [standardized test] has killed off corruption,” said Alexander Ad- amsky, of the Russian education- al think tank Eureka, which broad- ly supports the reforms taking place. “If a system of coursework at schools is added to the tests then it will improve.” But opponents say it is dumb-
ing down Russian education, with questions such as, “What color eyes did Anna Karenina have?”— a test only of memory. The pre- vious system had more ambition, teachers say. “EGE has not destroyed cor-
ruption but increased the num- ber of corrupt deals in school,” said Oleg Smolin, a communist deputy who focuses on educa- tion policy. Indeed, the case in Morozovsk involved the EGE tests, and high results in southern re- publics like Dagestan have also raised suspicion of corruption. Most agree that it is still too
early to say the full result, although Lipman said initial signs were that corruption had decreased. In ad- dition, teachers’ wages are around $280 a month. “Not enough,” Adamsky said. As in Washington, D.C., reforms are in place that will reduce the number of teach- ers and link results to payscale, also a controversial venture in the United States. There is no other way but to
succeed in the fight against cor- ruption, Ararat Osipian warned in a recent paper, “Education Cor- ruption, Reform, and Growth: Case of Post-Soviet Russia.” Say- ing that students today learn not only their subject matter, "but also pervasive ways and practices of corruption.”
Tough Lessons After the Fires Rage CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1
Lacking air-conditioning, Mus- covites took to their showers to cool off, and as a result daily water consumption in the city jumped from the usual 280,000 cubic meters to 400,000 cubic meters every 24 hours. A remarkable swell of volun-
teers aimed to fill in for the lack of a coherent state response. Special relief centers, air-condi- tioned movie theaters and of- fices opened their doors to over- heated residents, and small charities managed to pump out supplies to hard-hit regions. Radio Free Europe reported that
public compassions reached an "unprecedented wave of pub- lic activism" in Russia. About 2 million acres of land
and forest have been destroyed, including one third of the coun- try’s wheat crop. Thousands of people have been made home- less and some farmers, only re- cently among the most buoy- ant entrepreneurs in Russia, have been left on the brink of bankruptcy. Russia’s leaders were slow to respond to the crisis, and when they turned their attention to the unfolding catastrophe they faced a furious public. The In- ternet blazed with anger, and both Prime Minister Putin and
President Medvedev quickly changed their public profile. Putin charged into the action,
personally visiting the worst-hit regions, promising generous monetary compensation to vic- tims and doling out time frames to local officials for putting out the fires. The prime minister was featured on television taking to the air in a firefighting plane and dumping water on a burn- ing forest. He also ordered Com- munications Minister Igor Shegolev to install cameras at sites where housing was being restored with a direct web link to his office. The president was compelled to return from vacation in
Sochi. Castigating indolent of- ficials, he promised a postmor- tem, but as Nikolay Zlobin noted in the state newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the fires raise fundamental questions about the country’s readiness to face non-military crises that threaten the security of Russia’s citizens. In short, the fires ex- posed weaknesses in govern- ment structures at all levels in the face of a national emer- gency.
“When such threats are un- expectedly exacerbated, the state and its citizens become vulnerable and defenseless and the situation threatens to get out of control and to lead to destabilization,” he wrote. “That is why lessons must be learned for the future from this difficult summer.” Russia has only 22,000 fire-
fighters compared to 27,000 in Germany, a much smaller coun- try, and there is no tradition, as in the United States, of trained, volunteer firefighters. Villagers were sometimes left
to fight the fires with whatever equipment was at hand—shov- els and picks to build flimsy breaches.
Firefighting equipment had
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July 29: The town of Vyksa, 93 miles southwest of the Volga city of Nizhni Novgorod.
also been allowed to decay, and in blazing forests, firefighters found that access roads had be- come overgrown and ponds to replenish their water supply had been filled with debris and sludge. A 2007 Forestry Law, which
was backed by the government, gutted the forest service of 70,000 rangers, the country’s first line of defense in the face of fire.
Emergency crews with aid
and firefighting equipment were airlifted in from Belarus, Italy and a handful of other European countries. Two U.S. military air- craft and a charter flight ordered by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, all of which landed in Moscow this month, brought water tanks and fire- protective clothing, among other equipment, to help fight the fires. “We will always remember
this gesture, this arm that was extended toward us at a very difficult time,” said Valery Shu- ikov, the deputy head of the in- ternational department of the Russian emergencies ministry, speaking at the airport. Russian officials are now talk-
ing, not for the first time, of re- flooding the bogs and bolster- ing the country’s firefighting abilities. And Russian scientists, noting the specter of global warming, are warning that this year’s long hot summer may be followed by others. “Anthropogenic risks are growing, and we should secure ourselves against them,” said Dr. Alexander Ginsburg, a deputy director of the Institute of Phys- ics of the Atmosphere in Mos- cow. “The climate is getting warmer and the extreme insta- bility is growing along with it.”
Journalists Find U.S. Aid Lacking
On Aug. 11, when the U.S. State Department announced it would contribute $55,000 (1.6 million rubles) to help Russians who had lost everything in this summer’s wildfires, snide Rus- sian journalists could not resist belittling the gift. “That should be enough to pay for stamps to correspond with the vic- tims,” one wrote sarcastically. Indeed, from the United States, the sum did seem ridiculous. Tiny Estonia, whose budget is a fraction the size, contributed
100,000 euros to fire victims. And this despite the fact that Russia has far cooler relations with this Baltic state than with the United States, and no “re- set” is expected. In an effort to smooth over the negative reaction to their un- dersized gift, the Americans sent two jets with $4.5 million worth of firefighting equip- ment to Moscow.
Prepared by Svetlana Smetanina
International Aid Delivered to Help with Firefi ghting Eff orts
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