November 22, 2023 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 547

Despite Russia's Ideologization Of The Education System, Russia Fails To Build A State Ideology

November 22, 2023 | By Dr. Alexey Salin*
Russia | MEMRI Daily Brief No. 547

The significant transformation of Russia's education system is one of the possible signs that the country may be moving toward pure autocracy. Since, September 2023, the main and most discussed changes in schools are the introduction of unified history textbooks for high schools that cover the "special military operation" (SVO) in Ukraine and primary military training lessons as part of the "Basics of Life Safety" course for high schools (from 2024 the course will be called "Fundamentals of Security and Defense of the Homeland"), among other things.[1]

Many commentators have linked these initiatives to the emergence of an official ideology in Russia.[2] Russia's new textbooks certainly reflect shifts in the ruling elites' understanding of Russia's Soviet and post-Soviet past,[3] but they fail to present an explicit doctrine that would define values and ideals compulsory for citizens.[4]


Foundations Of Russian Statehood

The innovation in education, which can really testify to the formation of a Russian ideology, occurred rather not at the level of schools, but at the level of institutions of higher education. From September 2023, Russian students in their first year of study will take a compulsory course called "Fundamentals of Russian Statehood."[5] The initiators of this project explicitly stated that the reason for the introduction of this course was Russia's need for ideology.[6]

Two official textbooks were published for this course: one for social sciences and humanities students, the other for STEM students. Unlike high school history textbooks, which merely seek to present the history of the 20th century from the perspective of the Russian ruling class, the textbooks on the "Foundations of Russian Statehood" aim to present the foundations of the values on which Russian society and the state are based.

The "Foundations of Russian Statehood" textbook for humanities and social sciences students shows that the new Russian ideology it supposedly based on the following theses:

1. Russians Are A State-Founding Ethnos

Russians are the ethnos that united the other peoples of Russia within the framework of one state, as it was "the Russian people who bore the main burden of state-building, creating the economic and cultural wealth of the country."[7] The textbook uses the popular notion among Russian imperial nationalists that the Russian ethnos consists of three nationalities: Velikorosy (i.e., ethnic Russians), Malorosy (i.e., Ukrainians) and Belorusy (i.e., Belarusians)[8] – to emphasize that Russians and Ukrainians are in fact one people.[9] Russia is considered to be a multi-ethnic community united on the basis of the culture of the leading Russian ethnos.[10]

2. Russia Is A State-Civilization

The concept of a state-civilization is the official Kremlin approach to explain Russia's place in the world, as is stressed in the 2023 Concept of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation. Since Russia is formed by the Russian nation-civilization, the character of the Russian state is defined as a state-civilization.

The Russian nation-civilization is shaped by Russian Orthodox culture. Yet, despite how Russian statehood expresses the traditional values characteristic of the Russian Orthodox Church, it also recognized the values of other ethnicities and confessions that are in Russia.[11] Thus, the traditional values of all peoples and traditional religions of Russia, united by Russian culture, are declared to be the foundation of the Russian state.

Key Principles Of The Russian State-Civilization

According to the "Foundations of Russian Statehood" textbook, the following are the key principles of the Russian state-civilization:

1. Strong Centralized State Power

In the "Foundations of Russian Statehood" textbook, when discussing democracy in Russia, the authors insist that it is important to consider the civilizational peculiarities of the country.[12] It is worth noting that, in an interview with the September 10, 2018 issue of the weekly magazine Ogonyok, which is published by the daily Kommersant, Renowned Russian Academic Sergey Karaganov stressed that the West's obsession with imposing a liberal democracy on Russia has created a rift between Russia and the West.

In the East, by comparison, Russia finds itself more at ease, since there the approach is different. "They [in the East] are not hampered by political or cultural missionary activity," Karaganov specifies. He adds: "We must move, and move in the only direction possible to us for the time being – eastwards. But this movement is not forced or involuntary; rather, it is a way home, to our unique Eurasian character." According to the Russian academic, it is time to stop being ashamed of the fact that Russia is as much a successor of Genghis Khan's empire as China, since this is Russia's historical and genetic code. Pursuantly, he emphasized that it is time to stop feeling ashamed that historically, Russia is committed to the authoritarian system of government and not to liberal democracy. "If we were not authoritarian and centralized, we would not have existed in our current borders." Karagonov stated.[13]

The textbook even hints that Russia as a state-civilization is characterized by an imperial structure.[14] Hence, it is easy to conclude that Russia as a state-civilization should be considered just as an empire: "The imperial form of government is characterized by the personified role of the ruler, a clearly defined imperial idea, mission and purpose, cultivation of traditional foundations of society, reliance on religious identity historically inherent to the society."[15]

2. Service To The Fatherland

One of the key principles of the Russian state-civilization is declared to be "the ideology of service, i.e., the voluntary fulfillment of duties toward the state and the Fatherland."[16] This view turns the idea of participation in the common good into expressing devoted loyalty to the current government. The textbook places the formation of this view in medieval Russia, which defined the duties of the individual not toward the people, but toward the monarch.[17]

This idea of serving the country is also represented as "love" for the fatherland.[18] The textbook notes that since the 2010s, this love has been understood as love for the Russian land and for the people of Russia.[19] Thus, serving the Fatherland has been associated with the loyalty to traditional values of Russian culture and to the readiness to defend them even with weapons.

3. The Idea Of Justice

The idea of justice (or truth) is also called an important traditional value, but the problem is that this idea is an ultimate value for any political philosophy and ideology, and the textbook does not provide a meaningful interpretation of this principle within the Russian political system, except for references to some interpretations in spiritual Orthodox texts.[20] At the same time, it is remarkable that the textbook itself demonstrates with its references to social surveys that among young people prevail the idea that justice means equality before the law,[21] which is at odds with the move toward pure authoritarianism in the country.

4. Individualism Vs. Collectiveness

The textbook emphasizes the "the ideal of a free, morally responsible person." However, it specifies that the Russian understanding of freedom differs from the one in the West.

According to the textbook, while the West pursues individualism, in Russia the individual's freedom should be limited due to a sentiment of belonging to a collective. Furthermore, the concepts of sobornost (i.e., communication "in brotherhood and love")[22]  and of "kinship" are underlined.

5. Traditional Family

The discourse on the traditional family seems to be the weakest point in the whole textbook. On the one hand, the textbook acknowledges that economic development and modernization have essentially destroyed the classical patriarchal family in Russia,[23] and that the traditional family in Russia should be revived.

Despite stressing that children need a mother who is a biological woman and a father who is a biological man, the textbook gives a very general definition of the traditional family: "A traditional family is a family in which relations between its members are based on the principles of justice, harmony and trust, in which the continuity of generations is preserved at the same time with freedom and opportunities for self-realization for everyone."[24]

6. Russia's Messianic Role And The "Russian Idea"

The textbook considers the idea of Russia's messianic destiny to be a fundamental traditional value. To explain what this messianic destiny is, the concept of the "Russian idea" as interpreted by Fyodor Dostoevsky is given.

According to him, the Russian man must create a special worldview that will be able to embody all those ideas "which Europe is developing with such persistence, with such courage, in its separate nationalities." Russia will strive for this, because, in the words of Dostoevsky as quoted in the textbook, "to a true Russian, Europe and the fate of the whole great Aryan race are as dear as Russia herself."[25] Apparently, this means that Russia sees its task not only in protecting its culture from the modern ultra-liberal ideology that erases national and cultural differences everywhere,[26] but also in protecting the values of Europe and the West from this phenomenon. This statement must look very ominous to people in Western countries, given that in Ukraine, Russia is demonstrating how it is fighting for its traditional values.

The textbook recognizes that Russian philosophers have never been able to create a convincing concept of the "Russian idea." Moreover, it endorses the view of late 19th-century Russian philosopher Vladimir Soloviev that this concept has contradictions within itself: The Russian idea should be, on the one hand, specifically national, and on the other hand, it should be linked to Christianity, which does not recognize distinctions between people based on their nationality.

Nevertheless, this actually non-existent "Russian idea" is loaded with an important ideological significance: "Today, representatives of the 'Russian idea' actively oppose the ideology and practice of globalization, theories of a 'golden billion' and 'transhumanism,' the attempts of international financial and economic elites to turn the world into their full ownership."[27]

7. SVO As A Consequence Of Russia's Resurrection

According to the textbook, the history of the Russian Empire represents the systematic development of the Russian state-civilization under the leadership of the Russian ethnos.

The Bolsheviks' rejection of the principle of domination of Russian civilization in the formation of a new state on the ruins of the Russian Empire – the USSR – led to self-disintegration. Separate peoples belonging to the Russian state-civilization, not being held by the force of national Russian culture, began to subsequently break away from Russia. The same policy of the Bolsheviks led to the transfer of the lands of Novorossiya and Crimea to Ukraine.[28] In this regard, the textbook interprets the SVO as a necessary consequence of Russia's resurrection as a state-civilization. The textbook says that as Russians regain their former cultural and national strength, they seek to reunite in one political entity.


It is surprising to note that the whole ideological construction built in the "Foundations of Russian Statehood" for the humanities and social sciences textbook diverges in many ways from the version for STEM students, which looks much more liberal.

For example, about the concept of state-civilization, the textbook for STEM students suddenly poses a critical question about the real existence of a  unique civilization in its own right rather than through the lenses of history.[29] Regarding Russian ethnos, this textbook does not claim that the main burden of state-building falls on Russians.[30] Even while recognizing the position of Russians as a state-founding ethnos, taken from the 2020 amendments to the Russian Constitution, this textbook emphasizes those norms of the Constitution that clearly point to Russia's federal structure and the equality of nationalities.[31] Moreover, when speaking of Russian civilization, it openly refuses to use the nationalist formulation "Russian (Russkiy) world," preferring the neutral expression "Russian (Rossiyskiy) sociocultural world."[32] This seems to be an open challenge both to the discourse of the textbook for social sciences and humanities students and even Russia's official political documents.[33]

This divergence between the two versions of the textbook can be explained in different ways. Perhaps it is due to differences in the social careers of their authors. It is also possible that the textbook for social sciences and humanities students received more editorial attention because of the common perception of them as spontaneous dissidents. In any case, the main fact is that attempts to shape an ideology in Russia remain incoherent. Instead of a unified and clear doctrine, we see rather several theories about Russia and its historical mission partially overlapping and partially diverging through different paths. In this regard, it is somewhat problematic to say that Russia is moving toward pure autocracy. Rather, its current political system still retains traits of what are usually called "hybrid regimes."

*Dr. Alexey Salin, PhD in Philosophy, Researcher at MEMRI


[1] See MEMRI MEMRI Daily Brief No. 541, Putin Raises A New Generation For War, by Dr. Olesya Zakharova, November 14, 2023

[2], September 5, 2023.

[3], September 2, 2023.

[4], September 2, 2023.

[5], September 1, 2023.

[6], accessed November 22, 2023.

[7] Perevezentsev, S. (Ed.). (2023). Fundamentals of Russian Statehood: A Textbook for Humanities and Social Sciences Students [Основы российской государственности: учебное пособие для студентов, изучающих социогуманитарные науки]. Moscow: Publishing House "Delo" RANEPA, p. 82.

[8] Velikorosy, Malorosy and Belorusy (Great, Little and White Russians).

[9] Ibid., p. 88, p. 94, p. 95.

[10] Ibid., pp. 106–108.

[11] Ibid., pp. 138–139, 142–143.

[12] Ibid., p. 200–202.

[14] It is noteworthy that Aleksandr Dugin has recently claimed in much the same vein that there is an inherent connection between notions of empire and state-civilization: Dugin A. The Moment of Empire. What Hides Behind the Term "State-Civilization";, October 6, 2023.

[15] Ibid., p. 188.

[16] Ibid., p. 150.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid., p. 314.

[19] Ibid., p. 362. Note that the word "Russkaya" in contrast to "Rossiyskaya" refers not to the name of the state but to the major nationality, or ethnos, inhabiting it.

[20] Ibid., p. 52, pp. 287–290.

[21] Ibid., pp. 290–291.

[22] Ibid., pp. 168–169.

[23] Ibid., p. 383–386.

[24] Ibid., p. 388.

[25] Ibid., p. 169.

[26] Ibid., p. 282.

[27] Ibid., pp. 260–261.

[28] Ibid., pp. 99–103.

[29] Larionov, A. & Uvarov, P. & Chagadaeva, O. (Eds.). (2023). Fundamentals of Russian Statehood: A Textbook STEM Students [Основы российской государственности: учебное пособие для студентов естественно-научных и инженерно-технических специальностей]. Moscow: Publishing House "Delo" RANEPA, pp. 125–128.

[30] Ibid., p. 150.

[31] Ibid., p. 196.

[32] Ibid., p. 195. See the note xxxii, the term "Russkiy" has an ethnic connotation which lacks in the term "Rossiyskiy."

[33], March 31, 2023.

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