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Russia's Education Ministry introduced stricter controls over the content of school textbooks in 2012. (file photo)

A textbook on economics has been banned from use in Russian schools after an expert review deemed it lacking in patriotism, its author told RFE/RL.

Igor Lipsits, a professor at the Faculty of Business and Management at Moscow's Higher School of Economics, said that he received an e-mail from his publisher Vita-Press with instructions to edit the book in line with an expert review ordered by the Russian Education Academy, a government body focused on pedagogy.

The high-school text had been removed from the Education Ministry's list of approved textbooks, Lipsits was told, meaning Russian schools can no longer purchase and use the title in classes.

The expert review, a copy of which was provided to RFE/RL by Lipsits, notes that "the examples cited [in the book] do not promote love for the Motherland."

In its e-mail dated February 1, which Lipsits forwarded to RFE/RL, Vita-Press recommended that the author add details about unspecified "plans for the next economic breakthrough" and discuss the influence of the government's import substitution -- a campaign launched after Russia embargoed certain food imports in response to Western sanctions - - on people's "sense of pride in the country."

Vita-Press head Lyudmila Antonova confirmed in an interview with the Russian daily Kommersant that the recommendations included in the letter came at least in part from the expert review. What exactly "facilitating love for the Motherland" involved, or when the next economic breakthrough was expected, was not made clear.

Lipsits said that the textbook had previously passed expert reviews by two government bodies, but the subsequent review ordered by the Education Ministry reached a negative verdict and demanded that revisions are made.

The Russian Education Academy told Kommersant that the Education Ministry was responsible for the expert analysis. The ministry, for its part, denied involvement in the final review.

'Ideological Somersaults'

Lipsits said he has no intention of adding "gleeful words about an economic boom and patriotic fervor in favor of import substitution."

"I've become unused to writing such things in the 25 years" since the Soviet Union ended, he told Kommersant, "and I'm not keen to revive my skills at windbaggery."

"My conception of patriotism was formed way back in my youth," he later wrote on Facebook. "And it assumes work toward the development of the country and its people, and not praise toward those who are ruling it at the present moment. So I've long expected that this position of mine may become unacceptable for the Education Ministry. But I can't change myself -- I'm too old now for such ideological somersaults."

Since 2012, the Russian Education Ministry has overseen a campaign to censor high-school textbooks and introduce stricter controls over their content.

Enlightenment, a publisher with ties to Putin's inner circle, emerged with a near-monopoly over the textbook market that it continues to enjoy today.

In May 2018, Russian Textbook, a nonprofit representing textbook publishers, sent an open letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin signed by several dozen authors. The association lists around 30 publishers as its members, but does not include Enlightenment.

In the letter, the authors criticized the government's expert review process, pointing out that the federal textbook list has not been renewed for over four years and most titles on the list have not been updated since 2012.

"As the authors of textbooks used for many years in schools, we cannot accept the lack of professionalism and incompetence shown in organizing and carrying out expert reviews of textbooks," the authors wrote. "We strongly believe that less variation in academic literature for schools and the removal of progressive teaching methods will have a negative influence on the development of a knowledge-based economy in our country."

Concluding its e-mail to Lipsits, the publisher Vita-Press predicted that the Education Ministry's demands from textbook authors would only get stricter in the future.

Afghan women cast their vote during the parliamentary elections in Kandahar late last year.

With increased talk of peace in Afghanistan, the Taliban is projecting itself as a more moderate force, pledging to grant women their rights and allow them to work and go to school.

The Taliban said in a February 5 statement that it was committed to guaranteeing women their rights -- under Islam -- and "in a way that neither their legitimate rights are violated nor their human dignity and Afghan values are threatened."

However, in the same statement, issued during talks between Taliban representatives and an Afghan delegation led by former President Hamid Karzai in Moscow, the Taliban also suggested it wants to curtail the fragile freedoms gained by women since the U.S.-led invasion ousted the militants in 2001, prompting concern among Afghan rights campaigners.

The statement comes after U.S. and Taliban officials, meeting in Doha in late January, agreed in principle to the "framework" of a peace deal aimed at ending Afghanistan's 17-year war.

'Immorality, Indecency'

The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001 with a fundamentalist and often brutal interpretation of Islamic law.

The extremist group was notorious for its treatment of women, banning most of them from working or going to school and lashing those who broke their strict edicts.

In its recent statement, the Taliban said that it "considers woman as the builders of a Muslim society and is committed to all rights of women that have been given to them by the sacred religion of Islam."

The Taliban said Islam gave women rights in areas including "business and ownership, inheritance, education, work, choosing one's husband, security, health, and the right to a good life."

But the Taliban also denounced "so-called women's rights activists" who were encouraging women to break Afghan customs.

"Due to corruption, the expenses brought and spent under the title of women rights have gone to the pockets of those who raise slogans of women rights," the English-language statement said.

"Under the name of women's rights, there has been work for immorality, indecency, and the promotion of non-Islamic cultures," the Taliban said in the statement.

'Dark Years Of Dictatorship'

The militants' statement provoked anger from Afghan rights campaigners.

Samira Hamidi, an Afghan women's rights activist, said the Taliban's statement "reaffirms women's concerns."

"According to them, we are so-called activists" and "we are responsible for poor health, lack of education, and violence against women," Hamidi said on Twitter on February 5, adding that someone should remind the militants of their "dark years of dictatorship."

"We have gained so much in the last 18 years, whatever the problems, that we do not want to go back to the Taliban period," said Fawzia Koofi, a female member of the Afghan parliament and one of the two women in attendance at the Moscow talks.

Afghan parliamentary deputy Fawzia Koofi (file photo)
Afghan parliamentary deputy Fawzia Koofi (file photo)

"They need to align themselves with progress as Afghanistan is not turning back," added Koofi. "Anyone who wants to do politics in Afghanistan needs to respect the human freedoms, including the rights of women."

Ahmad Shuja Jamal, an Afghan analyst, said on Twitter that the Taliban's statement shows "they oppose civil society, disdain women activists, [and] want to curtail women's individual freedoms."

"Worst of all, they don't disavow their own brutality toward women," said Jamal.

Many Afghan women fear that their rights enshrined under the constitution will be given away as part of a peace settlement with the Taliban. The constitution guarantees the same rights to women as men, although in practice women still face discrimination.

But the Taliban, in the same February 5 statement, demanded a new constitution based on "Islamic principles, national interests, historic pride, and social justice."

Softer Image

The Taliban's attempt to project a softer and more tolerant image comes as peace talks gain momentum.

On January 30, the Taliban said they were not seeking a "monopoly on power" in a future administration in Afghanistan but are looking for ways to coexist with Afghan institutions, in what was seen as the militants' most conciliatory statement to date.

In December, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said "if peace comes and the Taliban returns, then our return will not be in the same harsh way as it was in 1996," the year the Taliban took control of Kabul.

Mujahid said the Taliban were not against women's education or employment but wanted to maintain cultural and religious codes.

"We are not against women working in government organizations or against their outdoor activities, but we will be against the alien-culture clothes worn by women, brought to our country," Mujahid said.

But many Afghan women are still skeptical.

"While [the Taliban] are not ready to talk to women, they keep making laws for them," said Wazhma Frogh, a women's rights activist.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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