“Movement of the First” – the new pioneers? The All-Russian movement of children and youth, which is personally managed by Vladimir Putin
With the beginning of the full-scale invasion of the Russian Federation into the territory of Ukraine, the actions of Russia regarding the formation of its mobilization resources became obvious and even more active. At the same time, Russia uses all possible methods of influence, disregarding the norms of international law. The main goal in this process is the formation of children’s positive attitude towards the aggressive policy if the Russian Federation against Ukraine, the formation of youth’s consciousness in accordance with the main narratives of Russian propaganda. In addition to Russian youth, the aggressor state involves children from the temporarily occupied territories to the mentioned processes, trying to integrate them into the Russian educational and cultural space. The implementation mechanism is hidden in the youth policy of the state, to which, as well as to other spheres of activity, totalitarian methods of management are applied. All this is a manifestation of the Vladimir Putin’s fanatical idea of restoring the Soviet Union, which is manifested not only in desire to occupy the territories of independent countries, but also in the construction of a model of country management. Calling itself the legal successor of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the Russian Federation does not hesitate to use the Soviet experience of youth organizations subordinate to the government. Thus, taking the pioneering and Komsomol movements as a basis, adding modern trends, and wrapping it in a bright wrapper, the Russian Federation created an instrument for educating convenient youth – the All-Russian public state movement of children and youth “Movements of the First”.
The “Movement of the First” was created in accordance with the Federal Law “On Russian movement of children and youth”, which was signed by Vladimir Putin on July 14, 2022. It is noteworthy, that the introduction of this draft law in the State Duma was timed to the 100th anniversary of the Soviet Pioneer movement, and the Leader of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation Gennady Zyuganov noted that “the movement has a future only if it inherits the traditions of pioneers and Komsomol” (note. – author’s translation).
The explanatory note to the draft law states that the Law was developed for the state’s participation in the education of children, their professional orientation, the organization of leisure time, as well as for the formation of the younger generation’s worldview based on the traditional Russian spiritual and moral values (note. – author’s translation).
The movement received its current name in December 2022, and in April 2023 Vladimir Putin proposed to return the term “Pioneers” to the name (ed. – the name “Pioneers” was among the options from which the name of the movement was chosen), noting that unlike the Komsomol (the Communist Union of Youth), the name “Movement of the First” is devoid of any ideological coloring.
The Russian Federation pays special attention to the activities of the “Movement of the First” in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine (hereinafter – TOT) – they call Diana Krasovska the initiator of the movement – a seventh-grader from Luhansk (currently lives in the city of Sevastopol), who, during the meeting with Putin, offered to create the “new pioneers movement”. The first primary branches of the movement were opened in the TOT: in the International Children’s Center “Artek” in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, and also in the School No. 1 and in Medical College of the city of Henichesk, Kherson region, the opening of which was personally attended by the Minister of Education of the Russian Federation Sergey Kravtsov. At the present time, regional branches of the movement have been opened in all TOT.
The non-accidental comparisons of Soviet youth organizations that operated in the totalitarian regime are explained by the presence of similar features of totalitarianism in the “Movement of the First”:
Etatization and unification of all organizations of children and youth
The list of founders of the “Movement of the First” includes 26 of the largest organizations of children and youth, in particular such as the Russian Movement of Schoolchildren, which has more than 3 million members; the militarized organization “Young Army” created by the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation (All-Russian military-patriotic public movement of children and youth “YUNARMIYA”) – 1,406 million members; the “Big Change”, the number of which reaches 5 million members; military-patriotic center “Vympel” (“Pennant”).
Actual coercion of entry
As of July 2023, the “Movement of the First” includes 1,087,250 children, including 22,810 children from the TOT of Ukraine (not including Crimea and the city of Sevastopol). It is planned to enroll 21 796 313 children in the age of 6-18, which is 96% of children on the Russian Federation in the age of 6-18 (according to the population statistics as of January 1, 2023). And the chairman of the board of the “Movement of the First” Grigory Gurov notes that “The ideal situation is when, within 3-5 years, all children aged from 6 to 18 will become members of the movement” (note – author’s translation).
Total control by the state
All management is actually carried out personally by the president of the Russian Federation – Vladimir Putin, since he is the one who heads the permanent Supervisory Board of the “Movement of the First”, personally approves and changes its composition. The Supervisory board includes, in particular, a number of officials – the Minister of Education of the Russian Federation – Sergey Kravtsov, the Minister of Science and Higher Education of the Russian Federation – Valery Falkov, the Children’s Rights Commissioner for the President of Russia – Marina Lvova-Belova, the assistants of the President of the Russian Federation – Maksim Oreshkin and Andrey Fursenko, the Head of the of the Federal Agency for Youth Affairs – Ksenia Razuvayeva, Deputy Prime Minister for Social Policy – Tatyana Golikova, First Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council of the Russian Federation – Andrey Turchak, the Governor of Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug – Dmitry Artyukhov, the First Deputy Chairman of the Federal Council of the Russian Federation on Education – Olga Kazakova, the First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Administration of Russia – Sergey Kiriyenko.
The Supervisory Board, in turn, forms the Coordination Council, which has the right to make decisions on the creation and liquidation of the regional branches of the Movement, determines the composition of the councils of regional branches of the Movement and appoints their heads, as well as determines the personal composition of the Management Board of the Movement. The Chairman of the Board, who is the individual type of executive body of the Movement and manages the current activities of the movement, is again appointed personally by the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin.
The “Movement of the First” is financed from the budgets of the budget system of the Russian Federation at the expense of subsidies, it has the right to provide subsidies to the regional branches of the Movement, as well as grants in the form of subsidies to legal entities, sole proprietors, natural persons. The budget of the “Movement of the First” is more than 19 billion Russian Rubles, which is equal to more than 206 million US dollars, and is approximately equal to the defense budgets of such countries as Latvia, Georgia, Luxembourg (note – military expenses of the countries as of 2015 were taken in account).
One of directions of the “Movement of the First” activities is “patriotism and historical memory “Serve the Fatherland”, the idea of which is: “Participants of the Movement are united with the Fatherland (in given context – the Russian Federation) by one destiny. Each of them is in one’s own place, preparing oneself for serving the Russian Federation and for responsibility for its future” (note – author’s translation). As a part of this direction, support is provided to servicemen of the Russian Federation who are fighting in the territory of Ukraine, children get involved in crafting trench candles, weaving camouflage nets, they are taught to construct and operate drones, military-patriotic games are held for them. As a part of mentoring programs, meetings of children with participants of the so-called Special Military Operation are systematically held, during which participation of servicemen in the war against Ukraine is glorified and heroized, which itself de-facto is propaganda work on creating a mobilization reserve. By spreading such practice on the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine, the Russian Federation violates the IV Geneva Convention, which prohibits propaganda or pressure, aimed at the voluntary entry into the armed forces of the occupier state, and also includes the forced service in such armed forces in the list of serious violations (grave breaches) of Geneva Convention.
Influence on the consciousness of the young generation
The program of educational work of the “Movement of the First” was developed to organize the educational work in primary, local and regional branches of the Movement, and in the activities of collective members of the Movement. Among the results of its implementation, the following ones are planned:
- The formation of active patriotism, independence, and responsibility in socially significant social activities for the benefit of the fatherland (In given context – the Russian Federation),
- The formation of the worldview, appropriation of Russian traditional spiritual and moral values, civic identity; the desire for self-realization in Russia, work in the field of development of Russian society and the state,
- The formation of persistent rejection of ideologies of extremism, terrorism, and Neo-Nazism; international, inter-ethnic (inter-confessional) harmony among children and youth.
Control over the content of education, distortion of truth, substitution of concepts
Developed programs of educational work, programs of additional genera development programs and other methodological materials are uniform for use by all organizations engaged in the education of children and youth. Their content contains the signs of the substitution of concepts and the distortion of truth, in particular regarding “historical truth”, “ideology of terrorism and extremism among children and youth”, “Neo-Nazism”.
Having such ambiguous features, it was not coincidentally that the “Movement of the First” became the organizer of the spring and summer stages of the “University sessions” project in 2023, in which about 15,000 children took part.
For the reference: “University sessions” is the unified program that is held at the campuses of Russian universities for children of the age 12-17, including those from the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine, during the sessions, lasting 10 days each. The purpose of the program is vocational guidance, and de-facto – Russification of Ukrainian children and stimulation of their migration from the occupied territories to study and further residence in the Russian Federation.
As a part of this project, among the tasks of the “Movement of the First” there were development and implementation of programs, aimed at ensuring civic-patriotic education of underaged students and popularizing the activities of the movement. “University sessions” were conventionally divided into two types: the first were carried out by the “Movement of the First”, one of the conditions of participation in which was membership in the movement and registration on the official website of the movement; the second – without mandatory requirement of membership in the movement, however, the program of the session included a day dedicated to the “Movement of the First”. In both cases, representatives of the movement held meetings with children, talked about the prospects of membership in the “Movement of the First” and campaigned for new children to join.
The “University sessions” project became just one of the platforms for promoting the ideas of the “Movement of the First”, the involvement of children in it is actively taking place in all educational institutions of the Russian Federation and TOT of Ukraine.
Therefore, the Russian Federation has created and is rapidly launching the mechanism for the preparation of mobilization resources for the continuation of war against Ukraine, “collective West” and other “enemies”. In this context, we can talk about how Russia blatantly neglects its own obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and Convention on the Rights of the Child, using education and leisure to militarize and indoctrinate children. All-Russian public state movement of children and youth “Movement of the First”, which was formed in “best” traditions of Soviet youth policy, has become one of the instruments in this process. Joining the ranks of such organizations as “Movement of the First”, “Young Army” etc., children, considering the lack of the formed worldview, become victims of the orderly process of forming a militarized consciousness. And the reality turns out to be not so bright, as it is presented on the advertising brochure of the movement – after a few years, children who used to sit at the school desks find themselves on the battlefield, where they become victims of the totalitarian regime in the literal sense. And such movements of youth as “Movement of the First” and “Young Army” play the key role in this process, therefore, it is important to bring to justice all officials involved in the activities of these movements in order to prevent the repetition of such practices in the future.
The material was prepared by the Center for Civic Education “Almenda” with the financial support of the Czech organization People in Need Ukraine, as a part of the SOS Ukraine initiative. The content of the publication does not necessarily match their position.