“Monopoly on Truth” or why Russia needs the “Znanie” Society - картинка 1

“Monopoly on Truth” or why Russia needs the “Znanie” Society

The Russian Federation, considering itself the successor to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics,  is attempting to revive the defunct union in every way possible, governing the state in the same totalitarian manner. One of the manifestations of this is the revival of Soviet practices – in the 2000s, this included the return of the anthem of the USSR, the republication of Stalin-era «Great Soviet Encyclopaedia», and the revival of Volunteer Society for Cooperation with the Army, Aviation, and Navy (DOSAAF).

After the beginning of the occupation of part of the Ukrainian territory, Russia began to actively use its ideological resources to carry out effective propaganda against both its citizens and Ukrainian citizens who ended up in the temporarily occupied territories (hereinafter referred to as TOT). Special focus is placed on children and youth, as their upbringing in the spirit of Russian patriotism is considered one of the Russian government’s priorities, as repeatedly emphasised by the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin.

Thus, in 2022, on the initiative of the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, children’s movements are being restored as successors to the Pioneer movement, actively spreading throughout the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine, and the educational society “Znanie” (English – “Knowledge”, hereinafter referred to as “Znanie”), which has a Soviet past, is being revived.

Товариство “Знаніє” – старий новий інThe “Znanie” Society – a new old propaganda toolструмент пропаганди

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The educational society “Znanie” was founded in 1947 by dictator Joseph Stalin as a system of organisations fully controlled by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union that carried out Soviet propaganda under the guise of education. Russian scholars have also pointed out the main function of agitation and propaganda of the Society in Soviet times.

Highly evaluating the existence of such an instrument of influence, the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin issued a decree on the revival of the “Znanie” Society in 2015. Dissatisfied with the results of the Society’s propaganda efforts, in 2021 V. Putin declared it ineffective and called for the Society to be relaunched on a «digital platform». «In recent years, it (note – referred to “Znanie”) seems to exist, but no one seems to notice it» the president of the Russian Federation says (note – author’s translation). It is noteworthy that the idea of modernising the Society was presented to Vladimir Putin at a meeting of the supervisory board of the ANO “Russia – Land of Opportunity” by the winner of “Leaders of Russia. Politics” competition Maksim Dreval, who later became the head of the “Znanie” Society.

Monopoly of information

In 2021, “Znanie” was not only “digitised”, but also turned into the main education authority and effectively monopolised. This became possible due to amendments to the federal law “On Education in the Russian Federation”. These amendments introduced the concept of “educational activities”, which can be carried out “beyond the scope of educational programmes” only with the approval of the Government of the Russian Federation, which establishes the procedure, conditions and forms of educational activities. Thus, any lectures, meetings, seminars, as well as video tutorials or podcasts, have come under the supervision of the Russian central authorities.

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Even at the stage of consideration by the State Duma, the educational bill was criticised for its repressive and censorial nature. The scientific community pointed out that the bill would ban any exchange of knowledge, and more than 400 scientists and popularisers of science signed a declaration demanding the withdrawal of the bill from the State Duma.

Even the Accounts Chamber of the Russian Federation, a state body, noted in its conclusion that the bill could lead to restrictions on the activities of non-profit organisations and discussion platforms. Despite all the objections, the amendments to the legislation on educational activities were adopted, with the following reasoning: “The absence of appropriate legal regulation creates preconditions for the uncontrolled implementation of a wide range of propaganda activities under the guise of educational activities in the school and university environment by anti-Russian forces, including those supported from abroad and aimed at discrediting the state policy pursued in the Russian Federation, reconsidering history, and undermining the constitution” (note – author’s translation).

The role of “Znanie” in the war against Ukraine

Consequently, with the establishment of state control over educational activities, the “Znanie” Society has entered a new phase of its activity.

The new Director General

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In May 2021, at the third conference of the Znanie Society, Maksim Dreval, the very person who proposed to V. Putin that the Society should be modernised, was elected as its new Director General.

New supervisory board with high-ranking officials of the Russian Federation

The new supervisory board includes a number of officials: First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Administration of the Russian Federation Sergey Kiriyenko, presidential aides Vladimir Medinsky, Maksim Oreshkin, and Andrei Fursenko, Minister of Education Sergey Kravtsov, Minister of Science and Higher Education Valery Falkov, and Head of the Federal Agency for Youth Affairs Ksenia Razuvayeva, most of whom also lead the all-Russian public and state movement of children and youth “Movement of the First”, which indicates total state control.

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A 20-fold increase in the company’s financing

From 100 million rubles per year to 2 billion rubles, equivalent to more than 22.5 million US dollars.

New logo

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A new logo was created that includes the z symbol (note – “z” has become an unofficial symbol of the Russian invasion of Ukraine)

Expansion of activities to the TOT of Ukraine

The Society has expanded its activities to the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine – Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson regions and the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, where it has opened representative offices and is engaged in Russification of the local Ukrainian population, including children. For example, in December 2023, representatives of the “Znanie” Society held an educational campaign in Zaporizhzhia region called «Achievements of Russia».

Solovyov, Peskov, Shoigu and even Putin himself became lecturers of the Society

The topics of the lectures and the list of lecturers have also changed: Russian propagandist Vladimir Solovyov, press secretary of the President of the Russian Federation Dmitry Peskov, Minister of Defence Sergei Shoigu, and President Vladimir Putin himself became new lecturers of the Society, endorsing Russia’s war against Ukraine during the events, spreading pro-Kremlin disinformation and war propaganda, Russian narratives about Russia’s greatness, a hostile Western world, the danger of NATO, the heroism of Russian military personnel participating in the war in Ukraine, the development of combat robots, the activities of scientific companies, etc.

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The renewed “Znanie” is one of the developers of ideological courses for school and university students, «Conversations about Important Things» and «Fundamentals of Russian Statehood». The Society also developed the project “Znanie.Heroes”, within which artists created 22 comics about the “exploits” of participants in the war against Ukraine — printed editions of the graphic novels are now being given to children in the occupied territories of Ukraine.

Another area of activity of the “Znanie” Society is participation in the “University Changes” project, which aims to hold lectures and military-patriotic educational events for children based on the Society’s goals of “fostering patriotism and combating the falsification of history”. In fact, during such lectures, children are given information regarding the glorification of Russia, the heroisation and romanticisation of the Great Patriotic War, including parallels with the war on the territory of Ukraine, and the “return of territories” (note – referred to the TOT of Ukraine).

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For example, at the Lipetsk State Pedagogical University, the “Znanie” Society organised a meeting between children and participants in the war in Ukraine.

Given the scale of the Znanie Society and the involvement of the highest military and political leadership of the Russian Federation in its functioning, it can be concluded that Russia aims to raise a new generation of young people who will have a distorted and false view of historical and political processes in the world, spread the idea of Russia’s uniqueness and “special role in history” as a fighter against “fascism” and primordial enemies in order to increase the level of militarisation of society for pursuing further aggressive policies against neighbouring countries.

In December 2023, “Znanie” was placed on the sanctions lists of the European Union and Switzerland for conducting activities aimed at spreading pro-Kremlin disinformation, propaganda for war, and Russification of the population in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine. The imposed sanctions are an important step towards ending the impunity of Russia’s actions, but it is important to continue to exert pressure and emphasise the importance of imposing personal sanctions on the Society’s management, in particular, the Director General, who is personally responsible for the implementation of all its activities and who has not yet been brought to justice.

The publication 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.