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Russian ministry in Dr Zhivago fight with writers
July 24, 2003
By Andrei Shukshin

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian education chiefs Thursday dismissed claims by some of the country's top writers that they are trying to steer students away from reading novels about Soviet repression such as the classic "Doctor Zhivago."

Last week a group of prominent literary figures accused the Education Ministry of deliberately switching works depicting the tragedy of Soviet totalitarianism from an obligatory reading list to a "recommended" list.

Their open letter, signed by such contemporary writers as the poet Andrei Voznesensky and author Vladimir Voynovich, spoke of "forces of the past" working to undermine the future of the new free Russia.

Thursday, the ministry brushed off the accusations, saying the writers were ignorant about modern education in Russia.

"Assertions that such oeuvres as Boris Pasternak's "Doctor Zhivago" ... have been put on a 'recommended' reading list are not true. They were never part of the obligatory curriculum on literature," the ministry said in a press release.

The Nobel prize-winning novel, which was published abroad, told how the Russian intelligentsia was crushed by Soviet ideology.

Pasternak was banned from bookstores and textbooks until the late 1980s when "Doctor Zhivago" was put on the high school "additional reading" list.

The Education Ministry also rejected allegations by the writers that a new curriculum, currently in the works, was being prepared by a board of Soviet-era experts bent on forcing communist ideals on pupils.

"The total number of people involved in formulating the (new) standards is 32, including 13 who have experience in compiling modern-day textbooks," the ministry said.

Russia's school curriculum is a hot topic as the country struggles to shed the legacy of 70 years of communism and overhaul an education system originally designed to perpetuate the totalitarian state.

Pay in schools remains extremely low, attracting few new teachers to replace the old guard.

A number of previously unheard-of disciplines like "survival in extreme conditions" have already been introduced at the expense of Russian literature.

The ministry said the literature course, currently allocated three hours a week at best, was overloaded and it would be counterproductive to include even more works.

Russian literature teacher Svetlana Stanar agreed, saying the appeal to the ministry ignored realities.

"Living in Moscow, they forget that Russia is still very poor. Five years ago we traveled outside Moscow and in some village schools they have just one copy of Dostoyevsky's 'Crime and Punishment', which children take turns to read," she said.

"Where and how they are going to get Zhivago, I don't know."

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