Translation: Russia to Build 11 Centers of Tolerance

Russia is to spend 1.5 billion rubles building “Centers of Tolerance” to improve inter-ethnic relations in the next few years. Is this a good use of resources? Pyotr Kozlov examines the issue.

The Ministry of Regional Development to Build Centers of Tolerance for 1.5 Billion Rubles

The Ministry of Regional Development plans to start constructing Centers of Tolerance all across Russia from 2014, where anyone can go to learn more about the culture and traditions of Russia’s peoples. These learning centers will appear in 11 regions of the country: Saint-Petersburg, Omsk, Tomsk, Novosibirsk, Khabarovsk, Yekaterinburg, Rostov-on-Don, Samara, Nizhny Novgorod, Irkutsk, and Birobidzhan. According to preliminary calculations, as we were told by the Ministry’s head Igor Slyunyayev, the problem will require about 1.5 billion rubles in financing, with the first centers slated to open by the beginning of 2015.

According to the Slyunyayev, all the sites will be built to one standard design. “The main task is to revive the traditions of mutual respect and peaceful coexistence that have always characterized Russia,” he clarified.

“These Centers will help promote dialog, discuss hard issues, and tell people about how Russians live in Dagestan, Jews in the Far East, or Ukrainians in Tatarstan. We need to talk more about religion, culture, traditions, and to once again return to the roots of things – that we are one people, who have always lived as one family,” the Minister says.

The work of these Centers isn’t only connected with teaching people how to have tolerant relations with other religious confessions. It is about tolerance in the widest sense of the word, clarifies the head of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia (FJCR) Alexander Boroda, who is involved in discussing the project concept.

It’s planned that the standard Center will consist of two or three rooms, one of which will contain a screen showing example reels of tolerant and intolerant behavior. Apart from that, there will be venues for discussion and interactive voting on the educational material, continues Boroda. Yet another room will be used for exhibits on the discussed topics.

Thanks to the wide spectrum of possibilities they offer, the Centers of Tolerance may become popular among pupils and students, the head of the FJCR believes. In addition, he considers that their work will be synchronized with Departments of Education in the regions. All the Center’s study materials and other content will be available for downloading from the Web.

“Of course this place has to become fashionable, in the best sense of the word. Above all, though the various exhibits and expositions. At least that’s our hope,” Boroda says.

The Head of the Public Chamber’s Committee for Inter-Ethnic Relations Nikolai Svanidze is happy about the Ministry of Regional Development’s initiative, but cautions that it’s still too early to judge the effectiveness of the Centers.

“The whole question here is in the content. Money isn’t an issue. Better to invest in Centers of Tolerance, as opposed to stuffing it into officials’ pockets. The main thing we have to avoid is formalism. How effective will this project be? That’s a valid question. But it will only be possible to determine this after the project starts,” Svanidze notes.

The head of the Duma’s Committee for Nationalities, Gadzhimet Safaraliev, also supports the idea, but believes that the project’s name choice could have been better.

“I don’t like the word tolerance. Maybe we can think a bit more on this and choose something like, for instance, Houses of Friendship, Houses of Nationalities? After all, we live in Russia. Is this to say we are, translating into Russian, building Houses of Tolerance? {Translator: A “house of tolerance” (“дом терпимости”) is, lit., a “maison de tolérance”, that is, a brothel} We’re better off learning to be friends, as opposed to tolerating each other,” the deputy remarked sardonically.

The Chairman of the National Anti-Corruption Committee Kirill Kabanov believes that problems of tolerance aren’t going to be solved by building Centers, but by ideological work with people.

“Whenever discussions of construction sites spring up, bureaucrats suddenly get the desire to make it into their personal project. And we know well how things are built here on the government’s account – we have repeatedly seen this in Sochi, and other places. This problem is ideological, therefore the product too has to be ideological,” he says.

The Ministry of Regional Development began developing plans for Centers of Tolerance after October 2012, when Vladimir Putin issued instructions to develop the federal target program “Strengthening the Unity of the Russian Nation and the Ethnocultural Development of the Peoples of Russia,” which is to run from 2014 to 2018.

Prior to this, the issue of inter-ethnic relations in Russia was raised in one of Vladimir Putin’s pre-elections article, in which he referred to the necessity of creating an organization responsible for “questions on national development, inter-ethnic prosperity, the interactions of ethnic groups.” The Presidential Council on Inter-Ethnic Relations was formed in summer 2012, while by the end of the year a concept for inter-ethnic relations had been developed to the year 2020.

Reader comments

Alexandr Kupriyanov: The morons don’t have anything better to do with the money? Only educational tourism in Russia’s republics could help with this issue, such as student exchanges with families, student assignments on the history of certain republics, etc., whereas these Centers are yet another money laundering operation.

Leutnant von Berg: A brilliant raspil/kickback scheme. Better to build true houses of tolerance, in the original meaning of the word {Translator: Maisons de tolérance, aka brothels}: The people will go there, and there will be a high return on investment. But if we are to speak seriously, a person who is interested in another culture will find the time and means to study it by himself, without any Centers.

Алексей Матанцев: Is it so that Russians themselves could discover explanations for why other RF nationalities behave so badly?

Дарья Костычева: Better to call them houses of tolerance from the get go. It makes more sense that way. And of course there’s nothing better to spend 1.5 rubles billion on. There are no problems in Russia at all, apart from russkie!

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