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Санкт-Петербургская классическая гимназия №610
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SOVIET TURMOIL; Joyfully, Improbably, a School Opens in Leningrad
«New York Times», сентябрь 1991

By FELICITY BARRINGER,
Published: September 2, 1991

For an instant, the cheers drowned out the deafening clatter of trolley buses, as Viktor Kribulin [имеется в виду Виктор Кривулин], a Leningrad poet, told a knot of grinning students that their faded Russian schoolhouse would «forever be a monument to the new life, the new future that awaits your generation.»

With that, Leningrad School 610 opened the doors to the building it wrested from the local Communist Party committee just before the coup.

The school is a revolutionary experiment in restoring pre-revolutionary classical education here. Two years ago, the city’s first «classical gymnasium» had begun a gypsy life, denied a permanent home. Two weeks ago, its students thought that it would never open again.

«I thought there wouldn’t be any gymnasium. I thought they would dissolve the school when I heard about the coup,» said Aleksandr Gezentsvei, who is 12 years old.


A Headmaster on Horseback

So the cheers today carried a large measure of relief. And on the sort of occasion that the Soviet Union has celebrated with unctious homilies on education, the school’s director, Sergei  V. Buryachko, dressed in a toga and riding on a gray mare, led a crazy, costumed celebration of the possible.

Another student, Irina Badenko, 13, said that «it would have been very bad if the junta had stayed in power because they would crush the democratic forces and close our school — and maybe our teachers would be imprisoned as people were in Stalin’s time.»

But some other students could not believe that could happen. «My parents thought it was just some idiocy of those pigs,» said Dima Petukhov, 13, blushing a bit at his strong language.

«My grandmother was very upset,» said 12-year-old Aleksandr Sinin [имеется в виду Александр Симин]. «She said a civil war was about to begin. Everything was completely unclear because no television channels were working except those transmitting news about the coup.»


Memory Began With Gorbachev

The students at the gymnasium, all between 11 and 13 — the first class to enter is the older, and succeeding grades have been added each year — have only faint memories of the days before Mikhail  S. Gorbachev became Soviet leader and began the policy of glasnost, or openness.

One remembered announcing, as a toddler, that flowers being sold at a train station «belong to Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev.» For others, Mr. Gorbachev and government have been synonymous.

Not any more. «I have the greatest respect for him. He untied our tongue,» said Pyotr Kosarevsky, 12. «He’s done a lot of stupid things recently, but it was he, after all, who started the whole business of glasnost. To be too negative about him is wrong. He did the best he could, though he could have done better.»

These children, the presumptive heirs of whatever is left after the ongoing dismemberment of the Soviet Union, say they want to grow up to be ancient-history professors, or computer programmers, or, as one said rubbing his thumb and forefinger together, «anything that pays well.»


Breaking the Coup News

For them, things like freedom of speech are a given. Thus with little or no memory of the bad times, the days of the coup were both frightening and alien to them.

«At the time of the coup, I was in a math camp,» said Pyotr Ilyin, an 11-year-old. «The director of the camp told the teachers not to tell us about it, but mine came and told me the government had changed hands, and that Yanayev and others were in power. I thought and thought and wondered, ’What’s this about?’ Because these guys weren’t very good. I knew that.

«Later on,» he continued, «a big meeting was scheduled and the head of the camp called the kids and staff together — he was probably very afraid — and said that Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev was very sick and the country was now going to be run by several people. And many of us couldn’t understand anything he said.»

Such a tendency to question seems to come naturally to these students, who were selected on the basis of competitive exams. The gymnasium is one of several such schools opened in major Soviet cities. Though their curriculum is different from that of ordinary schools, they are subordinate to the state school administration. According to Mr. Buryachko, School 610’s director, as many as 14 children applied for each place available.


Less Dramatic, More Obscure

But while they are children of the democratic movement, they, like some of their elders, find the finer points of democracy obscure.

All but one of a dozen students interviewed today agreed that the Communist party newspaper Pravda should have been shut down, and all applauded last week’s decision by Leningrad’s television director to pull the plug on the documentary «600 Seconds.»

The narrator on the controversial documentary, Aleksandr Navzorov [Александр Невзоров], had defended the action of the «black berets» who killed civilians in Vilnius, Lithuania, last January.

Of the pupils, only Aleksandr Gezentsvei argued gingerly that «in our country you can have any point of view you want.»

«At least it should be that way,» the 12-year-old continued. «Maybe even on some questions there should be broadcasts in opposition to what most people are saying.»


A Middle-Class Meritocracy

Most of the 163 students in these first classes have middle-class parents — engineers, teachers, doctors — people who had little to do with the Communist Party.

The school, whose faculty is filled with part-timers on loan from Leningrad University or from prestigious academic institutes, is financed in part by grants from charitable foundations overseas. The New York-based Soros Foundation, for instance, gave about ,000 worth of computers, copying machines and other equipment.

Money was also received from a wealthy parent who sells farm equipment. Textbooks are mostly photocopies of work sent from abroad, or pre-revolutionary Latin and Greek texts from the library here. Soviet history is not part of the curriculum.

Still, for Mr. Buryachko, «these students are our success.»

«Listen to them.» he said, «They are their own people.»

Andrei Semyonov, a 13-year-old, said: «The coup could not have made it. A person who has already lived under democracy could not let things stay that way.»

«Гимназия есть школа для той части народа, которая с помощью знания законов человечества хочет встать в ряды передовых людей, руководящих государственным развитием, или посредством разумения законов природы способствовать совершенствованию практической жизни»

О. Шрадер,
немецкий лингвист и историк