We arrived early in the morning, and around noon we got a city tour of St. Petersburg where we visited some of the city’s most famous sights and learned about the short, but turbulent history of the city. Noting the resilience of Peter in his efforts to build up the city in a place that most would have deemed inhabitable was remarkable, and to imagine that this strategically important city was built only a little over 300 years ago.
In the evening we visited high school after programme where we spoke to two groups of students, who all were highly interested in the topic of civic education. The first group consisted of seven students aged 13-14 years old, so we had a rather informal and personal session so we were able to hear their opinions well. They are still working hard to practise their English, but it was evident that they were eager to improve and learn better so they could participate more in the global arena. After introducing AEGEE to the students, the first question we got was “is this legal?”. While we found the question amusing, it is important to note that it is very descriptive of the student’s way of thinking, and the source of this question. In its very essence, it proves the students’ critical thinking and how he perceives various organisations running in the country.
At the end of the session, we were asked if we would send the video of their responses to the European Parliament. As much as we would all love to, we unfortunately can’t do that, only hope that a Member of the European Parliament will read this blog, and watch our videos online (*hint hint* please share). The fact that the student wanted the video to be sent to the European Parliament displays the young people’s interest in making a difference and having their voices heard. It is important to young people to know that they are being listened to and their opinions respected. Young people are not only the future, but also the present, and it is therefor pivotal that they are included at the decision making table.
Recently the EU Parliament declared that Russia is spreading fake news, and according to our findings, her citizen seem to agree. On World Press Freedom Day, we conducted a session on civic education and fake news. In the session about fake news, we got very heated discussions on the accountability and responsibility of the media. People did not agree on what kind of media could be trusted, and especially if media that’s paid for is reliable or not. Many believed that if you have to pay for it; you can’t trust it, while others mentioned that if you pay for it; it’s less likely that it’s sponsored by somebody that could be controlling what is being reported.
While most people seemed to agree that voting is important, it was clear that they did not believe in the current state of democracy in Russia. Many mentioned that people were unaware of their rights, and that a lot of people didn’t even know where to vote or that they could vote outside their registered area. When asking people what they consider the biggest issue in their society, a common response was “how much time do we have?” or “where should I start? we have too many”. One response was even: “Do you want me to talk about politics? no, I don’t want to be in prison, I won’t talk about politics”.
“The problem is that we don’t have a civic country. There’s no democracy and we really need to work on that. There’s no freedom of speech, it’s doesn’t exist in Russia at all. There’s also no freedom in mass media. They can also be hushed and punished. As a result we have a situation where you can’t get the truth. Now I think I’ve told too much.”
– Anonymous, 21
“I don’t trust the media because different news sources are linked to their owners and they might reflect their opinion, and a lot of new sources show us different view points. That’s why I prefer to watch different view points, but I can’t trust each one.”
– Oleg Samoylov, 18
“In Russia there is a big problem that you can’t tell everything that you think. If you don’t agree with some things in the political system you have to be really careful. If I say something, tomorrow there may be some police men in my home to find something on me to take me from my home, because they think I could be dangerous because I have strength that I could give to other people and that could turn to a revolution or something like that, so they try to take me away.”
-Adel Fatkhutdinov, 21
Thank you AEGEE-Sankt Petersburg for hosting us, and see you somewhere in Europe!
Get a closer glimpse of our trip here:
Written by Rut Einarsdóttir, Photos by Dmitrii Shismarev, Video by Jorge Sánchez Hernández.