November 02, 2007 (the date of publication in Russian)

Marine Voskanyan


Estonian schoolchildren are taught that Russians are beasts

A new political scandal in Estonia emerged in October around a collection of jokes for children entitled "An Elephant in a Fridge", and included into the list of supplementary literature for the chapter on urban and rural folklore of the 7th-grade textbook of literature. The collection was composed of jokes collected by Estonian children for the National Folklore Archives.

Anatoly Kupriyanovich, father of a Tallinn schoolgirl, was stunned as he opened this learning aid and discovered dialogues like: "How to pack 25 Chinese into one car? – Just throw a piece of bread into it." "Why have Finns got hatches on the tops of their cars? Ц In order to keep their horns in the open air".

Still, Russians were the most popular subject. "Why do Russians wear straw hats? Ц Manure is supposed to be covered with straw." "What animals are prevalent in Estonia? Ц Russians". "Who is a Chinese? Ц A Chinese is a Russian who turned yellow from waiting for communism too long".

The racial issue is tackled in a similarly careless fashion Ц though Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State of the nation which is today going to establish a visa-free regime with Estonia, would hardly appreciate a dialogue like: "Why are Negroes buried in coffins with two handles? Ц A trashcan usually has two handles". "What is the difference between a Negro and an onion? Ц When you cut an onion, you weep". Or: "What is the difference between a trampoline and a Negro? Ц When you are going to bounce on a trampoline, you take off your shoes".

And this is not only published but recommended for children! Is there any need for comments?

The shocked father addressed the Minister of Education for comment, providing a list of "funny dialogues" he found most unacceptable. Receiving no answer, he addressed the editors of the Russian-language paper MK-Estonia. Eventually, the Ministry's chief specialist, Mrs. Maria Kadakas, responsible for state examinations in Estonian language and literature, replied to him that formally, there is no violation of laws. "It is true that the collection of jokes is included in the list of additional reading for the textbook, authored by Anne Nahkur. However, the 7th-grade hometask includes only the joke 'The banana's nose is running'. The whole collection is not obligatory for studying. The list of expressions for learning is determined by a particular school teacher independently. In case studying the whole book was obligatory at your school, you may use your right to inform your teacher of impolite character of particular jokes, as the teacher might have not read the whole collection".

Anne Nahkur, the textbook's author, drove a "legal" argument: "In case somebody has found a sort of an improper joke in the book, it does not mean that the textbook is propagandizing improper jokes". Eventually, the indignant parent was advised to address the department of examinations and general education programs.

Thus, Estonia's Ministry of Education regards the emergence of a perfectly racist book in a mass education program as perfectly acceptable. The local bureaucrats does not fear any negative reaction from EU officials, as well as from European public, despite its exceptionally sensitive approach to racial and ethnic intolerance. They obviously believe that Europe's sympathy for Estonia, described as a victim of Russian imperial policy, would outweigh any basic principles of morality.

I wonder what European feminists would say if in Germany or Austria, schoolchildren would be recommended to study an anecdote like "Where does a lady have appendicitis? Ц Just to the left from the entrance", or: "Can a lady afford a salary of thirty rubles? Ц She can, if she dresses on credit and undresses for cash".

Samples of humor over the issue of a most convenient method of slaughtering Negroes are regarded in Europe as something far more criminal than cruddy anecdotes. Are European human right defenders going to react? They have already overlooked the marches of SS veterans in Tallinn, while top EU officials just recommended "avoiding intemperance". It is strange enough that the author of the learning aid has not selected an anecdote about a most convenient nation for stoking furnaces.

The author of the learning aid says she does not understand why children can't read jokes collected by other schoolchildren and "analyzed and elaborated by scientists". In Nazi Germany, scientists were also involved in racist policies Ц in particular, in experiments on POWs. Is this elaborate practice regarded by EU bureaucrats also as just "intemperance", in case the experimental material was taken from "imperialist" Russians?

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