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Opinion: Russia's Vladimir Putin the teacher gets an 'F'

Six months before Russia's presidential election, Vladimir Putin wants to show that he's just like everyone else. This time his strategy wound up as a failed attempt to reach out to young people, says DW's Yuri Rescheto.

I hate math, but I was good at it. I loved Russian but skipped my classes. Teachers make or break a subject. Their charisma, enthusiasm and authenticity are more important than what they teach. But Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin emanated none of these qualities as a teacher in the provincial Russian city of Yaroslavl. Standing at the board - well, actually, the brightly-lit, high-tech LED set - the Russian president came across as dull, conventional and conservative.

Just like his appearance on the all-Russian TV quiz show for young people, followed by the his appearance on the all-Russian TV quiz show for adults, his attempt to reach out to students on all-Russian Knowledge Day on September 1 failed miserably.

Politicized youth

The Kremlin's desire to address young people directly probably arose after the protests in March. The demonstrators were between 14 and 16 years of age, and the internet was full of reports about arrested students and their teachers' subsequent attempts to frighten them into submission. The adults demanded obedience and the children filmed them with smartphones under their desks and posted their videos online.

Rescheto, Juri App photo

DW's Russia correspondent, Juri Rescheto

In Bryansk, a city 350 kilometers (220 miles) away from Moscow, for example, a principal scolded her students for spreading the anti-corruption documentary made by opposition politician Alexei Navalny. In Tomsk, a teacher called his students "fascists" and "slaves of the Anglo-Saxons" because they dared to criticize the government. Video recordings of these incidents went viral and the entire country was talking about them. And everyone knew that the kids were not dumb. They were politicized.

The Kremlin was concerned but couldn't think of anything to do, except the aforementioned TV quiz show for young people and now the idea of making an aging president stand at a blackboard in a provincial school to broadcast his lesson to the entire country. This time, it wasn't Putin hunting, fishing, diving or doing judo. This time it was Putin teaching. How creative!

Putin the dinosaur

So the whole point of the appearance was missed. The image of a clever man who inspires adolescents with his life experience faded with every minute he was on air, just as it did on the quiz show for young people.

Watch video 02:32

Putin tries to connect with Russia's youth

When Vladimir Putin speaks to children, they are confronted by a remnant of the past. Someone who still watches videotapes and does not use social media comes across as a dinosaur to children. Someone who does not understand that the Internet enriches life but does not replace it cannot embody the future.

Putin likes to use war rhetoric. He speaks of things like consolidation, the nation, the necessity of defending the homeland and even having to die for the homeland. But he always forgets that children are in front of him and not soldiers. The children are the ones whose individuality represents something of value to the country. They should not be the ones dying for their homeland, but instead, thriving because of it.

The Russian president raves about the achievements of his old homeland, the Soviet Union: the Baikal-Amur Railway Line, the space station Mir, the Obninsk Nuclear Power Plant and so on. At least he acknowledges the importance of future technology for Russia. Does he have any current examples to offer? No way! Even the great aerospace innovations that have been mentioned over and over again lie in the past.

Ultimately, Putin remains aloof. He wants to use such occasions to present himself as a human being and not a statesman, but he is not ready to open up emotionally. He lectures but does not listen. He preaches instead of engaging in dialogue. He emanates authority instead of charisma, despite his smile.

And what do the students think? They are expected to enjoy Putin's most important subject, the love of the fatherland, Russia's much-vaunted patriotism. I would have preferred to skip that class.

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