The Tolerance Program in St. Petersburg (2006-2011): Its Logic and First Results
The city government of Saint Petersburg started an educational initiative in 2006 “to develop tolerance, to provide peace and cooperation in all aspects,” according to Stanislav Tkachenko, Director of Diplomatic Studies, School of International Relations, St. Petersburg State University, and Coordinator, St. Petersburg Tolerance Program (2006 and 2011). At a 17 November 2011 Kennan Institute event, the speaker outlined the history and framework of the St. Petersburg Tolerance Program and its impact on the city thus far.
Tkakchenko began his talk with a brief history of the Tolerance Program. Dialogue concerning the establishment of the Program began in early 2006 in light of the G8 summit that was held in St. Petersburg later that year. St. Petersburg had a negative image at that time, according to Tkachenko, who cited factors such as the rising popularity of ultranationalist movements and rampant corruption throughout the city. The government of St. Petersburg approved funding for the Tolerance Program in February of 2006, whereupon Tkachenko organized a team of fourteen professors with whom he met weekly to develop the Program’s educational strategy.
In order to develop the educational framework of the Tolerance Program, the committee analyzed demographic information of the population of St. Petersburg. With over one hundred registered ethnic communities in St. Petersburg, the Tolerance Program was challenged to create programming that supported ethnic and cultural mutual respect, while celebrating the diversity of the city’s population. Tkachenko explained that the Tolerance Program utilizes a variety of outreach strategies to promote its educational mission.
In particular, the speaker emphasized the presence of the Tolerance Program in St. Petersburg elementary schools; outreach efforts vary in strategy based on the age of the students. For example, the Program initially designed and circulated posters teaching kindergarten students about tolerance and respect; based on the successful reception of the posters throughout the city, the Tolerance Program subsequently created 90-second cartoons promoting the importance of diversity, and aired the films during popular children’s television programming to target kindergarteners. At the third- and fourth-grade levels, Tkachenko continued, the Program’s outreach plan differed to address the age differences of those elementary school students. Instead of posters, the Tolerance Program developed informative pamphlets and other literature that focused on highlighting the diverse ethnic communities located in St. Petersburg, including positive information about the histories and notable historic figures of each community. This information is included in a publication the speaker called the “Ethnocalendar,” and is available to all students at those grade levels annually at no charge.
Outreach efforts are also extended to teachers in the St. Petersburg school system. Since the start of the Tolerance Program, specialists in facilitating positive, constructive dialogue about diversity and tolerance have been recruited to train teachers throughout the city on how to teach their students about these issues in a professional way. Tkachenko noted that since 2006, over 2,000 teachers have been trained to implement this programming, which has impacted approximately 15,000 students throughout St. Petersburg thus far.
Originally, the city government of St. Petersburg approved funding—over 400 million rubles—for the Tolerance Program to implement its programming through 2010. However, in light of initiative’s success, the Program was approved in 2010 to continue its efforts with additional funding through 2015. Tkachenko concluded that the continuation of the Program has allowed him and his team to further develop their initial strategies, and will allow the Tolerance Program to expand its outreach to international and interregional organizations dedicated to youth enrichment activities in diversity education through the coming years.
By Amy Shannon Liedy
Blair Ruble, Director, Kennan Institute
The Kennan Institute speaker series is made possible through the generous support of the Title VIII Program of the U.S. Department of State.