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Russian series sparks controversy

Some politicians don't like negative view of high school life

A controversial TV series depicting the harsh reality of life set in a fictional high school has sparked a heated debate in Russia about the decline in the quality of schooling since Soviet times.

“Shkola” (School) — a 60-part series that debuted mid-January on Russia’s leading public network, Channel One — depicts teenagers smoking, drinking beer, attacking classmates and being rude to their teachers.

Shot by director Valeria Gai Germanika in a Moscow school in a documentary style that gives it a true-to-life edge, “Shkola” elicited a swift response from politicians, some of whom called for the show’s creators to be punished.

Germanika’s feature debut, “Everybody Dies But Me,” was screened during Critics’ Week at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, where it won two awards.

But that reputation means little to the critics of “Shkola.”

“I have watched the first episodes and confirmed this is a pre-planned subversion of our children and youth,” Communist parliamentarian Vladislav Yurchik said in comments reported by the state news agency RIA Novosti.

Yurchik urged the shows producers to be punished for what he described as making contemporary youths “a morally crippled generation.”

Channel One has been robust in the defense of the series, which comes during the 2010 Year of the Teacher — a policy introduced by President Dmitry Medvedev to focus attention on what needs to be improved in Russia’s schools.

“We do not think the Year of the Teacher … is a pretext for concealing or disguising problems in schools, but a reason to understand them,” Channel One said in a statement issued in response to its critics.

The show, created by Moscow’s Igor Tolstunov Production Co., which describes it as “a radical series about teenagers,” also received support from Russia’s presidential ombudsman for youth.

Pavel Astakhov says the show was a healthy reality check and would promote positive debate. “Fears that teenagers will start imitating the characters in the series are naive. The main problem of teenagers today is their inability to take a look at themselves from the outside. By showing the series, Channel One is teaching them to assess their behavior from the outside.”

The controversy has already prompted calls for a series showing the brighter side of school life. Second-ranked pubcaster Rossiya 1 is considering making such a show after Boris Gryzlov, speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament, suggested the idea during a school visit.

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