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Tuesday, September 1, 1998 Published at 17:15 GMT 18:15 UK


Russian teachers boycott 'Knowledge Day'

President and Mrs Clinton visit Moscow Elementary School 19

Russia's schoolchildren have started a new school year against a background of political crisis in an education system that fails to pay its teachers.

The first day of the new school year, 1 September - known as Knowledge Day - was marked on Russia's Pacific coast by a strike by teachers protesting at unpaid salaries.

Teachers in the Vladivostok region have boycotted Knowledge Day events and are suspending classes until 4 September. If the delays in payment are not resolved further industrial action is promised.

[ image: Victor Chernomyrdin praised the selflessness of teachers]
Victor Chernomyrdin praised the selflessness of teachers
Education workers' union leader, Raisa Shabanova, said that "teachers have been driven to such an extreme measure by a very hard financial situation".

The celebration of Knowledge Day elsewhere in Russia was welcomed by Viktor Chernomyrdin, the candidate for prime minister supported by President Yeltsin and rejected by the Russian parliament.

Emphasising the importance of education to the country's prosperity, Mr Chernomyrdin encouraged young people and their teachers to look to the future rather than the past.

Lessons of history

On the threshold of a new millennium, the country was faced with an uneasy choice, said Mr Chernomyrdin.

"Some people who have forgotten the lessons of history dream about the past," he warned - an allusion aimed at the political situation as much as the prospects for the new term.

While Mr Chernomyrdin praised the "intellectual curiosity" of the young and the "selfless work" of their teachers, parents in Russia are facing more immediate problems for the new term.

The need for school uniforms, books, pens and pencils is putting extra demands on families already strained by Russia's financial crisis.

A report from Moscow quotes a parent as saying: "I am only going to buy essentials, not a thing more. We have decided to invest our money in foods that will keep.

"If exercise books become too expensive our son can go without - we can't go without food."

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