Chapter Seven: Debate Preparation:
Mrs. Ivanova planned the debate with the help of her Principal and the coordinator at the Veterans Club. She could’ve done without some of the help, but there was not much choice. Local politicians were informed and wanted in on the act.
People all over the area had opinions. Mostly older people of a more nationalist bend wanted the nine year olds put in place by the veterans. Others thought it was wrong, that the veterans would bully the youngsters and it would be fixed in favor of the veterans anyway. Natasha, Galina, and Anton were rooting for the kids. The debate was planned for a month later, on a Friday night.
Grandpa was excited and bragging. Ivan, listened carefully to Grandpa. He might give something away for the debate.
The debate coincided with President Putin’s inauguration. Russian nationalists were feeling high from President Putin’s victory.
The veterans club was happier than usual, with thicker cigarette smoke and more food and vodka circulating through the building. Mr. Kirilenko was selected to present the nationalist side, Ivan’s friend Sergei, was selected by the class to present the student side.
Nine year olds vs. nationalist combat veterans, may seem like David vs. Goliath.
This, however, is the see saw that is modern, post Soviet, post Yeltsin Russia.
The debate was set for a Friday night a month after the Presidential Inauguration. A local Duma member provided food, which included salads, smoked fish and bread. It was decided, a Mr. Rybkov, who also fought in Afghanistan, and was an advisor, during the Soviet Era in Angola would be the leadoff speaker for the veterans, with Mr. Kirilenko as the second team member. The veterans figured the youngsters would be awed by a veteran of the Great Patriotic War. Ivan’s half Uzbek, friend Sergei would be leadoff speaker for the class, with a girl with blonde curls named Lara, named after the character in Dr. Zhivago. Mrs. Ivanov, would be the debate coach for the kids, the veterans felt they knew their case cold.
Mrs. Ivanova told the kids how proud of them she was. She coached them on how to be polite with the answers and not allow the veterans to pick on them.
The judges would be, two local politicians, on different sides, a police official, the school principal, and a Russian History professor at Moscow State University. The moderator was to be a Moscow State librarian, Dr. Elena Svaboda who kept track of sources used, and could take points away, like a soccer referee, for inappropriate contact. Normally, Dr. Svaboda would have been judge as well, but for political reasons, the five judges were chosen. Not that the veterans thought they needed to do any research for the debate: They felt their lives spoke for the life and soul of Russia. Mrs. Ivanova on the other hand, made sure there were sources used. She had them working on the level of high school students. This was important, as the youngsters were David to the veterans Goliath, right down to physical size. The class would need all the help they could get.
All of Mrs. Ivanova’s class practised for the debate, in case replacements were needed. The veterans’ “practices,” consisted of eating, laughing, and a lot of vodka. They were very confident, well a little liquor, goes a long way in the confidence department, as Grandpa Zhenya proves quite frequently.
Mrs. Ivanova, on the other hand, has made learning fun, while keeping her young charges disciplined. Even when they did well, she pushed them hard.
A Nationalist politician in the Duma, finally felt he needed to take the veterans in hand. As a former general in Afghanistan, they felt that had to pay attention to him. Every day, at the veterans club, he kept them off the vodka and made sure they followed the rules of the debate. The general was less concerned with them being articulate, more concerned with their dress and discipline.
Home life was interesting. Grandpa couldn’t drink at the Veterans Club, and Natasha controlled the bottle at home. Grandpa would needle Ivan about debating his betters, but angry looks from the women of the house, and Galina’s husband Anton, kept Grandpa in check. Grandpa muttered about being back in Afghanistan. Ivan practiced, and read, with the approval of the rest of the family.
Chapter Eight: The Debate.
By Debate Night, as the media now knew it, oligarchs and celebrities were showing up as well. The debate had to be moved to an auditorium at Moscow State. Those favoring the veterans hoped the large venue, would intimidate the kids. If that was the intent, the kids seemed to be enjoying their jockeying.
You’d think the Russian leadership, with all Russia’s problems wouldn’t have the time to worry about a local debate between veterans and nine year old schoolchildren. You’d be wrong. One nationalist politician in an interview told the television interviewer this was a debate for the soul of Russia. Makes you think, doesn’t it?
When seated, the proceedings were introduced by a local reporter. The kids were allowed to go first. Lara started to present their case. She spoke in a soft kind voice, respectful of all.
“ Distinguished guests, moderators, our teacher, Mrs. Ivanova We are honored to be debating with the veterans. We respect their seniority, wisdom and service. We understand why they think and feel the way they do. We understand Russian history and culture and why Russia is the way it is.
We can’t completely shut the outside world out. We enjoy being on Facebook and Instagram and speaking with people all over the world. I have many friends all over the world now. We don’t need to fear Germany or the United States. All of us have made friends in these places. We are not rejecting what happened. We’re saying don’t let the Russian past hold us back. Thank you.”
Then Mr. Rybkov rose. He’s a tall, barrel chested man, who could fill even an auditorium. His voice, grave and gravelly, he began:
“Distinguished dignitaries and guests. The youngsters are being misled, by their traitor teacher. We are not here to debate, but to educate. Their views are treachery. These online outlets lead Russian young people astray, and give comfort to our enemies, especially the Germans and Poles. The evil ones, want our children weak, and not ready to face the threat. This is the story of Russia. This debate should not be happening. It all spiraled out of control, because of the traitorous teacher, Mrs. Ivanova, nee Goldstein!” At the end of the sentence, his voice rose to a crescendo, and he pointed an angry finger at her, as though she was a scorned woman in Puritan New England. Mr. Rybkov continued. “I demand the police arrest the traitor and end the debate now!”
The moderator, Dr. Svaboda had enough. “Mr. Rybkov, the veterans, lose three points. One for your comments against the children, and the other two against their teacher. You are also removed from the debate. I will not tolerate such behavior.” She held up a red card, as though, he’d been expelled from a soccer match.
Many in the audience mumbled about Dr. Svaboda being the insolent one. Natasha and Galina squeezed each others hands, Ivan, and Anton sat stone faced until…
The General whispered, “Zhenya, you replace him.”
Ivan, went wide eyed, Anton saw red, Galina and Natasha gasped.
“Oh my God,” Galina cried. “You old fool, try not to be too much of an idiot,” Natasha muttered. Galina was on her phone, giving a blow by blow account of the debate on Twitter.
Zhenya stumbled to the table to join Mr. Kirilenko. He was already clumsy on this evening, he didn’t need help.
Young Sergei was up for the rebuttal. “I’m half Uzbek, not Afghan you aren’t planning to strip search me, are you? Don’t worry, I left the bombs at home.”
Most in the crowd didn’t know the reference. Some burst out laughing, others were horrified at the disrespect. Mrs. Svaboda weighed in. “That’s a one point loss for the students for the inappropriate comment.
Mr. Kirilenko narrowed his eyes, so they looked a little like Sergei’s and glared. Zhenya also glared. “ Young man, you may continue,” Dr. Svaboda droned.