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Educating Boris

Russia's elite used to be educated in France and Germany. Now its children eat custard in the private schools of England. Rachel Polonsky asks whether this will make any difference to the course of Russian history

By Rachel Polonsky   December 1996

Human history,” HG Wells once remarked, is “more and more a race between education and catastrophe.” But in Russian history education has often been the midwife of catastrophe.

The western education of its elites has long been a cause of Russian culture’s self-estrangement. Peter the Great’s decision to send selected members of the aristocracy to the west for their education resulted in what Isaiah Berlin calls “a wound inflicted on Russian society.” These men were to learn, and bring home, “the languages of the west and the various new arts and skills which sprang from the scientific revolution of the…

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