By Andrew Malekoff
Masha Moskaleva is a 13-year-old girl living in Russia. In April 2022 she completed an assignment for her sixth-grade art class to draw a picture showing support for the Russian military in Ukraine. Masha, who marches to the beat of her own drum, chose instead to draw a picture in support of Ukraine.
Her picture shows a woman, dressed in yellow and blue, defending her child from advancing Russian missiles. The drawing includes a Ukrainian flag and the phrases: “Glory to Ukraine” and “No to war.”
Masha’s art teacher brought her drawing to the principal, who then notified the authorities. The Federal Security Service (formerly KGB) showed up and her father, Alexey Moskalev, was arrested. He was charged with “discrediting” the Russian army for posting anti-war sentiment on social media, a violation of Russia’s wartime censorship laws punishable by up to three years in prison. While he denied the charges, Mr. Moskalev was placed under house arrest. Masha was taken to a foster care facility and later to a state children’s rehabilitation center, which is essentially an orphanage.
Can you imagine this happening in an American classroom? No teachable moment, no classroom discussion, nothing except: “Go directly to jail; do not pass go.”
Masha’s is a story about censorship and community surveillance. Community enforcement of draconian censorship laws against children and families is not surprising in a totalitarian regime ruled by a war criminal. “Authoritarian societies depend on people ratting each other out for activities that were recently legal—and it’s already happening in the U.S.,” reports Thor Benson for Wired magazine.
Censorship has sharply increased in America. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis launched a campaign against “woke indoctrination” in public schools, especially as it relates to race and gender. Teachers who violate Florida’s censorship laws face suspension, as well as revocation of their teaching licenses. Apparently, the DeSantis censorship virus has spread to private schools as well.
On March 23, the principal of a Tallahassee, FL charter school was pushed to resign after three parents complained about an art history lesson in which a teacher showed her sixth-grade art class a photo of Michelangelo’s iconic statue of David, which was sculpted in the early 1500s and currently resides in the Accademia Gallery of Florence, Italy.
In Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin set up a tip line for parents to report teachers who are teaching content believed to be “divisive.” Opportunities to surveil and report neighbors and colleagues don’t end at the school house door.
When the U.S. Supreme Court rolled back women’s reproductive rights in 2022, they kick-started a cottage industry for bounty hunters. The state of Texas passed a law (Senate Bill 8) authorizing private citizens to sue doctors, nurses, family, friends, livery drivers or anyone else who “aids or abets” an abortion after six weeks. The law essentially deputizes private citizens to enforce the abortion ban by suing “offenders” in exchange for a cash bounty.
“If successful, the law instructs courts to award plaintiffs [bounty hunters] at least $10,000 in damages from defendants,” reports Emma Bowman for NPR. As for anyone who is reported and found guilty of performing an abortion, it is now a felony punishable by up to life in prison in Texas. By engaging bounty hunters, the state has abdicated its role in enforcing the law and is relying on neighbors to inform on neighbors.
The Texas bounty bill, versions of which have been adopted into law in Idaho and Oklahoma, will continue to have continuing, serious and long-term effects. For example, an Idaho hospital, Bonner General Health, just shuttered its maternity ward. Hospital officials issued a news release stating that its most highly respected physicians are leaving as “the Idaho Legislature continues to introduce and pass bills that criminalize physicians for medical care nationally recognized as the standard of care.”
The latest update on Masha is that she will remain in state custody in Russia until her father’s legal status is finalized. He was sentenced to two years in prison on March 28, but not before he fled from house arrest. He was later apprehended in Minsk, according to Meduza, an online international publication that develops stories from sources in Russia and the former Soviet Union.
Beyond Masha, “approximately 544 children have been detained in some form or other for making anti-war or pro-Ukrainian statements since Russia invaded Ukraine,” according to a March 12 report that appeared in the Jerusalem Post. Is it too far-fetched to imagine a day when American children who express dissent against government policies are informed on, detained and removed from their homes?
“One of the cores of democracy is neighborhood trust,” cautioned John Hopkins Professor Consuelo Amat. “You need to trust others in your society and in your community for democracy to work,” she added.
At the end of the Constitutional Convention in September 1787, a woman asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got — a republic or a monarchy?” Dr. Franklin replied, “A republic if you can keep it.”