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Put out more flags, says Putin in patriotism drive

(Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday he had asked parliament to pass a law increasing the use of the Russian national anthem and flag to boost patriotism among young people.

In a new appeal to conservative values and voters as he tries to lift his popularity ratings, Putin also criticized the use of foreign words by Russian professionals, saying it was a sign of weakness.

Putin said he had sent a bill to parliament, which is dominated by his supporters, which would widen the use of state symbols such as the Russian tricolor in places such as schools and universities.

“The wider use, at least in educational institutions, will contribute to increasing patriotism, especially among the younger generation,” the former KGB spy told university law teachers at his Novo-Ogaryovo residence west of Moscow.

“(Watching) the flying of the state flag and listening to the anthem will bring our citizens back… to patriotic feelings,” he said.

Russia’s red, blue and white flag is already a common sight at administrative buildings and the anthem is played at official ceremonies and sports competitions.

State and private educational institutions will be obliged to install the tricolor on their premises and put it out during sports events they organize, according to the draft bill seen by Reuters.

They will also play the anthem at the start of the academic year and during state holidays, it said.

The bill, slated to take effect next September, is aimed at raising “public spirit and patriotism”, but does not foresee sanctions for those who fail to comply with it.

Since returning to the presidency last year, Putin has made no secret of his attempt to appeal to the conservative values and patriotism of the working class, his main power base, and to counter the threat of mainly middle-class demonstrators who led protests against him last year which damaged his ratings.

He has moved closer to the Russian Orthodox Church and taken a tough stand in disputes with the United States, as well as bringing back the Soviet national anthem, Soviet-style military parades and a labor medal introduced under Josef Stalin.

Critics accuse him of using Soviet tactics to stifle dissent as well, although Putin denies this.

Putin’s comments came after nationalist rallies this week highlighted a rise in far-right sentiment amid growing hostility to migrant workers, blamed by many Russians for crime and unemployment.

Some nationalists also want a ban on the use of foreign words, a theme that Putin took up when one of the academics at Novo-Ogaryovo said it was unnatural for Russian professionals to use English-language words such as “senator” and “impeachment”.

“People who abuse foreign concepts might think this makes them part of a higher, more civilized caste, and that being part of them makes them more important and their ideas and judgments more solid,” Putin said.

“In fact this is only proof of one thing: of their lack of self-confidence and professional weakness, at the very least.”

(Editing by Timothy Heritage, Gareth Jones and Patrick Lannin)

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