Teacher in Narva quits under political pressure

Risto Berendson
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Photo: Andres Haabu

Pavel Kuznetsov, Teacher of the Year 2012 at  Narva Soldino Gymnasium, was forced to quit his job when the school’s Centre-Party-headmaster found out he was running, in soc dems list, at local elections. «The kids do not know, actually, that I left for political reasons,» admits the 32 years old science teacher.

By the look of him, the man was as good a teacher as they come – sharp, well mannered, with excellent command of languages, serving as class teacher for 11th graders and actively involved with students outside of school time, organising study trips and competitions. «At the RMK’s [State Forest Management Centre – edit] quiz, we took first place in Estonia, among Russian language schools,» he says with pride. Quite a feat for the Soldino school – landing only 103rd in this year’s high school top list.

Last academic year, Mr Kuznetsov was elected favourite teacher, by students. Heading briskly and enthusiastically into the current school year, in mid-September he unexpectedly handed the headmaster an application to leave work. By now, Mr Kuznetsov works as counselling centre coordinator at University of Tartu’s Narva College. A few weeks ago, the idea of saying good-bye to his school and his class had never entered his mind. 

«My fate was sealed when I desired to change things in Narva,» says he. «I do not like the way Centre Party does its business in Narva; therefore, in December 2012, I joined the Social Democrats.»

At the beginning, the man – a teacher since 2008 – deemed the political stand as no threat to his job. Within social education, he took his students for a springtime trip to the parliament in Tallinn. «We met the Olympic champion Erki Nool and had an interesting day, in many ways,» says he.

Soon, Mr Kuznetsov felt he should take yet another group of students to see Toompea. Fellow soc dem and Riigikogu member Jevgeni Ossinovski promised to see to it the kids’ transportation would be paid for. As Mr Kuznetsov headed to the headmaster, for approval of the trip, there was a glitch. «The headmaster said she would not approve and asked me point blank: was I a social democrat?» says Mr Kuznetsov.

The headmaster, Ljubov Fomina is a long-time Centre Party cadre in Narva, former council member and department head at city government. At these elections also, Ms Fomina runs in Centre Party ranks.

«The director put it plain: Pavel, watch out. There is not overly much work available in Narva,» recalls Mr Kuznetsov.

From that day on, Mr Kuznetsov felt under pressure by his employer. To begin with, the admonitions were oral and formal – like «when did you show up for work» and «what are you wearing». In May, he had to write his first letter of explanation – during a break, being on duty, he had stayed to solve a conflict, thus being late for his class.

The school year ended, Mr Kuznetsov felt somewhat relieved from the harassment. However, coming back to works to prepare for the new academic year, he faced the same old situation.

Was it him running in soc dems list – or merely an attempt to let a political competitor «have it» – who can tell? At a certain moment, a colleague of Mr Kuznetsov’s overheard the headmaster, having received a phone call from city government, promising the other party she would be «working on Kuznetsov».

Within the next three days, oral admonitions from school leadership towards the science teacher abounded. Another letter of explanation had to be written, as he had neglected to wear the «on duty» sign during a break. «The last letter of explanation of mine, I also sent copies to the local Centre Party chief Mihhail Stalnuhhin and Mr Ossinovski, from my own party,» said Mr Kuznetsov. «As it was crystal clear: the whole thing was mere politics.»

What followed was war waged by school leadership, as Mr Kuznetsov puts it. The headmaster asked me «why I was a social democrat. She said why don’t you come over to our (Centre Party – R. B.) side and then we will be able to support you,» recalls Mr Kuznetsov.

In the end, in mid-September, the man wrote a letter of resignation. «In this story, I am not the victim. The victim is the headmaster, as she was manipulated from above and thus the school lost a teacher, at the start of an academic year,» said Mr Kuznetsov.

The other party, headmaster Ljubov Fomina, sees things quite different. «The letters of explanation by Kuznetsov were needed only because he stopped fulfilling his duties,» says the headmaster. «I have nothing against him being a social democrat. I look very democratically at things like that.»