Etiquette Education a Noble Cause

Originally published in The Moscow Times on November 2, 1999

In an old Moscow palace, Margarita Chemakhina instructs young Russian aristocrats in the intricacies of etiquette.

"This is the way you must hold your knife, with your forefinger on top. And when you are at the table, you should imagine that you are holding a book tightly under each arm so that your elbows won't stick out," she says, illustrating the point with two heavy books under her arms.

This etiquette lesson is just one component of the education Chemakhina is providing to the children of some of the oldest families of the Russian aristocracy. With the support of the Assembly of Russian Nobility, she is reviving time-honored traditions at a Russian classical school that she founded in 1992.

"This is for the spiritual attainment of Russia," said the countess, who has degrees in economics and pedagogy. "I've created this school as a way of questioning the spiritual situation in Russia. Education alone is not enough, you need moral upbringing too."

To this aim, Chemakhina is chiseling her 30 pupils, ages 4 to 12, according to the traditions of the Russian nobility.

Herself a descendant of the nobleman Dmitry Chemakhin, whose name goes back to the Middle Ages, she says she teaches children to be proud of who they are.

The private school, nestled on the first and third floors of the assembly's rather decrepit Dolgoruky Palace near the Pushkin Museum, offers a complete curriculum, including mathematics, English, French, history of Russia and its nobility, Russian literature, arts workshops, natural sciences, history of Moscow and, last but not least, "God's law."

Each day at the school starts with a daily prayer. Chemakhina designed the curriculum herself, drawing from books with titles such as "Whither the Russian Land?"

"One, two, three, one, two, three, your hands on your hips!" chants dance teacher Svetlana Podgorodetskaya, a descendant of the Polish aristocracy, as she tinkles away at the piano. In the concert room, under the vigilant eyes of Nicholas II, Catherine the Great, Pushkin and Orthodox icons, a flock of children trots along in a circle.

"Some are really bad, they can't learn the steps," Podgorodetskaya confided.

While pupils are…

Read the full text at The Moscow Times.