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Russia March 6, 2008
Russian Academia Under Fire
By Sean Guillory Browse author Email
Page 3 of 4

The fact that partisans for EUSP have to tip-toe around the political nature of this incident proves how effective the law is as a political weapon. The fact that the University is not up to the fire code undercuts any forceful claims that its closure is about politics. Instead of calling a spade a spade, university officials are forced depoliticize their complaints in order to effectively kowtow to the authority of Russian officials. I don't necessarily blame them. Devoid of any power or influence, the only thing academics and students can do is to appeal to the very things used to persecute them: the letter of the law, and the good graces of its wielder, the ever conniving bureaucrat. Pissing him off is not going to get anyone anywhere. That is the beauty of the fire code from the perspective of the chinovnik. He can cite the law as a way to dismiss charges of political machinations, while at the same time, as the law's keeper, he can remind those in his fiefdom that he is the guardian of authority and public safety.

You don't have to be a Russian loony-liberal or even to employ "conspirologic" to see that a chill has swept through Russian academia. Russian academics that have connections to and funding from Western foundations are especially targeted. For example, Western money has been at the center of a scandal that hit Saratov State University last October. The controversy began when Dmitrii Chernyshevskii, the vice rector of Saratov State University, wrote an article in Zemskoe obozrenie smearing Velikhan Mirzekhanov, the dean of the History Department, as a plagiarist, a slave to Western funding and for "organizing a channel of influence for Western ideology." In good old Soviet prose, Chernyshevskii called for the university to "wrest Mizekhanovshchina from its environment."

Signals are being sent down the bureaucratic pipeline. As usual, there aren't any smoking guns per se, only incidents that set the correct line of action. Take for example, the roundtable "Resisting the falsification of history to the detriment of Russia is a task of nationwide importance" organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on February 12th. According to the invitation issued by E. A. Shmagin, the deputy directory of Department of Foreign Policy Planning of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the event sought to bring Russian foreign policy concerns to the attention of academics. Some of the themes up for discussion were "the possible negative consequences for Russia as the main target for historical manipulation," to identify "our enemies and allies abroad" in working against "historical falsification," and to review "counter-propaganda work" in the "mass media, culture, the internet, literature, and history textbooks." The roundtable was reported on Ekho Moskvy. I received an email copy of the invitation from a friend of a friend. In the accompanying email he wrote, "I have no idea of the authenticity of this document. Authentic or not, it tells something about the moment we live." Well, it's authentic and it says something indeed about the world we live in. I'm sure what the academics and bureaucrats that attended MID's "discussion" got a clear sense of the world they live in too.

It's true that "conspirologic" is in the air. But it's not like the Russian authorities aren't pumping it full of their own conspiracy-inducing gases. Nevertheless, the question remains that if the European University was shut down for political reasons, who gave the order? Is there any shred of hard evidence? Unfortunately, no. If there was I'm sure some sympathetic character would have leaked it. I personally doubt that an order came from anywhere seriously high up in government. The bureaucratic use of law is far more autonomous and localized. It is based on the tried and true Russian bureaucratic method of interpreting signals, reading between the lines, and acting accordingly. I think that European University sociology professor Vadim Volkov was dead on when he told Ekspert Online, "Our authorities operate uncoordinated. And information is deposited to some bureaucrat that says that European University is all but an enemy. He never declares this aloud, but lets a directive to conduct an inspection and close [the University] loose along his bureaucratic chain. It's interesting; don't these people understand that they are provoking a scandal in the heat of an election campaign?"

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