Staunton, August 15 – Russia already faces a serious brain drain as ever more of its scholars move abroad for better pay and freer working conditions, but that exodus is likely to increase in size if a new government plan to restrict their contacts with their foreign colleagues goes into effect, former KGB Lieutenant General Nikolay Leonov says.
Leonov, who headed the KGB’s analytic department from 1973 to 1991, says that the proposed measures recall Soviet times and argues that “the experience of the USSR is not the most effective means of producing patriotic feelings.” Scholars need contacts and if they are denied them they will leave Russia (dailystorm.ru/vlast/ne-zhenitsya-ne-vstrechatsya-dokladyvat-v-kgb-chto-v-sssr-bylo-zapreshcheno-delat-s-inostrancami-i-zhdet-li-eto-rossiyu).
The former KGB general who now teaches at MGIMO says he “wants to believe” that the science and higher education minister signed the order without paying attention too its contents; but unfortunately, Leonov says, this move is yet another case in which “control over civil society by the siloviki” is increasing.
Leonov’s remarks come in the wake of the release to the scholarly community this week of an order the minister signed in February that imposes restrictions on all contacts between Russian scholars and their foreign counterparts. Many Russian scholars are calling this plan “absurd” and a return “to the worst traditions of the Soviet past.”
Yesterday, in an open letter to Minister Mikhail Kotyukov, Aleksey Fradkov, head of a laboratory at the Institute of Problems of Machine Building at the Russian Academy of Sciences, published the text of the order, denounced it as absurd and demanded that it be retracted before it does any serious damage (trv-science.ru/2019/08/13/inostranec-snimaj-chasy/).
The order if implemented would require Russian scholars to get approval for such contacts, hold them only in special facilities, and report on them within five days to the authorities. In the age of the Internet, email, and Skype, the ideas behind the order are “simply a senseless anachronism,” Fradkov says.
The scholar has been joined by the July 1 Club, which consists of more than 100 members and corresponding members of the Academy of Science who criticized the document for “contradicting the spirit of scholarly creative and the very essence of contemporary fundamental science which arises from the joint efforts of scholars of various countries.”
And even Aleksander Sergeyev, the president of the Academy of Sciences, has weighed in against the order. He points out that those scholars who work with classified information have long been subject to special rules but others need not be and that proposals to change that “look ridiculous.”
As Natalya Bashykova of the Daily Storm portal notes as well, the proposal inevitably suggests that some in Moscow want to return to the bad old days of the Soviet past when contacts with foreigners were tightly restricted, an arrangement that hurt the USSR far more than it did the West.
It appears, she suggests, that the current powers that be like the Bourbons have learned nothing and forgotten nothing and think they can return to that past even in the Internet age without the consequences that such measures had for the USSR.