Thursday, September 5, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Kremlin Doesn’t Understand Russia’s Future Depends on Academy of Sciences

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 4 – If Russia is to modernize, it needs a strong Academy of Sciences, scholars and scientists say, but the Russian government does not appear to understand that and the Russian people are not being kept informed about just what the stakes are concerning proposed changes in how Russian science is organized.

                At the end of law week, Georgy Malinetsky, a scholar at the Keldysh Institute for Applied Mathematics, points out, members and employees of the Russian Academy of Sciences took the unprecedented step of holding a meeting on the future of science in Russia but their session passed without notice from “the majority of newspapers and TV channels” (

            The meeting was called to discuss and ultimately to protest a government plan that would undermine basic science in the Russian Federation and effectively “liquidate” the Academy of Sciences by putting more than 400 of its institutes directly under the government’s bureaucratic control.

            That would mean, Malinetsky says that he and his colleagues have concluded, that Russian science and basic research will soon end, extinguishing what was once one of the most accomplished centers of such scholarship in the world. And he provides the most detailed summary available of the arguments of those who took part in the session.

            The “overwhelming majority” of “the more than 1500 participants” in last week’s meetings adopted a resolution denouncing the government’s proposals as “destructive and incompatible with the development of science in the country,” calling for the proposals to be withdrawn, and urging the immediate ouster of the ministry people who came up with them.

            Many Russian politicians and ordinary Russians are unhappy with the government’s plans to restructure basic science, Malinetsky notes. Duma members have protested, and a recent poll found that 70 percent of Russians think that reforming the Academy in the ways the government proposes will cost their country its leadership in key fields.

            Among the 300 speakers, Academician V.E. Zakharov stressed that the government was undercutting its own needs because the Academy of Sciences plays a key role in developing ideas that are the basis for Russia’s national security.  Others said that shifting science from the academy to the universities won’t work, including some representing the universities.

            According to Moscow State University’s A.V. Buzgalin, the scientific community needs to unite in terms of goals but not in terms of organization because a greater number of institutions will give it more influence to promote “the development of domestic science and not its funeral.”

            Another speaker, A.K. Murtazayev, who represented the Academy of Sciences center in Daghestan, argued that the Academy plays a key role in uniting people of different ethnic groups and thus in preserving the territorial integrity of the country, something the government says it cares about but appears to be taking steps that threaten it.

            Zhorez Alfyorov, an academician and Novel laureate, called the government’s plan an insult to the entire scholarly community of Russia, “a threat to Russian science,” and consequently a threat to Russia’s standing in the world.  He called for the withdrawal of the government’s proposal.

            Malinetsky notes that many of the speakers were younger scholars who had studied or done research in the West.  All of them, he says, opposed the government’s reform because it would deprive them of the opportunity to work in their fields in the Russian Federation and even force them to move abroad.

            The conference showed, Malinetsky continues, that “the schoalrs ofRussia are a force which at a critical moment can organize and speak out as a united front.”  The government is going to have to listen to them or face a very bleak future because the skills and commitment of such scholars is essential to the modernization and the security of Russia.

            He concludes his survey of the speeches by referring to a joke told by one of the participants at the meeting, L.A. Artsimovich, an academician and physicist.  According to Artsimovich, “one must not reform two things in Russia – the Orthodox Church and the Academy [of Sciences].” At the very least, “it is best not to try.”

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