Sunday, July 12, 2015

Russian Universities Now Less Free than Society Around Them Prompting Scholars to Emigrate

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 12 – Even in the darkest times of the Soviet past, universities in Russia were more free than the surrounding population, but now that situation has been reversed; and as a result, Russian scholars are increasingly seeking to emigrate to escape ideological pressure and restrictions on their contacts with the scholarly community elsewhere.

            That is the judgment of Meksim Reznik, chairman of the commission on education, culture and science of the St. Petersburg city legislative assembly, in a comment featured on Radio France International’s Russian Service (

            Others echo his words.  Dmitry Dubrovsky, a former instructor at St. Petersburg State University now at Columbia University in New York, says that his departure and that of others reflects “a worsening of conditions of work and level of pay” as well as the intensification of “ideological pressure on the instructors” in Russia.

Unlike in the Soviet Union in the past and in Belarus even now, Russian universities “so far do not have a secretary for ideology, but in fact, this role is filled in universities now either by the rectors of the pro-rectors” who work to ensure that those employed by the institution hew closely to “’the party line.’” 

The current rector of St. Petersburg State University is Nikolay Kropachev who in Soviet times was a mentor to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and it is widely assumed that he owes his current position to his former student.  Consequently, he almost certainly does not want anyone on his staff opposing the government.

Andrey Pugovkin, a Russian biologist, suggests that the situation in Russian academic life had deteriorated sharply after 2003. “First on the initiative of the Academy of Sciences and then of the powers that be were sharply limited and channeled international contacts,” cutting Russian scholars off “from international grants and interaction with scholars abroad.”

Moreover, he says that at about that time “contacts with those who had gone abroad earlier were cut,” much as had been true in Soviet times. As a result, “people began to leave and stopped returning.” When Moscow demanded the renunciation of dual citizenship, scholars who had gone abroad earlier and acquired that status also decided to leave permanently.

They had hoped to return to Russia at some point, but now they have lost that hope – and Russia “has lost these people forever.” Consequently, the departure of Russian scholars abroad is not a leak or some kind of exchange: it is an exodus which has acquired “an irreversible character.”

            “Now, in many cities of Europe have been formed up entire scholarly and productive collectives consisting of specialists who have left Russia,” he says. “Scholars are only part of this stratum” because many other educated Russians are involved as well. And they are not junior people: three of the four Russian Nobel Prize winners in physics now work abroad.

            If Moscow goes ahead with its idea of declaring various foundations and organizations abroad undesirable and demands that Russians break ties with them, Pugovkin continues, that will lead to a new burst in the emigration from Russia of many of that country’s best and brightest with incalculable damage to Russia’s future.

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