Friday, November 15, 2019

Kremlin Using Guseynov Case to Reimpose Soviet-Style Control over Humanities, Kolesnikov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 10 – Because of their natures, the humanities and authoritarian regimes are invariably in conflict, with the former promoting the kind of questioning that undermines those who seek to rule without reference to others or higher laws and the latter viewing those who engage in humanities education and research as their enemies and a threat.

            Periodically, authoritarian regimes attack the humanities in the hopes that they can bring them to heel. That is now happening in Putin’s Russia, with the Kremlin using the case of Gasan Guseynov to launch a broader offensive against humanities education, according to Andrey Kolesnikov in a New Times commentary (

            The academic commission of the Higher School of Economics in a manner that recalls Soviet times condemned Guseynov for his criticism of the Russian language. It demanded that he apologize in the same way that a communist party organization would have in a Soviet institution. (For the text of its “deliberations,” see

                According to Kolesnikov, Guseynov responded appropriately and fully “in the spirit of the well-known Soviet anecdote in which a rabbi demanded that Katsenelenbogen who had accused Rabinovich of being a fool publicly apologize. Katesenelenbog rose and said ‘Rabinovich isn’t a fool? I apologize.’”

            It would be one thing, the commentator says, if this attack on Guseynov were limited to him and to this issue; but in fact, it is part and parcel of something much larger and more dangerous. “In recent years, enclaves of extraordinarily high-quality education have appeared in Russia, including its humanitarian component.”

            These centers represent a threat to the dead hand of the authoritarian regime because they cause those exposed to them to question the dogma the Kremlin insists on. As a result, the powers that be are now counterattacking, hoping to silence their critics and intimidate others who might become such.

            “Intuitively,” Kolesnikov continues, “certain representatives of the authorities began to sense this long ago. Problems arose with the European University in St. Petersburg and with Moscow’s Shaninka; and certain higher educational institutions were ‘strengthened’ with the assignment of ‘supervisors.’” But the powers generally avoided direct condemnation.

            Now, however, over the last few months, “the senor political leadership and its apparatus have begun to display ‘a new sincerity;’ that is, they have ceased to be hold back displays of their police character and FSB essence.  They have done everything so that their open ‘post-truth’ is radicalizing the students,” especially at the best universities in the country.

            What is increasingly happening, the commentator suggests, is a return to the Soviet practice of holding an entire institute or educational institution responsible for the words of one of its instructors and putting the positions of the leaders of these places at risk unless they impose the ideological straightjacket that the Kremlin increasingly insists upon.

            What has happened with Guseynov shows how far things have gone back to a situation when any incautious expression of an employee of an institution “can be interpreted as the position of the university” and become the basis for an attack by the political authorities and their allies in the state-controlled media.

            “In Soviet times, an ideologically incorrect step of this or that employee not infrequently led to the defamation of an entire academic institution or the dismissal of a sector, laboratory, or the institution as a whole as was the case, for example, with the Institute for Concrete Social Research of the USSR Academy of Sciences,” Kolesnikov says

            “For one partisan, the entire village was shot.” 

            “This practice is gradually returning,” one intended to intimidate the leaders of these institutes into becoming the enforcers of the Kremlin’s will.  And once that happens, it can’t be excluded that the regime will use charges of espionage and treason against anyone who doesn’t respond quickly enough to the new order.

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