Staunton, January 25 – Moscow’s plan to require that those who engage in enlightenment work either face to face or online be licensed by the state is viewed by many Russian intellectuals as a new form of censorship; and some 150,000 of them have signed an Internet petition calling on the authorities to change course.
Enlightenment activities such as public lectures and discussions have long been a central part of the life of the Russian intelligentsia. Until recently, however, even the Putin regime generally ignored this, focusing instead on specific articles and posts rather than on the phenomenon as a whole.
But now the Kremlin has introduced a new bill which the Duma has passed on first reading that would require any individual or group to be licensed by the state. Not surprisingly, this move has outraged many Russians and they seek to have the government pull it or the parliament vote it down (nakanune.ru/articles/116688/).
Astrophysicist Sergey Popov, who is well known for his popularizing work, drafted a petition making those points and putting it on the Change.org portal to collect support. He argues that there is no place for such a licensing requirement and worries that it will have a chilling effect on those who may want to spread their knowledge to the population at large.
Historian Marina Romanova says that the government’s plan is nothing but “a new type of censorship,” one that will require an enormous bureaucracy to implement and allow the government to target just about anyone it wants who either gives a public lecture or posts anything the regime opposes on the Internet.
Other activists agree, viewing the measure as the latest move to fight dissent by imposing a Procustean bed on all discussions. Unless those who want to engage in enlightenment activities conform to the new and ever-changing line, they will be deprive of a license or stripped of it and face sanctions.
Another historian, Stanislav Slivko, says “the authorities are getting their hands on an entire arsenal of means to close or make impossible any unsuitable [in their eyes] unsuitable enlightenment project.” Individual bureaucrats will have the power to throttle anyone they don’t like. Indeed, the whole idea of this is a violation of numerous parts of the Constitution.
It is unlikely that this protest will slow the adoption of this new repressive measure or keep the authorities from using it. At the same time, the powers that be are likely to be highly selective in doing so, keeping this provision in reserve to use against those they are especially concerned about rather than creating a massive bureaucracy to handle everything.
And what are the powers most concerned about, the critics ask rhetorically. The possibility that the intelligentsia will play the political role once again that it famously played in advance of the 1917 revolution and the 1991 disintegration of the Soviet system, the Nakanune news agency says.