Staunton, July 2 – Since Vladimir Putin came to power, more than 30 Russian scholars have been charged with espionage and treason. Not one has been found not guilty. As a result, fear is spreading through the academic world there, and places like Akademgorodok, once a symbol of free thought, increasingly resemble Stalin-era sharashkas, Leonid Nevzlin says.
That term, as readers of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s classic novel The First Circle will recall with horror, comes from the language of criminals and refers to the special design bureaus the Stalin system set up within the GULAG in which imprisoned scholars were given somewhat better conditions but forced to work as prisoner-researchers.
Because any scholar in the big zone as Soviet citizens referred to those not behind the bars of prisons and camps could quickly become transferred to the small zone of the camps, the creation of such institutions had the effect of spreading fear throughout the entire community while allowing the regime to exploit both kinds of scholarly resources.
Nevzlin, a Russian commentator, says that Akademgorodok, a scholarly community near Novosibirsk long famed as an island of free thought, has not been turned into a sharashka, “in which slaves with degrees now tremble with fear,” a pattern increasingly the case with Russian life in general (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=62C31A125E290§ion_id=50A6C962A3D7C).
Tragically, he says, this system is self-reproducing because it gives so many advantages to those whose careers are built on such repression, a pattern that means the entire arrangement must be destroyed or it will as now recur again and again.