Sunday, March 2, 2008

Threatening academic freedom at European University at St Petersburg

"Part of the Putin government's long-term campaign to consolidate an increasingly tight system of authoritarian control, while maintaining some of the outward forms of representative democracy and constitutional government, has been a systematic and wide-ranging effort to shut down, suppress, or marginalize independent institutions, organizations, and associations - especially, though not exclusively, those with any western or other international ties." writes political sociologist Jeff Weintraub on his blog February 22. "So far, this campaign has largely spared the academic world. But that is no longer the case. The European University in Saint Petersburg has been the object of strident public attacks, and now it has been shut down on the basis of what looks to everyone like a transparently fraudulent pretext." (see his follow-up).

David Pescovitz made this comment of February 26: "Late last year, the European University at St. Petersburg in Russia launched a project to study how elections in Russia could be protected from rigging. That line of inquiry pissed off Russian President Vladimir Putin. Feeling the Kremlin's thumb, the university's academic council killed the project on January 31. Yet just two weeks later, the St. Petersburg court shut down the school as a "fire risk." Coincidence? Unlikely. And now today, it's come out that the university has lost its license to operate. The Rector of the school says that if it isn't granted a new license within a month, the institution will be closed for good. A dear friend of mine, who emigrated from Russia in the 1980s, comments that this whole situation "is becoming so reminiscent of the old Soviet Union.""

Toda you could read at EUSP's own website, "On February 22, the EUSP signed a contract with the “Institute of Economics and Finance” to provide the EUSP with the premises necessary to conduct education until July 1 of this year. The premises meet all requirements of the State Fire"; and a press release of February 27 stating "There are no teaching activities in the University due to the suspension of the license. "

Founded in 1994, the European University at St Petersburg is one of Russia's top universities, with close links to leading higher education institutions in the UK and US. Launched at the initiative of St Petersburg's liberal mayor Anatoly Sobchak, the graduate university is known for its progressive views and western-educated teaching staff. It currently has 120 Russian graduates and 10-15 western students studying for an MA in Russian studies. Uniquely, the university attracts students from Europe to study in Russia. Its aim is to integrate Russian scholarship with scholarship in Europe and America, at a time when Russian scholarship is becoming increasingly isolated from the west.

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