Monday, February 25, 2008

"Save the European University at St. Petersburg" - A new website follows the case

This follow up my post on Friday: Academic freedom alert - The Kremlin shuts down the European University in St. Petersburg

(Technically, the EUSP's official name describes it as being "at St. Petersburg," not "in St. Petersburg" as I've called it ... but my excuse is that, in terms of English-language usage, the "at" formulation has always felt wrong to me.)

What's going on here looks like a blatant effort to intimidate and possibly even destroy a valuable university as part of a larger campaign of political repression aimed at consolidating an increasingly authoritarian political system. This is serious. As I said on Friday, the EUSP deserves the strongest possible international support from everyone committed the principles of academic & intellectual freedom and the defense of political liberty.

=> For those interested in this case, a new website has just been set up by a post-doctoral fellow at Princeton, Mischa Gabowitsch, that usefully collects relevant information, updates, and suggestions for constructive action: "SAVE THE EUROPEAN UNIVERSITY AT ST. PETERSBURG"

One of the posts on this website, "What you can do to help", suggests writing firm but polite letters to relevant Russian authorities expressing concern and alarm (letters are better than e-mail messages), and offers a list of addresses.

As Mischa Gabowitsch also suggests, for tactical purposes such letters are most likely to be helpful if they avoid sounding unnecessarily confrontational, accusatory, or abusive. Pragmatically, it is probably also a good idea to avoid dwelling explicitly on the (obvious) connections between this attack on the EUSP and the larger authoritarian trends in Putin's Russia. In fact, I would venture that in most cases it's probably a good idea to avoid even mentioning the name "Putin". (I've drawn those connections in my posts, of course, but I'm trying to be accurately analytical here rather than tactful.) In general letter-writers should try to avoid the kinds of sweeping and intemperate attacks that could simply play into the hands of anti-western and conspiracy-mongering propagandists.

Past experience with analogous incidents in other countries suggests that a letter-writing campaign expressing solidarity with the EUSP could help convey to the Russian authorities that shutting down the EUSP might create a public-relations problem for them ... while, ideally, still leaving them the with possibility of finding some face-saving exit from the situation. (It was all a misunderstanding, perhaps?)

--Jeff Weintraub

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