malignant education. Boris Grozovsky on how and why the Kremlin cracked down on Russian universities

The desire to “regulate” education has grown appreciably in the government throughout the 2010s. Political leaders, Vladimir Putin and his friends, were gradually aging, at the same time, the level of support for the regime in the cohort of 18-25-year-old young people of “near-student” age was significantly decreasing. It's not even about the active participants or organizers of the protest. The most unpleasant thing for the regime is that the opposition political agenda is ethically and aesthetically consonant with the mood of 20-year-olds. It is modern and sounds in their language, unlike the archaic semantic agenda of the Kremlin, which appeals to the ideas, values ​​and mental skills of a much older generation. A noticeably aging, increasingly closed authoritarian political regime cannot offer “children and grandchildren” either a coherent strategy for social mobility or a positive and peaceful vision of the future.

The opposition agenda, in contrast to the archaic Kremlin agenda, is ethically and aesthetically consonant with the mood of 20-year-olds

However, the sustainability and stability of the aging autocracy in the medium term critically depends on the mood of the 20-year-olds, and not at all pensioners. Therefore, turning universities from a "hotbed of free-thinking" into controlled "budgetary institutions" has become an important strategic priority for the authorities. Moreover, there were not too many "hotbeds"; it would be enough to count them with the fingers of two hands.

In the 1990s, the authorities were much freer than they are now. It’s hard to imagine, but back in 1998, the Congress of the Russian Union of University Rectors threatened the government with mass protests of students and teachers due to delays in paying salaries and scholarships, and the Russian State Humanitarian University, led by historian and politician Yuri Afanasyev, was revising ideas about what happened to Russia in the 19th century. -XX centuries. Removing "sedition" from education and establishing control over the moods of students required a lot of effort and was carried out gradually.

This process was completed by 2022 - now the higher education system is carefully regulated: the heads of universities have actually become state officials; the departments involved in state security were restored and received expanded rights at the universities. According to Natalia Forrat, a researcher at the Weiser Center for Emerging Democracies at the University of Michigan, by increasing funding for universities and the entire public sector since 2005, the state has subjugated universities, undermined their political solidarity and autonomy.

Rectors of higher education institutions have really integrated into the system. This is supported by a lot of money: the income gap between the university authorities and the teaching staff reaches 20 times: the state spends significant funds to pay for loyalty. Already since 2005, the share of state funding in the income of universities has exceeded the income from paid education. Initially, state control came to universities to "assess the effectiveness of spending state funds", but gradually affected the content of education and research activities: the state as a "customer of music" came into its own.

Having received the money, the universities lost the remnants of self-government. Since the beginning of the 2000s, the election of deans and department chairs has been practically abolished , and since 2015, in most universities, the election of the rector has been replaced by appointments. In wealthier universities, rectors are more often appointed than elected. The role of academic councils at universities is declining, and now it is mainly heads of departments appointed by the rector who get there. The same vertical of power has been formed in universities as in other budgetary institutions, and “academic freedoms” have become an empty phrase.

Under Putin, a vertical of power has been formed in the universities. "Academic freedoms" - an empty phrase

More and more scientists are involved in the ideological service of an authoritarian state. They write expertise for the courts, finding extremism in works of art, literature and scientific papers, participate in the creation of all kinds of security doctrines and strategies for patriotic education, seek out the spiritual foundations of sovereignty , substantiate the need to protect the state from external threats, including information ones, compose the concept of "spiritual security"

Regional universities were completely "regulated" in the first half of the 2010s. Petersburg State University, the alma mater of the current political elite, which back in 2013 forbade teachers to give comments and expert opinions without the sanction of the administration, obliged them to notify the administration of all publications and part-time jobs, and then completely banned part-time jobs, and also got rid of from politically unreliable scientists. Since 2018, the university began to fine and then expel students for participating in protests (in 2021, this has become a common practice for other universities).

After the “cleansing” of the RSUH created by the historian Yuri Afanasiev and tightening control in regional universities, the number of Russian universities with at least a small degree of freedom was reduced to a few: the National Research University Higher School of Economics, the European University of St. Petersburg, Shaninka (and separate divisions of the RANEPA) and the Smolny Institute of Free Sciences and arts. Each of these projects, with the exception of EU, was a kind of "pocket" or "center of efficiency", "island of success" (pocket of effectiveness), that is, a priority funded and supported project, which is implemented on special conditions and rules, often using preferences and has a much greater level of autonomy. The practice of creating such institutions - "success stories" - was described by EU St. Petersburg Professor Vladimir Gelman.

In recent years, the state has almost completely taken the situation in universities under control. Perhaps only the EU has not yet survived the attacks from government agencies, although they tried to close it back in 2008 and 2016-2017 (see here and here ). Extremely traumatic was the attempt by the Smolny Institute of Liberal Sciences and Arts, patronized by Alexei Kudrin, to separate from St. Petersburg State University, which displeased its rector Nikolai Kropachev. As a result, many years of cooperation with the New York Bard College ended, with which Smolny developed one of the few liberal arts and sciences programs in Russia. The Prosecutor General's Office recognized the educational and scientific organization as undesirable as far as possible from politics, and Smolny had to abandon its intention to separate from St. Petersburg State University. In May, Kudrin left the post of dean of the Faculty of Liberal Sciences and Arts, and in July he completely resigned from St. Petersburg State University. In fact, the security forces closed this educational project, considering it ideologically hostile.

The Higher School of Economics was actually brought to a "common denominator" in 2014-2019. The “tower” resisted very stubbornly, there were a lot of pockets of freedom in it, both in scientific divisions, and in faculties and departments, and in student organizations. The departure of teachers and researchers who caused the greatest irritation in the authorities (Evgenia Albats, Alexander Kynev, Nikolai Petrov, Elena Panfilova, Sergei Aleksashenko, Vladislav Inozemtsev, Sergei Medvedev, Gasan Huseynov, Ella Paneyakh, Kirill Martynov, Viktor Gorbatov, Sergei Erofeev, Roman Bevzenko, Sergei Savelyev, Artem Karapetov, Elena Lukyanova, Irina Alebastrova, Tatiana Levina, Ella Rossman, Daria Serenko, Ilya Guryanov, Sergey Pashin, Gennady Esakov, etc.), the actual refusal to accept Yegor Zhukov, a person involved in the Moscow case, to the magistracy, depriving Doxa of student status organizations – these and many other stories have transformed the situation at the HSE. There are still a few researchers left at the HSE, but their departments have been disbanded. The situation at the HSE is now like everyone else, like everywhere else — with, alas, rare exceptions. At the same time, HSE began to actively hire political scientists who have extensive experience in cooperation with the presidential administration.

The “icing on the cake” was the replacement of the rector Yaroslav Kuzminov with the “technocrat” Nikita Anisimov and the subsequent shake-up of vice-rectors and heads of structural divisions. Kuzminov did almost everything that the curators asked of him. But even this was not enough to keep the post. It can be assumed that Kuzminov's voluntary resignation was the payment for the absence of criminal cases - approximately the same that Shaninka and the RANEPA have been shaking for several months.

A large group of researchers and lecturers from leading universities left Russia after the outbreak of the war.

At the same time, more and more severe restrictions are imposed on the work of those who remain. Silent professors and students are required. They should not criticize the authorities and, moreover, express their position at political actions. “As soon as there is some kind of criticism in a legal analysis, you are already trying to influence government decisions,” Tamara Morshchakova, a retired judge of the Constitutional Court, professor at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, said in December 2021, commenting on the departure from HSE of a well-known lawyer, retired federal judge Sergei Flank. “This, as you know, is declared political activity in our country.”

Authorities want silent professors and students

Researchers who continue to work at the HSE, EU, Shaninka, RANEPA are forced to resort to ever greater precautions so as not to provoke an attack by attentive observers from inside and outside. Now they will think three times before entering into an agreement with a foreign organization. Both scientific and analytical cooperation is difficult. Research centers, which in the 2000s and 2010s were actively planning reforms in certain sectors of the country's socio-economic life, are now working in a hushed voice, speaking in an undertone: too loud reports or analytical notes can cause the wrath of the authorities. And the demand for such research from decision makers has fallen almost to zero.

Another bad news for researchers in the social and economic sciences in 2021 was the merger of two research grant foundations, the Russian Science Foundation and the Russian Foundation for Basic Research. As a result of the merger, the socio-humanitarian sciences suffered: they received ten times fewer approved grants than natural science teams. The RFBR specialized in small grants in the social sciences and humanities, while the RSF specialized in large grants for natural science projects. Now it will be even more difficult for the first, especially for young scientists, to get funding.

The cooperation of Russian scientists with foreign ones has become drastically difficult. Some researchers who worked in Russia are now denied visas. Others, feeling the hostility of the situation, are themselves afraid to come. And, for example, the sociologist Karine Clement, author of the book "Patriotism from below", was completely banned from entering Russia. “Today you read structuralists, tomorrow you will record a video on Youtube, and the day after tomorrow you will go out into the street to prove that you exist and can still act,” sociologist Konstantin Gaaze wrote at the time. - The real enemy is not a professional oppositionist, but a girl with Tom Bourdieu or a boy with Tom Arendt under his arm. Who needs such a dangerous state of mind science?

Maybe repression threatens only the social and human sciences, while mathematics and the natural sciences can work as if nothing had happened? You can, if there is consent to a gag in the mouth. In July 2022, the International Mathematical Congress was to be held in St. Petersburg. More than a hundred Russian mathematicians called for the congress to be postponed until the release of Azat Miftakhov, who received a sentence for participating in a street action. But in the end, the congress was canceled by the war in Ukraine. More and more Russian scientists are being prosecuted in trumped-up cases of treason — such cases are filed primarily against representatives of the natural sciences. In June 2022, the FSB arrested the Novosibirsk physicist Dmitry Kolker on charges of treason. Immediately after being transported to Moscow, Kolker died - he had the fourth stage of cancer.

The goal of curators of education and science is not to keep specific scientists out or to destroy a specific university. They need professors and students to "not muddy the waters", "do not create problems", do not produce opponents of the regime. The only option in which this is possible is the refusal to integrate Russia into world science and the strengthening of the “native”. The one that explores the “ spiritual foundations of sovereignty ”, and reads philosophers and sociologists not in the original, but from the textbooks of Russian authors. This is exactly how the social sciences and humanities were built in the USSR, and nothing prevents them from doing it again. Defending the autonomy of knowledge in the realm of terror failed neither in the USSR nor now: the Russian government is too indifferent to education and science.

And to the students. The case against DOXA will soon be a year old: the editors of a journal about university life and science are accused of involving minors in rallies. A one-minute video subsequently deleted, 212 volumes of the criminal case, the absence of victims - this demonstrative and cynical case is intended to show only one thing: unlike in the 2010s, in the 2020s the authorities will not tolerate any street activity.

The case against DOXA demonstrates that the authorities will not tolerate any street activity

That is why universities, which a few years ago were quite loyal to the participation of students in protest activity, in 2021 sought to expel unreliable students as soon as possible .

The Russian authorities reacted similarly to the revolutionary moods of students 120 years ago . Only the radicalization of the political situation before 1905 forced the authorities to return partial autonomy to the universities. Maybe this is how the genetic memory of political regimes works? After all, it was the many years of student unrest that became the prologue to the Russian revolution.

And it was this that originally motivated the arrival of the security forces in the RANEPA. Back in the fall of 2020, the Nikulin prosecutor’s office began looking for unreliable students and teachers at the university — those who “shape an opinion about the need for a change of power”, participate in the preparation of research commissioned by foreign NGOs aimed at “undermining the economic foundations of the Russian Federation under the pretext of protecting the environment”, does not recognize the annexation of Crimea and supports sanctions against Russia, criticizes “the socio-economic situation and the educational system of our country”, falsifies history, participates in the selection of promising students for invitations to study at foreign universities, destroys “traditional Russian spiritual and moral values” and so Further. In parallel, the FSB investigative department initiated and investigated a case of fraud for fraud with salaries.

Perhaps it was the inspiration of this success that opened up the opportunity for the security forces to attack Shaninka: in recent years, she has been working as a division of the RANEPA. From the point of view of the security forces, its rector, economist Vladimir Mau, an associate of Yegor Gaidar and Alexei Ulyukaev, who often advises the government, “warmed up” an impressive number of researchers hostile to the political regime at the RANEPA and Shaninka. I think it is precisely this, and not financial considerations, that motivates the harshness of the “collision” with the rector of Shaninka, Sergei Zuev, who is actually killed in a pre-trial detention center . Shaninka is not ready to take under the visor. When in February 2022 an employee of the dean’s office helped to detain student Maria Tillert, the university management apologized to her and started internal proceedings against the voluntary assistant to the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

The arrest of RANEPA Rector Vladimir Mau may be due to his unwillingness, like Kuzminov and Kudrin, to “close the project” and completely start playing by the rules that are imposed by the curators from the FSB. Soft and insinuating, Mau did very much what he was asked to do. Even too much. But he tried not to “give up his own” – until now, quite a lot of teachers and researchers work in the RAHIGS and Shaninka, whom the FSB would prefer not to see there because of the anti-war and anti-dictatorial views. Mau's countless advisory services to the government have no longer outweighed the damage security officials believe is being caused to the political regime by disloyal faculty and students. The political regime has entered a stage when "loyalty with a fig in your pocket" has ceased to suit it - a complete merger with state policy is needed.

Obviously, this promises universities years of lack of freedom and a reinforced concrete curtain between "native" and world science. There can be no free universities in a non-free country. And for the courageous scientists who remain in Russia, but defend their right to a position, the coming years will be very difficult.

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