Kremlin may close closes the European University at St. Petersburg

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." From a February 11 article in The Guardian:
"It's clear this was politically motivated. We are observing a change in the political regime in Russia from authoritarianism to totalitarianism. What happened here is one example among many," Maxim Reznik, leader of St Petersburg's opposition Yabloko party told the Guardian.

He added: "This hasn't got anything to do with fire risk. The university was carrying out important work in connection with election monitoring. Now it's being punished for it."

Putin has launched frequent attacks on non-governmental organisations, human rights groups and Russia's small reformist opposition - accusing them of being tools of the west and traitors to their own country.

But the Kremlin has largely ignored the higher education sector, allowing Russian academics a relative degree of freedom and autonomy over teaching, student selection and research. Universities no longer appear to be an exception.
Link to "Save the European University at St. Petersburg" blog
Link to The Guardian article
Link and Link to Jeff Weintraub's posts about the situation
Link to the University news page

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  1. I think you might want to change the headline.

    I just checked the school’s web site, at

    http://www.eu.spb.ru/

    and it appears that the university has managed to rent alternative space. The announcement is dated February 22, and the Guardian article is from the 11th, and the item from the “Save the EUSP” blog quotes news from the 21st.

    So it appears that the school is still open and has new space that meets the fire code requirements. It’s still possible that opponents of the school will try something else, but as the school is not closed, your headline is wrong.

  2. Please tell me what would have happened if a place called the Russian International University sponsored by Russian money located in Washington, was actively engaged in questioning the ligitimacy of the vote in the US?
    bill o’liely would have been calling for the place to be burnt to the ground daily, along with endless other attacks from bush cronies. Often under taken with connivance of bush appointees. Ask Don Siegelman how that works. I doubt the school would still be operational either.
    Of course we for all intents and purposes ‘know’ that elections have been stolen in this country, and it is far from clear that the system has been significantly cleaned up. I hardly need to cite references do I that 2000 was basically a coup?
    I suggest now might be a damn good time to put down the fraking gadgets and put our own house in order. We need some serious election monitoring right here.

  3. While you make some valid points Darue there is still quite a bit of difference between the US and Russia. And still more between us and what Russia is becoming. The American Scholar has what looks to be an interesting article on the demise of Democracy around the world in it’s current edition.

  4. I do live here in St.Petersburg and I can see what’s going on. The university staff suffered of their politically-related activities and there was the best way for local authorities to stop upcoming problems by closing them down.

    It was the first story of this kind anyway, so it smells(

  5. The state of American democracy is disheartening at times, but it is shining bastion of virtue compared to its Russian counterpart right now. Putin does not rely on gulags, but rather bureaucratic red tape to silence his opponents, whether they be political parties, media, or universities. Why don’t Russians resist? Is an influx of oil money all it takes to silence these people?

  6. Yabloko? Hardly an independent, non-partizan source. They’re an insignificant political party (much like Serbia’s non-entity LDP that the liberal press in the West likes to give much succour) and who’s views are a gnats crotchet away from the US State Department…

    When the Kremlin introduced fo the first time last year proper regulation for foreign funded NGOs, the Western media went crazy, yet it is nothing more than a Russian version of the US F.A.R.A. legislation. Still, it’s great fun to kick the Kremlin now that some people have got bored with that whole Iraq thing (exporting democracy: only 1 million dead and counting)…

  7. Addressing the concern above regarding timeliness: the Russian language site and the “save European University” blog (which is listed above) both indicate that the plan to rent facilities has come to naught: while the assisting institution did actually agree to and sign the lease contract, the court’s ruling has clarified that the university is not only losing its facilities through this censure, but its license. It is now unable to hold classes, pay faculty, pay grad students, or conduct most of its business. The assisting institution has, predictably, taken back its agreement for a lease, leaving the EUSP homeless. There is serious concern that unless the EU is able to address the violations–and address them soon–this may be its end.

    Please see their website at http://www.eu.spb.ru/, and please donate to the university if you can.

  8. for those who naively believe that Russian authorities just take away licenses from organizations that “violate” fire code regulations, I suggest you look into how Russian elections are being run:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/24/world/europe/24putin.html?_r=1&scp=7&sq=nizhny+novgorod&st=nyt&oref=slogin

    http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/russia703/

    If the government really cared about fire safety, they probably would have closed about 90% of buildings in Russia. Russian government right now is engaged in a full scale effort to repress any kind of opposition or anything/anybody with an independent voice. Journalists, universities, writers are the top of that list. Why do you think so many Russian journalists have been killed recently?

    BTW I highly recommend the work of the university’s ethnography department documenting life in Russian communal apartments–it is a unique resource. I hate to think of this work being discontinued.
    http://kommunalka.colgate.edu/cfm/about.cfm?Open=WhatIsThisSiteAbout&KommLanguage=English

  9. As a current student at the university, I encourage you to look into the situation more. I haven’t updated the information on my blog (russiablogger.blogspot.com) since things deteriorated (again).

    However, to the individual who said imagine if Russia tried to do this, ummmmm…. You’re obvious not affiliated with Russian studies or international relations.

    Russia actually is opening its own version of Freedom House-lite in New York City. At the bottom of my blog, you’ll find an indirect referrence that Putin made about EUSP at the EU-Russia Summit in October.

    At the same time, the situation in Russia is extraordinarily complex. ACTUALLY, not everything centers on the Kremlin. The country’s behind-the-scenes elite structure is very fragmented and fluid. (http://www.cfr.org/publication/15602/)

    Do a little digging before making bread, overgeneralizing, and stereotypical commenting.

    As for EUSP, the situation is grave (and equally unprecedented). The scholars there–many Western-educated–are top-notch, and the institution has partnerships with Harvard, Columbia, George Washington, and several others in the U.S.

    Thanks for your support!

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