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.