Breaking the bonds with Russian researchers extinguishes the sparks of change 

Breaking the bonds with Russian researchers extinguishes the sparks of change 

More than 7000 of Russian scientists and science journalists are against the war


In the Netherlands, higher education institutions and teaching hospitals are suspending all formal cooperation with Russia and Belarus. Understandable, says the Russian PhD Olga Zvonareva (FHML). But what about the Russian researchers who are resisting and protesting?

Overall, putting a stop on all financial transactions with Russian academic organizations is an unavoidable step to take. It is unimaginable to support research in these organizations with EU money. 

It’s something else that I find concerning, though. There is an open letter signed by more than 7000 of Russian scientists and science journalists against the war with Ukraine.

On March 4th, Russian parliament approved and Putin signed a law that allows to imprison people for ’fake’ information about Russian army and its actions. Calling war as war and not special military operation has become a criminal offence punishable with up to 15 years in prison. 

Now, most scientists and science journalists who signed the letter are in Russia, working in Russian academia. According to the initiator of the open letter, physicist Boris Stern, only about 20 people asked to remove their names from the letter after the law was approved. Everyone else persist in declaring their 'strong opposition to the Russian hostilities launched against Ukrainian people’, as stated in the letter.

Then there are protests, during March 6 alone about 5000 people were detained. 5020 to be precise, according to OVD-info, civil society organization that collects and publishes information about political oppression in Russia.

Scientists and especially students are very much present there. A recent interview by sociologist Greg Yudin who was beaten during an antiwar protest and unconsciously taken to the police station can illustrate what is involved in making protest possible.

Then there are entire academic organizations that for a long time have been in opposition to the oppressive actions by the Russian government. Think of the European University at St.Petersburg. Over the past decade it has been repeatedly attacked for producing critical social science research, resisting censorship, and educating independently thinking students. It has had its educational license revoked more than once, lost its building, was subjected to threats, but still resisted and managed to continue working. 

Think of the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences (known as Shaninka) that also went through losing its licence and then had its rector Sergei Zuyev arrested under some fabricated pretence. The reasons are similar: Shaninka is not loyal.

My concern is that all these people who are resisting and protesting, who call war as war and identify with values of justice and truth, will find themselves in isolation. Just to be clear: I am speaking about maintaining connection among those of us globally, who share these values and cherish human life. 

I’m afraid that, while barring participants from Russian and Belarusian institutions from participation in collective events (as the recent statement by Dutch universities indicates), maintaining such connection is impossible. It is not only research that flourishes through connection and exchange, I am not concerned with research right now. It is also democratic commitments and, however small, sparks of change as well and these may be extinguished. 

Olga Zvonareva, PhD at the Department of Health, Ethics and Society (FHML)

Author: Redactie

Photo: Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences

Tags: ukraine,russia,putin,war

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