Moscow. — Usually prestigious private universities, where they teach hundreds of students, not close due to small technical problems, which appeared six months ago, but have already found their solution.
But it is in such a difficult situation was open 20 years ago the European University in St. Petersburg, which became a Bastion of the Humanities. After violent attacks of the conservatives at this University, the district court made the decision on its closing.
What I see everything is the hallmark of the Putin era: it is the legal war of a new type of in which state courts under the pretext of observance of the law to achieve political obedience. In contrast to the outright repression in the Soviet style, now decisions are made through a complex, often multi-year legal battles, which, however, inevitably lead to the politically desired verdict. One of the most illustrative examples is the recent decision of the local court, which upheld the verdict of the opposition leader Alexei Navalny convicted of embezzlement. A side effect was that Navalny may lose the opportunity to run for President in the elections that will take place next year.
Supporters of the Kremlin blame this characteristic, seeing it as an example of Western arrogance and an attempt to defame the Russian courts and the rule of law. To solve all the problems in these debates is very difficult.
But let’s consider the case of the European University which is a private postgraduate institution where at present an enrollment of about 260 students, including many foreigners. The University occupies a magnificent building of the Small Marble Palace in the historic centre of Saint Petersburg.
It was founded in a different political era in 1994 with the support of then-mayor and reformer Anatoly Sobchak and with considerable financial assistance from various international organizations, including the Soros Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation and the Spencer. This is one of the few private universities in Russia licensed by the Ministry of education on the award of degrees. He is regularly called one of the best universities in Russia.
In the curriculum of University a lot of political science, sociology, history and Economics. Many classes are conducted in English, and the teaching sometimes to attract foreign professors. Even among Russian universities, many of which developed ties with other countries and foreign educational institutions, the European University is a very liberal school. In its Board of Trustees includes several foreigners, as well as leading Russian liberals like the former Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin and direct the Director of the Hermitage Museum Mikhail Piotrovsky.
Problems at the University began in June last year, when ultra-conservative legislator from St. Petersburg Vitaly Milonov filed an official complaint. In accordance with Russian law, it had to start an official investigation.
Milon is the main author of the law “against homosexual propaganda”. Now he is the Deputy of the State Duma. Responding on Friday to questions of the correspondent, Milonov stated that simply put in a request on the basis of complaints of citizens, among which was a letter he allegedly received from five students of the European University. Students “raised a number of questions about the quality of the University and its services,” she said.
“All problems I don’t remember but one of them was the teaching of gender studies at the University. I personally think it’s ugly, it’s a bogus study, and perhaps they are illegal, — said Milonov. But I can’t judge about it, so I gave these questions to the consideration of the authorities.”
Under the microscope
After a few weeks in the University with surprise inspections raided 11 offices which found 120 violations of various norms, rules and regulations. None of them was concerned with the educational process, and they were mostly minor flaws in the design of HR documentation, minor violations of building regulations, lack of stand with the anti-drinking information and gym for employees. At the same time, the local cadastre offices have filed in court, demanding to cancel the permission to rent the University buildings due to the fact that the University allegedly failed to perform some contractual obligations.
Conservative mass-media of St.-Petersburg has begun to more blatant attacks on the University.
“The University, positioning itself as a leading private educational institution that trains highly qualified specialists for the Russian state, is highly questionable “scientific” activity, — it is told in an anonymous article posted on one of the leading news sites from the right wing. — The faculty and students of the European University have studied the values of the LGBT movement and the neo-liberal strategy of development of Russia…. It appears that the true purpose of this “University” is not a scientific achievements and discoveries, and training of elite fighters for the “democratization” of our country.”
In December, the University has been very strange from the point of view of any Western country, but it is reasonable for the Russian conditions, and he asked Putin to intervene. During the week the license was restored.
But on 20 March the arbitration court of St. Petersburg annulled the license of the University, citing violations addressed in court in September last year.
“We stuck to the letter of the law, — said the rector of the University Oleg Kharkhordin. — We can not deny that in September last year, was discovered some flaws. But we have taken energetic measures for their elimination, and the court still judged for these shortcomings. The judge refused to consider any new facts and ordered to revoke our license [20 Mar]”.
The University intends to appeal the decision to the appellate court, said Kharkhordin. But if, as expected, the University will be closed, it will remain only one option: to apply for a new license.
“We have already produced 20 kilograms of documents required to apply for a new licence. This is our only backup plan,” — said the rector.
What motivated these events?
Hard to say what’s really going on, but literally all had spoken for this reason experts say that it is either in real estate or in politics.
Someone thinks that it is mainly the attempt to resettle vulnerable in the current political environment the school of fine buildings of the Small Marble Palace, which it received in the liberal 1990-e years. According to this hypothesis, licence reinstated as soon as the University will move.
Others believe that this is a political attack on the head of the Council of the European University Kudrin, who is a longtime friend of Putin. Today a constant topic of gossip was his comeback to the government for implementation of the program of liberal reforms.
Political analyst from the Moscow Higher school of Economics Nikolai Petrov says that right can be both. But he is concerned about the fact that the closure of the European University can be the beginning of a major offensive on the Western methodology of teaching of political science at Russian universities.
According to him, this is a Russian paradox, originating in the era of Peter I, and perhaps earlier. Kremlin leaders want to get from the West what he can give them in terms of technology, science and management knowledge, but did not want his political ideas.
“The mood today is that higher education is good when it is associated with technology and science. The economy is too. But it’s bad when the universities are beginning to teach Western political values, says Petrov. — Department of political science across the country are under pressure for their “Association” with other departments, for example, government control that will inevitably lead to changes in teaching style”.
While it is impossible to verify whether such a trend exists. But if it is, scientific-educational community of Russia are waiting for significant changes. At the prestigious Moscow state Institute of international relations (MGIMO) really is a merger of the Department of political science and international management, however, associate Professor of political theory Kirill Koktysh says that this is done to conserve and coordination.
“We had two competing team, and our donors decided to combine them in order to optimize the funding, he says. — This does not mean that the science is pushed into the shadows.”