What Is the Higher School of Economics Smoking?

vyshkaThe Higher School of Economics building in Moscow. Courtesy of the university’s Facebook page

The Higher School of Economics is stripping DOXA of its status as a student organization. This means we will no longer be able to work there
https://doxajournal.ru/hse_doxa

Our sources have informed us that right now the Council of the Student Initiatives Support Fund is voting to strip our journal of its status as a student organization. This would mean we would no longer be able to work at the Higher School of Economics (HSE). According to our information, Yaroslav Kuzminov, the rector of HSE, has already voted to remove the status.

The council is voting on whether to ban our work at HSE at the behest of Natalya Pochinok, rector of the Russian State Social University (RGSU). She complained about an article in DOXA about her career as rector. Pochinok claimed the article discredited the university’s professional reputation and harmed cooperation between the two universities. And yet neither Ms. Pochinok nor the council have contacted us.

Consequently, the university’s legal office compiled a detailed report in which it claimed that many of the articles published in DOXA had, allegedly, damaged the university’s professional reputation. The following articles [in Russian] were mentioned:

Other articles published in DOXA were mentioned in an accompanying letter to the council, recommending it vote to exclude us from HSE. The HSE employee who wrote the letter found “signs of political activism” in them.

Our journal was founded on the idea that self-criticism and public debate are an essential element of university life. The revocation of our status as a student organization deprives HSE’s students and instructors of a feedback channel and representation in the public space.

The news of the attempt to deprive us of our status as a student organization came as a complete surprise to us. HSE is the university where our journal was born and evolved: we have always considered it our alma mater. We ask for and count on support from the journalistic and academic communities. For almost three years, we have advanced the idea of academic and civic solidarity. We hope that our work in this area has not been meaningless.

Besides, we do not believe our work has harmed HSE’s reputation. On the contrary, we have even shown it is one of the few Russian universities that is not afraid of open, public discussion. Therefore, we demand from HSE’s administration the same open discussion about the closure of our organization. We would argue that, otherwise, the damage to the university’s reputation will be much greater than from any of our articles.

The Editorial Board of DOXA

Contact us by email (doxa.fgn@gmail.com), telephone (+7 915 076 2181) or Telegram bot if you would like to make a comment or suggestion or discuss something with us.

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Greg Yudin
Facebook
December 4, 2019

All twenty years I’ve had the chance to observe the Higher School of Economics, the same thing keeps happening there. The university really wants to be like the big boys and knows that the big boys have this thing called student self-government. The university, therefore, makes huge, sincere efforts to develop and support it.

You will be surprised, but then it turns out that student government wants to govern. Meaning that it has its own, profoundly incompetent and infantile viewpoint on the university’s development. After that, the university declares this was not what it had in mind and either tells the student government to go to hell or turns it into a Komsomol-like organization.

If memory serves, this is a least the third time things have followed this same scenario. The only difference is that DOXA is, of course, several cuts above all the previous student projects that emerged at HSE. It is a project of national importance that literally from scratch has in a short time made the Russian student body a subject. It has obviously begun to have an impact on the situation in Moscow and has the potential of putting the problems that really concern Russian university students on the national agenda.

I cannot say, by the way, that I have no issues with DOXA and that it is flawless. (It would be odd if such a breakthrough project were perfect from the get-go.) In my experience, DOXA is staffed by quite modest, reflective and constructive people who are well aware that they can be wrong.

But to close a powerful student project on the basis of a denunciation from the rector of RGSU, a plagiarizer and dealer in dissertations and diplomas, a weak, incompetent politician, and to report it in official documents? There is no force in Russia strong enough to force HSE to whip its own students in front of the RGSU rector. This is an internal decision, and its style (“damage to the university’s professional reputation”) is quite telltale.

We can imagine what would happen if, say, the rector of Columbia University asked the Stanford administration to close the Stanford student newspaper. Until the HSE administration understands that student self-government inevitably involves unpleasant people who have a different point of view than theirs on the university’s development and with whom they have to be able to negotiate, it won’t become a normal university.

What separates HSE from RGSU is the fact that DOXA emerged and evolved there, not the number of published articles, not quartiles, and not citation indices. Because students who really support the university are a major, long-term resource, and the statements made yesterday by all the major student organizations in support of DOXA bear this out, while you can always buy articles, at the end of the day. Ask the RGSU rector about it: she has an impeccable professional reputation in the business.

Translated by the Russian Reader

What Does the FSB Want from Russian Academics?

russland-fsb

What the FSB Wants from Russian Education and Science
Either Professors and Students Defend the Autonomy of Scholarship, or the Only Thing Left Will Be the “Science” of Russia’s Security in a Global World
Konstantin Gaaze
Vedomosti
November 28, 2019

On the evening of November 27, the FSB’s Border Service barred the well-known French sociologist Carine Clément from entering Russia. She was stopped at passport control in Sheremtyevo Airport and later informed that, as a “threat” to “national security,” she had been banned from entering Russia for ten years. Clément was slated to chair a panel on social stratification and the subjectivation of social status at a conference marking the ninetieth anniversary of the birth of the late sociologist Vladimir Yadov.

It is pointless to attempt to interpret the travel ban on Clement in the light of her planned lecture on resemblances between the so-called Yellow Vests [Gilets jaunes] and the so-called Quilted Jackets [vatniki]. The trouble is not with parallels, but with the fact that the FSB, the supreme authority on the life of the mind in Russia, has long ago decided that castrating the Runet is not enough to set people’s brains straight. It is time to strike—and strike hard—at the bourgeoning social sciences and the humanities.

We often forget that FSB has not one sword at its disposal—the Russian federal communications watchdog Roskomnadzor—but two swords: Roskomnadzor and Rosobrnadzor, the Russian federal education watchdog. When my own university, the so-called Shaninka, was stripped of its accreditation in the summer of 2018, the only rumor that explained the absurdity and inconsistencies of the inspection procedure and the accreditation commission’s final report was that Lieutenant General Alexei Sedov, head of the FSB’s constitutional security service, had personally made the decision not to extend our accreditation.

The legendary spook realized back then, apparently, that the real enemies were not professional opposition activists, but young men and women with books by Bourdieu and Arendt tucked under their arms. One day you read the structuralists, the next day you record a video and post it on YouTube, and the day after that you take to the streets to show you exist and are still capable of acting. Who needs scholarship that has such a dangerous effect on people’s minds?

Especially since there is a different kind of scholarship, which churns out piles of monographs dealing with Russia’s “special path,” the country’s security in a global world, and the degradation of the west’s “spiritual culture,” and which dominates the universities where students are marked down for reading primary sources: they have to read the textbooks written by their professors, not the works of “foreign agents.” Such universities hold an endless stream of events celebrating the founders of allegedly original schools of thought who, in fact, are plagiarists and fools who have not bothered to crack open a new book since 1991, if not since 1980. They organize online conferences where 18-year-old bachelors of sociology have to discuss such burning topics as whether women can serve in the police and in what capacity with students from Interior Ministry academies in neighboring regions.

What is at stake for the FSB in this case is not isolating Clément from her Russian audience, but ensuring the victory of one type of education and scholarly production over another—the victory of textbooks over primary sources, the victory of rote phrases over real knowledge, the victory of articles chockablock with references to the president’s annual state of the union address over articles that quote Foucault and Judith Butler.

This decision has been ripening for a long time, but it was hampered by other players in the bureaucracy, including major universities, officials, and Kremlin-backed pollsters, who understood that Russia’s current model of governance could not countenance the total ideologization of the social sciences. But all these nuances lost their significance after the protests in Moscow this past summer. The enemy must be defeated. So, beginning this autumn, the Kremlin and the capital’s universities have been hotly discussing whether there are too many students studying sociology and political science. Wouldn’t it be better to send them all to culinary school?

It is time we understood that it is not a matter of who reads the classics correctly and who doesn’t. It is a matter of the very opportunity to read—not in a closed reading group, but in an open lecture hall; not under a blanket, but at the university, in the company of students. We cannot hide behind the walls of our oases—the Higher School of Economics, RANEPA, the European University in St. Petersburg, and the Shaninka, among others. Either faculty and students will join together and defend scholarly autonomy, or, ten years from now there will be nothing left except the indigenous “science” of national security.  It is clear we could all emigrate. It is equally clear this would be a betrayal not only of future students but also of scholarship itself.

Konstantin Gaaze is a sociologist who lectures in the Fundamental Sociology program at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences (the Shaninka).

Photo courtesy of Stern. Translated by the Russian Reader

Yulia Tsvetkova: Pink Turns to Blue

76618320_1260332754165872_8902406124347588608_oYulia Tsvetkova. Photo by Maria Nyakina. Courtesy of ONA

Russian Feminist Association ONA
Facebook
November 20, 2019

Yulia Tsvetkova Named a Suspect in Alleged Distribution of Pornography

The police are again playing hard ball with our colleague and comrade Yulia Tsvetkova. Yulia returned to her native Komsomolsk-on-Amur via Khabarovsk from Petersburg, where she appeared at the Eve’s Ribs festival. She was met by law enforcement officers right at the train station. They told her that a criminal investigation into distribution of pornography had been launched, and she was a witness. They took Yulia to the police station to interrogate her. Yulia refused to testify in the case. The police immediately made her a suspect. She had to sign a non-disclosure agreement and an undertaking not to leave the city, after which nine police officers (!) searched her apartment and the premises of her children’s theater studio. Among other things, they confiscated equipment and brochures on gender issues. They accused Yulia of “promoting” something or other, calling her a “lesbian” and “sex coach.”

We fully support our colleague in this situation and express our solidarity. We demand an end to the political prosecution of the feminist activist!

Photo by Maria Nyakina (St. Petersburg)

Thanks to Darya Aponchich for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. See our post from earlier this year, “Yulia Tsvetkova: Blues and Pinks,” a translation of an interview with Tsvetkova about her work with a children’s theater in Komsomolsk-on-Amur and the crackdown against the theater by local officials.

The War on Academic Free Speech in Russia

snowden

Why Should Professors Have Free Speech?
Pavel Aptekar
Vedomosti
November 10, 2019

The desire of certain universities to control the things the public intellectuals they employ as professors say about socially important issues teeters on the verge of censorship and can hardly benefit their reputations, demonstrating only the growing fears of their administrators.

On Friday, the Higher School of Economics made public the decision of its ethics board, which voted seven to one in favor of recommending that Gasan Gusejnov, a linguist employed in the university’s humanities faculty, apologize for his “ill-considered and irresponsible” remarks on his personal Facebook page regarding the “cesspool-like” Russian used by the Russian media. The majority of council members found the statement had caused “serious harm” to the university’s “professional reputation.”

In particular, the ethics board referred to recommendations for university staff members regarding public statements: “If the public statements of employees touch on issues that are matters of considerable public controversy […] it is recommended they refrain from mentioning the university by name.”

However, Gusejnov did not mention his position at the university in the Facebook post that sparked a witch hunt against him on social media and in pro-Kremlin media outlets. Gusejnov said he did not intend to apologize, as he had not yet received an official request to apologize from the university. This triggered a new wave of invective against him.

The persecution of university lecturers and students for political reasons cannot be called something new. In March 2014, MGIMO terminated its contract with Professor Andrey Zubov after his statements about the situation in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea. In April 2015, the Smolny Institute of Liberal Arts and Sciences at St. Petersburg State University fired political scientist and human rights expert Dmitry Dubrovsky for his public remarks. In November 2016, Alexei Petrov was fired from his post as deputy dean of the history faculty at Irkutsk State University, allegedly, for disciplinary violations, but it was actually a complaint to the prosecutor’s office by a member of the National Liberation Movement (NOD) that led to his dismissal. In March 2018, the Siberian Federal University in Krasnoyarsk forced philosophy lecturer Mikhail Konstantinov to resign after he had shown students Don’t Call Him Dimon, a 2017 video exposé by Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation.

The right to one’s opinions, even critical opinions, cannot be made dependent on a person’s job. Even with regard to civil servants, the Russian Constitutional Court ruled that their official positions could not be tantamount to a total ban on the public expression of critical opinions, including in the media. It is all the more impossible to train and educate professionals without critical thinking, free discussion, and the exchange of opinions: without these things, learning turns into scholasticism. Lecturers capable of lively, unconventional thought make the reputations of universities.

There have been other such examples in the history of the Higher School of Economics. The university did not react when, in October 2013, Vladimir Putin called Professor Sergei Medvedev a “fool” for arguing that the Arctic should be administered internationally. Now, however, its administrators have probably been forced to yield to the pressure, hoping that by sacrificing individuals it can maintain control over its professors. But this is a precarious path to a questionable goal.

Image courtesy of democraticunderground.com. Translated by the Russian Reader

Open House

“Graduate Student Azat Miftakhov Is Being Tortured by the FSB!” Protest at Moscow State University’s Open House Day
Agniya Galdanova
Republic
October 15, 2019

Activists from the MSU Pressure Group and Indefinite Protest protested during a speech by Rector Viktor Sadovnichy at Moscow State University’s open house day on October 13.

“Why are you silent? MSU graduate student Azat Miftakhov is being tortured by the FSB! And Rector Sadovnichy is silent!” shouted Olga Misik, a journalism student at MSU better known as the “constitution girl.”

Miftakhov, a 25-year-old mechanics and mathematics graduate student at MSU, was detained on February 1, 2019, in Balashikha. He is suspected of making a homemade bomb and attempting to set fire to a United Russia party office. Miftakhov has repeatedly complained of torture while in police custody.

Translated by the Russian Reader

School Daze

olimpiada_po_himii(21)Moscow schoolchildren were smart enough to win the All-Russian Chemistry Olympiad in 2017, but the Moscow police department thinks they are not smart enough to know and speak their own minds when it comes to politics. Photo courtesy of Mos.ru, the official website of the Moscow mayor’s office

Policewoman Tells Moscow Schoolchildren “You Are Kaput” and Threatens Criminal Charges If They Attend Protest Rallies
Mediazona
September 6, 2019

​On condition of anonymity, a pupil at a school in Moscow has told Mediazona that today, during a lesson, a woman in a police uniform who identified herself as an inspector for minors came to his class. She threatened the schoolchildren with criminal charges if they attended protest rallies and said they would be unable to go to university.

Our source recorded the policewoman’s monologue on his telephone.

“As you know, protest rallies have been going on here in Moscow. People who attend them face administrative charges for this and then criminal charges. When people say they just happened to be in the same place, it makes no impression on me. I just put them on the watch list, and they get visits not only from beat cops but also from detectives,” she says at the beginning of her speech.

The policewoman then says she plans to put children on the watch list without bothering to figure out what happened.

“I do not care whether you there or not there, whether you went to a rally or were on a ‘stroll,’ whether you were just going to the toilet or not. I am going to put you on the watch list and that is that: you are kaput,” she says.

On a second recording, made in a parallel class at the same school, the policewoman goes into more detail about the dangers of being placed on the watch list of the police’s commission for the affairs of minors.

“When you are put on the watch list you can forget about your future and your plans for the future because you will not be able to get into any university. I am not talking about not being able to buy cigarettes or [inaudible] on a park bench. This is really serious. [. . .] I think your parents could also have a rough time at work. And basically, it is no fun being on the watch list, something everyone finds out later. Because we alert everyone that their employee’s child has been put on the watch list for this reason and that,” she says.

The school’s deputy headmaster then addresses the pupils.

“The main thing you have to understand is that the people who try to get you involved in this are just manipulating you. They could not care less about your civic stance. You are just numbers to them. They count you up and say that a hundred people, a thousand people came out for the rally. During the war, people like this were called ‘cannon fodder,'” he says.

“Remember that every so-called stroll in quotation marks—because, unfortunately, all children say they were strolling there—can bounce back on you in the sense that your entire educational trajectory and all your plans can be ruined very bitterly. We just worked together to try and save a pupil in the eleventh form after this situation because he was planning to go to a higher education institution connected with the law enforcement authorities. A lawyer was hired to defend him and he managed to get the charges dropped because the kid really had participated in so many academic competitions that it played a decisive role. But I would not wish what he went through on anyone. So don’t do it. Be smart and realize that the money they [inaudible] will later turn into tears of blood shed by your parents in the form of heavy fines,” he says.

According to our anonymous source, the preventive talks took place in the ninth and tenth forms at his school. He speculated they had probably taken place in other forms, too.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Me Talk Pretty One Day

67392734_2292618164188215_3196602514246783151_nPopular Russian blogger Dr. Philipp Kuzmenko might style himself the Russian “Doctor Phil,” but the title of his new book admirably owes nothing to modern English. Image courtesy of Feedler

The wholesale destruction of the Russian language at the hands of intellectuals and hipsters trying to look more worldly than they really are is not distressing only because what they do to their mother tongue looks and sounds awful and needless, but also because they pilfer the most threadbare, unattractive bits of modern English to gussy up their own perfectly pedestrian thoughts, e.g.,

В школьников по-прежнему запихивают объем информации, а сегодня надо учить компетенциям, трекам, по которым ребенок сможет добывать знания сам.

Schoolchildren are, as before, crammed with a volume of information, but today it is necessary to teach competencies, tracks with which the child will be able to obtain knowledge himself.

This is not the most egregious example I could find (it popped up on my Facebook newsfeed a few minutes ago), but it nicely shows the kind of wild register switching that happens when people talk and write like this.

There are at least three registers in the sentence quoted above: colloquial Russian (“crammed,” “schoolchildren”), bureaucratese (“as before,” “volume,” “information,” “obtain”), and avoidable, undigested Anglicisms (“competencies,” “tracks”).

Topping this progressivist cake is the cherry of Russian’s inbuilt sexism, if we can call it that, which means that a “child” is always a “he,” not a “she” or “it” or “they.”

Sometimes, the outcome of this permanent mental confusion is almost worthy of the greatest Russian literary register switcher of all time, Andrei Platonov. But he was making a very big tragicomic point, unlike his tin-eared descendants, who are unconsciously turning his uncanny nightmares into linguistic norms.

Why should this bother me, a non-native Russian speaker? Because I work as a translator. Much of the stuff I translate, nearly all of it written by highly educated, extraordinarily well-read Russians, resembles the hodgepodge quoted above, although it is usually even more unintentionally funny, chockablock with so many half-baked, misunderstood Anglicisms that I could think the authors were pulling my leg.

In fact, they are deadly serious.

To spare my readers the same sense that the writers are having a laugh at their expense, I have to translate their hipster worldliness signaling into what they might have said had they been real English speakers with no penchant for tiresome jargon and bureaucratese.

Does this mean I translate their “I’m so clever I’m also thinking in English as I write this” Russian into idiomatic Russian before translating it into real English?

Of course not. But in this case, I could venture such a translation, just for fun.

Мы все еще запихиваем в школьников большие куски информации, но сегодня мы должны учить их умениям, способам, с помощью которых они могли бы учиться сами.

It’s hardly perfect, but at least I used twenty-four Russian words—and one foreign borrowing, naturalized ages ago—to say what a native Russian speaker wanted but failed to say.

Tellingly, Yandex Translate had no trouble translating my hasty rewrite into perfectly decent English.

We still cram large chunks of information into schoolchildren, but today we have to teach them skills, ways in which they could learn for themselves. // TRR