Russia: Student protests crackdown

EducationWorld June 2022 | International News Magazine
Russia: Student protests crackdown

Russia: Student protests crackdown

Russian institutions are leading the charge in cracking down on student opposition to the Kremlin’s war on Ukraine, with hundreds of students estimated to have been expelled already. With Russian academia increasingly cut off from the outside world, student dissidents are finding themselves targeted by the very institutions tasked with nurturing their critical thinking. On March 9, Russia’s ministry of internal affairs reportedly ordered Saint Petersburg State University to expel 13 students who participated in anti-war protests, in what academics say is an escalation of the crackdown on free speech.

While no official figures exist, hundreds of students have likely been expelled for their opposition to the war, says Vladimir Ashurkov, a Russian activist and executive director of the Anti-Corruption Foundation, a Moscow-based non-profit established by opposition politician Alexei Navalny.

Ashurkov, who now coordinates the Freedom Degree project, which fields queries from students facing expulsion, told Times Higher Education that the initiative has been flooded with requests in recent weeks. “Many of the letters we receive begin with: ‘I’m very scared,’” he says. “Some of them are trying to challenge the expulsion and to re-enrol; some of them are looking for opportunities to transfer to another university, including foreign options; some of them are just shocked and frustrated, but all of them need advice and moral support.”

Even at universities that stop short of expelling students, scare tactics are “blatant and offensive, and they target the brightest and most promising students. Students are being rejected by supervisors, fired from laboratories and told they’ll face problems defending their theses,” he says.

Ashurkov notes one case in which students were told they should apply for academic leave to “volunteer to help rebuild the destroyed cities of Ukraine, because it will help their protest energy to find a better use”. In another, a female student was advised to get married quickly to change her Ukrainian surname.

He describes administrators as zealous in their pursuit of offenders: “We have the impression that university managers are playing the key role in the attempts we’re seeing to silence students — not on orders from above.”

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