As you might have heard, the European University was reopened last Friday! I want to thank you all, on my own behalf (the rector’s general thanks are at www.eu.spb.ru), for your support: many of you have signed letters for us and took other important, helpful steps. This small victory was the cumulative result of many channels of
influence: hundreds of letters and thousands of signatures; street
actions of students and teachers (including a regular “Street
University” that we plan to continue on a new, extended basis); and elite negotiations. A very important step was an open letter from a group of Russian academicians published in the national newspaper Kommersant. Finally,
one morning Saint Petersburg mayor Matvienko called the rector on the phone and told him that, to her knowledge, the firemen had already withdrawn their claims. And, sure enough, within two days a court held a hearing that decided the case in favor of the university, in less than
three minutes. As a colleague of mine joked: “Long live the Russian Court, the most dependent court in the world!” The same day, an opposition politician arrested and imprisoned three weeks ago on the fake pretext
of beating up three policemen was set free.
What we see is a certain liberalization wave by the authorities, which had long been awaited, given the “westernized” image of the newly elected president. This may mean a tactical retreat, or may be the result of competition among elite groups on the eve of a power reshuffle. In any case, the events showed, optimistically, that the bureaucratic machine is not as consolidated as it would seem to be, and that there are therefore windows of influence for the nonconformist civil society. Of course, if this “civil society” does nothing, then the windows will gradually close. Even after the university was opened, a city official threatened the rector that the city would withdraw from the university board of regents if the street actions continued. And, let us not forget, the electoral monitoring project because of which the whole thing happened has been closed for good.
It is time for us in Russia to prepare for a long “war of position”—for the quality, equal access to, and autonomy of education, among other things—and we are grateful to our opponents for the opportunity of democratic mobilization and consolidation that they gave us by closing the European University and by similar, unusually aggressive moves that went beyond their “regular” degree of authoritarianism.
The University is now in debt to all of you who have supported it—it came out of this battle reinvigorated, and stands in need of reform and development. For my own part, as a faculty member, I will push for its democratization (vis-à-vis the students who did so much to save it), internal integration, and “theoretization.” We’ll see what this yields.
Many thanks again,