The following article was originally published (in Russian) on the website of the Forward Socialist Movement. The translator has slightly altered the original text to reflect certain developments that have taken place since the text was written.
The (New) Street University, which was founded this year in Petersburg, is one of today’s most interesting and encouraging phenomena in the educational sphere. We asked Pavel Arseniev, one of the participants of the initiative, to tell us about it.
Despite the fact that the current state of education in Russia has provoked bewilderment among many people, until recently students have not organized to defend their rights. The situation at the Moscow State sociology department and the widely covered protest actions by the OD Group have apparently led to nothing, although the protestors took their case to the Public Chamber, where a special commission of experts affirmed the justice of their accusations. Afterwards, it once again became clear that it was both necessary to struggle and that it was impossible to change the situation from top down. The closing of the European University also provoked the ire of students from other universities. The fire inspectors managed to arouse Petersburg’s student population, which until then had mostly been silent and totally amorphous. After hitting the streets with parodic protest actions like the laying of a firehose at the foot of the Lomonosov monument or the folk burlesque play about the closing of “European Aniversity,” the students finally arrived at their natural vocation—education, which, given the fact that the university was closed, also necessarily took to the streets and became a genuinely collective enterprise. Continue reading
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.
Better stay away from those / That carry around a firehose.
—Bob Dylan, “Subterranean Homesick Blues”
On 29 February 2007, students of the still-closed European University in Saint Petersburg gathered at the monument to Russian renaissance man Mikhail Lomonosov to lay a memorial firehose and say farewell to their dear alma mater. They were joined by Chto Delat platformistas Ada, Pasha, Foma, Artyom, and Dima V., some of whom teach and study at the university. For all those on hand, however, the university had been a bright haven amidst a black storm of reaction.
Artemy Magun, a professor at The European University in Saint Petersburg and a member of Chto Delat, discusses the prospects for a widening of the repressions against non-state, “westernizing” institutions of higher learning in Russian and what this would mean for the country’s future. (In Russian)
Video by Ilya Utekhin
LETTER OF SUPPORT FOR EUROPEAN UNIVERSITY IN ST PETERSBURG
Dear colleagues. By now many of you will have heard about the situation at the European University in St Petersburg (EUSPb). The university has been suddenly closed by the Russian authorities due to a reputed “violation of fire codes”. The classes have been suspended indefinitely and the rooms have been sealed by fire marshals. The University faculty and students, whom many of you know as colleagues and friends, have appealed to us, the international academic community, to write collective letters to support the university and to urge the authorities to reopen it. There have been many speculations as to the real reasons for the closure of this university, known for its high level of scholarship and independent social and political analysis. You can read about these various theories and explanations on the web sites provided above. However, colleagues at EUSPb have asked us “not to politicize” the situation, in order to avoid creating more problems.
Right now time is an issue — this is the middle of the semester at EUSPB, as elsewhere — and we must act quickly.
We have written a petition, and invite all of you who agree with its content to sign it. The text of the petition is provided below. We plan to collect as many signatures as we can in a speedy fashion and send this petition to administrative and educational institutions in Russia.
Alexei Yurchak, Department of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley
Michele Rivkin-Fish, Department of Anthropology, University of North Carolina,
Last week, the European University in Saint Petersburg was shut down, ostensibly for violating fire codes. Chto Delat member and Petersburg-based philosopher Artemy Magun explains in an open letter posted to platform chtodelat.
Many of you have been asking me of what’s going on with the European University at Saint-Petersburg.
I have decided to write to all of you in English, and explain the present situation.