Tag Archives: Moscow State University

International Women’s Day Special: The Professors in the Ikea Balaclavas

March 8 marked the hundredth anniversary of International Women’s Day celebrations in Russia. This is the fourth in a series of posts focusing on the work and plight of several different women involved in political and social activism in Russia today.

On February 21, 2013, the first anniversary, of Pussy Riot’s “punk prayer” protest, TV Rain’s Maria Makeyeva interviewed Irina Karatsuba, an ecclesiastical historian and Ph.D. in cultural studies, and Elena Volkova, an expert on religion and artistic culture. Earlier in the day, Karatsuba and Volkova had been detained at Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral in balaclavas while attempting to lay flowers on the altar as way of showing their solidarity with the imprisoned members of Pussy Riot. They were later released from Khamovniki police precinct after questioning.

Мaria Makeyeva: What made you, two female academics, go to Christ the Savior Cathedral? I understand that police were expecting someone to show up there on the anniversary of Pussy Riot’s protest action, but it was you, two scholars, whom they found. Was this a scholarly action or a form of research? What was it?

Elena Volkova: It was, first of all, a human action. We wanted to express our solidarity with Maria [Alyokhina] and Nadezhda [Tolokonnikova] on this day, to show them that people remember and appreciated what they did a year ago, that there are people who sympathize with them, share their views, and support the [protest] action they performed in Christ the Savior Cathedral. We went there in solidarity, support, and sympathy. As scholars, we’ve spent the past year on educating people. I ran a “Pussy Riot school” on the Web, where I tried to explain [what they did], because it seemed to me that people perceived the punk prayer so aggressively simply because they didn’t know church history, the history of resistance within the church, the history of the holy fools, Biblical prophecy, and ecclesiastical counterculture. I wanted to educate people, and so as scholars we have been actively involved in outreach the whole [past] year, and we carried balaclavas in our bags.

Makeyeva: As a historian of the church, what do you think of what Pussy Riot did a year ago?

Irina Karatsuba: I think there are several important dates in the history of the Russian Orthodox Church in the twentieth century. For example, the Church Council of 1917–1918, at which the Patriarchate was restored and a reform program was drafted, but none of these reforms was carried out. This continues to haunt us today. Or Metropolitan Sergei’s 1927 declaration, in which the church bowed down before an atheist state and thanked it: this is a very important milestone in the history of our church’s apostasy from Christ. Or 1943, when Comrade Stalin allowed the Church Council to convene and elect a new patriarch. He thus bound the church firmly to the atheist state, and the church firmly attached itself to it.

Makeyeva: But what about the “punk prayer”?

Karatsuba: The “punk prayer” completes this sequence. It tries to put everything in its place: render unto God what is God’s, render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. And it calls on members of the church not to support Caesar, thus closing the books on a very important feature of church-state relations in the twentieth century. Moreover, the girls told the truth, and told it in such a way that everyone heard it. We experts had been writing about this for the past five years, six years, but very few people hear what experts have to say. But [Pussy Riot] were able to say it in a way that everyone heard it, and that is to their great credit.

Makeyeva: You both were expert witnesses in the Pussy Riot case.

Karatsuba: We were expert witnesses for the defense whose testimony no one wanted to hear. We sat in the stairways at the Khamovniki district court for two days along with [famous Russian novelist] Ludmila Ulitskaya, who is seventy today, God bless her, and Irina Levinskaya, who had written an expert opinion on the expert opinion [commissioned by the prosecution]. She showed how meaningless what the court-appointed experts had dashed off was.

Makeyeva: Could you say more about the balaclavas you carried in your bags for a whole year?

Volkova: We made them for an opposition rally, before the ban on covering one’s face [was introduced]. We made them from Ikea pillowcases five minutes before going to the rally.

Karatsuba: Elena came over to my house and quickly made two balaclavas from an Ikea pillowcase I had.

Volkova: Later, we put them on outside the courthouse when we went there to support the girls. And then I carried it in my bag as a talisman, as a way of maintaining my connection with the persecuted women.

Makeyeva: And where are they now?

Volkova: The guards at Christ the Savior Cathedral tore them off and didn’t give them back to us, unfortunately. The tulips they threw at our feet: we had bought brightly colored tulips by way of stylizing Pussy Riot’s bright outfits.

Makeyeva: And then what happened?

Volkova: And then for some reason one of the cleaning ladies began frantically removing flowers from the icons, apparently fearing we were going to take them from their vases and throw them on the altar. Then the police took us to the paddy wagon, where two strange men appeared. One of them asked why we did it. We talked about the historical role of the “punk prayer,” that Russia had changed after this, that it has had a huge impact on Russian history. To which he replied. . . It was Ira who engaged him in a dialogue from that point on.

Karatsuba: He said that it wasn’t history that had changed, but something in our brains. “That’s okay,” he said, “we treat such alterations at the Serbsky Institute [for Forensic Psychiatry].”

Makeyeva: You mean they introduced themselves as specialists from the Serbsky Institute?

Karatsuba: They didn’t introduce themselves at all. It was just a remark he made.

Makeyeva: Were they in plain clothes?

Karatsuba: Yes, we decided we were going to be taken to the Serbsky Institute for treatment, but for now we haven’t been taken there.

Makeyeva: And then what happened?

Volkova: Then we were taken to the Khamovniki police precinct, where we spoke with a young name from Center “E,” the Center for Combating Extremism, who introduced himself as Ilya. He asked me different questions. As a teacher, it takes me approximately an hour to answer a question. I gave him a lecture on the history of the church, on the history of the holy fool tradition.

Karatsuba: I stood behind the door and listened with delight. Lena expressed herself one hundred percent: it was an amazing lecture.

Volkova: He asked questions and took notes. He asked me what the symphony between church and state was, and wrote down various dates and concepts. I think he liked it. He said he was in charge of religion at Center “E.” I told him he needed to get a religious studies education and advised him to enroll at the Russian State University for the Humanities. He said, “Can you give me the names of people to talk to [there]?” And with that he gave himself away, because this was clearly the question an investigator would ask: Whom did you meet with? What is your connection? What is this faction you mentioned?

Makeyeva: Irina, did you talk with this same young man?

Karatsuba: Yes. I didn’t really want to talk to him, and so our conversation didn’t really gel. He kept pestering me with questions. If I was so devout, he asked, why didn’t I go with those girls to prison? To which I replied that it reminded me of Ivan the Terrible’s logic from the correspondence with Prince Kurbsky: if you’re so righteous, why didn’t accept a martyr’s death at the hands of me, the wicked king, and ascend to heaven?” To which he replied, “And whose side are you? Ivan the Terrible’s or Kurbsky’s?” “I’m on Gagarin’s side,” I said. He sighed and said, “Our conversation hasn’t panned out.”

Makeyeva: And with that they just let you go?

Karatsuba: [Former Pussy Riot lawyer] Violetta Volkova, God bless her, arrived and quickly set the entire Khamovniki precinct straight. The police really wanted our fingerprints, but she said we didn’t have to let them fingerprint us.

Volkova: And that we shouldn’t have talked to the man from Center “E”—we didn’t know that. But it’s okay: we educated and enlightened him a little.

Makeyeva: So Violetta Volkova helped you?

Volkova: Yes, and Mark Feygin. They heard about it on the news and came and found us themselves. Violetta Volkova was the first to arrive. She had two warrants allowing her to act as our attorney, and we followed her advice.

Karatsuba: We wrote statements saying we refused to be fingerprinted, and we were released. Things could develop in different ways: they might summon us again; they might not. We’ll see.

Makeyeva: Irina, you mentioned that both you and Elena are Orthodox. Is this an active part of your lives? Do you go to church and confess?

Volkova: Yes, it’s an active part of our lives. We’ve been in the church for many years, and besides that we are teachers. Irina taught history for many years, including church history. My specialty is the Bible, Christianity, and literature. We taught for thirty years at Moscow State University, which we recently left.

Makeyeva: Why did you leave?

Volkova: There were many reasons, including the fact that they had begun telling us whom to invite and whom not to invite, what to say and what not to say.

Makeyeva: Whom to invite where?

Volkova: To speak at the university.

Makeyeva: This had nothing to do with Pussy Riot?

Volkova: No, it was before that, in 2011. We are not just Orthodox believers, people who practice Orthodoxy. For many years, I organized the Sunday school at one church, and I taught seminarians, who came to Moscow and attended my lectures on Christianity and English poetry. I have had many priests as students, and we were very active in the church for many years. It’s another matter that in the past year we realized that the church has completely turned away from Christian principles and values. Our hopes were very slight, so we stepped up our criticism of the church. When the “punk prayer” happened, we realized that the girls had sung about what we as experts had been saying for many years. People didn’t listen to us, but they heard what [Pussy Riot] said. We were really glad that someone had finally been able to make themselves heard. So we support them by all means, and as a believer, I am certain that it was Christ who sent them to Christ the Savior Cathedral, that they are God’s children, who came from God and said what needed to be said.

Police escort university professors Yelena Volkova and Irina Karatsuba after detaining them inside the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow

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The United Russia Guide to Winning Hearts and Minds. Strategy 4: Arrest “Unruly” Students at Russia’s Premier University

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http://www.rosbalt.ru/moscow/2011/11/19/914449.html

Students planning to protest UR campaign propaganda arrested near Moscow State University

Moscow, November 19. Fifteen students, grad students and alumni were arrested on the campus of Moscow State University this afternoon after the protest action “Students against the Use of Moscow State in the United Russian Election Campaign.” Uniformed police and plainclothes officers, who refused to identify themselves, made the arrests in a quite brutal manner: eyewitnesses told Rosbalt that they grabbed the students, dragged them across the ground and beat them.

From one p.m. to two p.m. today, during ceremonies marking the 300th anniversary of Mikhail Lomonosov’s birth, Moscow State students and teachers had planned to hold a picket outside the Universitet metro station to express their disagreeme3nt with the use of  the university’s name by members of the university administration in pre-election campaigning for United Russia. However, despite established practice, in this case at the last minute it transpired that the prefecture of the Western Administrative District had not authorized the protest, MSU employees noted. Despite assurances by telephone that everything was in order, when protest organizers received a written response [from the prefecture] on Friday, they learned that [the authorities] proposed moving the picketing site to the Taras Shevchenko Embankment [a “ghetto” that Moscow authorities often send protesters to keep away from public view].

Disagreeing with the prefecture’s decision, students decided to gather outside Universitet metro station to discuss the situation and hold a series of one-person pickets, which by law do not require prior approval by the authorities. The behavior of the police officers [at the metro station] and conversation with commanding officers made it clear that they had been ordered to repress any action on the part of activists, including one-person pickets. In particular, the police warned that if the [protesters] moved off together in the same direction, this would be regarded as a demonstration and arrests would begin.

The protesters decided not to give the police reason to arrest them and went off to have an informal discussion of the situation, without posters and slogans, in the park at the Eternal Flame, which is located opposite Academic Building No. 1.

During their discussion of self-government at the university, police officers, who did not identify themselves, began forcibly pulling students and graduate students from the group and arresting them for [holding] an “unsanctioned rally.” According to our sources, police colonel Kostin supervised the arrests. The students were then taken to Ramenki police station in police cars U7120, U7160, and U7134.

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MGU Is No Place for Discussion
The Moscow Times
24 October 2011
By Victor Davidoff

The dramatic events that took place on Thursday in Libya will ensure that this date will be remembered in history. An important event took place in Russia on that day, too, and while although it was far less dramatic than the death of Moammar Gadhafi, it was rich with symbolism.

On Thursday, President Medvedev met with students and representatives of youth organization at the journalism department of Moscow State University.

The choice of venue and conditions of the meeting were a vivid indicator of the current status of freedom of speech in the country at present and what it is likely to be under a continuation of the ruling tandem.

First, the event wasn’t announced anywhere and was planned in absolute secrecy. The students at the journalism department didn’t know about it, and even the dean, Yelena Vartanova, was informed about the president’s visit only the day before. She was just asked to make sure that two auditoriums were free — one for the meeting and the other for a buffet.

On the morning of the meeting, hungry students drooled over a huge amount of food and drink that was brought in for the buffet — hungry in the literal sense because the Federal Guard Service, which provides security for the president, closed the departmental cafeteria as a security precaution.

The security detail closed off the entire building and carried out its own special face control, not letting in students whose names were on their blacklist. Some faculty members were barred from the building, too.

But that was a minor inconvenience, as one student, D-lindele, wrote on his LiveJournal blog, : “That was nothing compared with what happened next. The journalism students were shocked to learn that the ‘students’ at the meeting with the president would really be dozens of activists from Nashi and other similar organizations.”

But the author was mistaken. In fact, there were about 30 students from the journalism department — about one-tenth of the audience. Only the most trustworthy students were invited, including the attractive girls whose half-nude photographs graced a calendar made for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s birthday last year. Other less-trusted journalism students were only allowed to greet the president when he entered the hall and went up the stairs.

In a video on YouTube showing the meet-and-greet episode, you can see an unidentified student about a meter from Medvedev holding up a hand-made sign the size of an A4 sheet of paper. Then security guards close in on him, and he disappears behind their backs.

That wasn’t the only protest that the president chose to ignore. Student Igor_malinin wrote on his LiveJournal blog: “Just then a group of enterprising guys held up oppositional signs, like ‘Press isn’t from the word oppress’ and ‘Why do you tweet while Khodorkovsky rots in jail?’ Right now they’ve been detained by the Federal Guard Service and are being held in the auditorium.’

Three female students were detained for protesting by the entrance to the building and spent several hours in a police precinct. Altogether, seven journalism students were detained. Typically, the detention of protesters was not mentioned in any of the television news reports.

Budur, a blogger from the journalism department, wrote: “Citizen Medvedev humiliated and insulted the dignity of seven members of our community. The seven did not organize a rally or do anything against the law or against university bylaws. They were just doing their civic duty. This is the first time since the 1930s that people were arrested right on the campus of the university.”

After the meeting, one of the journalists managed to ask Medvedev what happened to the students who had been detained. “Is someone being detained some place?” Medvedev asked. Apparently he was the only one who didn’t know.

And that evening, Medvedev sent out a cheery tweet on Twitter: “The meeting at the journalism department was good. I see that everyone had a good time. Thanks for the comments. Sweet dreams.”

Perhaps Medvedev actually thinks that a staged event with a paramilitary security operation during which protesters were arrested in his presence was a “good meeting.” And perhaps he thinks that it was held with full respect for the law and everyone’s civil rights. Or perhaps he thinks that the most important aspect of the event was that everyone had a good time.

If so, it shows how little he understands the country that he is ruling, where an increasing number of people have a completely different notion of civil rights than Medvedev and his security advisers. And eventually they will find a way to make the authorities play by their rules in politics.

In the meantime, sweet dreams, Mr. President.

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Olga Kuzmenko and Vera Kichanova, two of the Moscow State University students detained before President Medvedev’s speech in October, talk about the experience with MK-TV:

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New Street University: Stop the Murder of Frogs on Russian Soil!

On October 19, 2008, New Street University (Petersburg), Humane Education (Moscow), and OD Group (Moscow) carried out a joint action in a pedestrian underpass on Nevsky Prospect. During the action, which took the form of a man-on-the-street survey, real live sociologists from Moscow pretended to be sociologists, while a rather large live frog was offered up as a sacrifice to passersby.

These unfortunate citizens were first handed leaflets containing the following text:

Stop the Murder of Frogs on Russian Soil!
In the biology department of Moscow State University, antiquated models of education hold sway. It is not only students who suffer from this, but even frogs. The department has not updated its educational methods since Soviet times. In particular, our little green pals are regularly subjected to archaic, bloodthirsty lab experiments.  It is not only students whose future careers will require them to be able to work with lab animals who are forced to engage in these practices, but also those who have chosen theoretical majors. Many students have spoken out, asking that students who have chosen one of these specialities be granted the right not to take part in such experiments. One fifth-year student was expelled for refusing to taking part in these unlawful experiments.

There is an alternative—Humane Education! Students can practice on artificial frogs (cats, etc.) and thus gain control of the production of knowledge. Continue reading

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BASTA! Special Issue: Towards a History of the Conflict in the MSU Sociology Department

This is the eighth in a series of translations of the articles in BASTA!, a special Russian-only issue of Chto Delat that addresses such pressing issues as the fight against racism and facism, the new Russian labor movement, the resistance to runaway “development” in Petersburg, the prospects for student self-governance and revolt, the potential for critical practice amongst sociologists and contemporary artists, the attack on The European University in St. Petersburg, and Alain Badiou’s aborted visit to Moscow.

The entire issue may be downloaded as a .pdf file here. Selected texts may be accessed here.

 

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NB. The conflict at the Moscow State University sociology department, described below, continues. On March 11, three OD Group activists—Sveta Erpyleva, Katya Tarnovskaya, and Olya Bushneva—were expelled for “amoral conduct.” You can read about this latest disturbing turn of events here (in Russian).

Towards a History of the Conflict in the Moscow State University Sociology Department

Oleg Zhuravlyov & Danail Kondov

 

The knowledge generated by the social sciences cannot avoid being critical knowledge. First and foremost, this is because only the impenetrability of scholarly discourse to the strictures of common sense—that is, political strictures—can underwrite an objective description of the world. What makes this impenetrability possible? How can we avoid the substitution of political doxa for scientific rationality? What is needed are particular social conditions for the production of scholarly knowledge about society—an institution autonomous from the political conjuncture and the pressures of the market.

The OD Group, which united students from the sociology department at Moscow State University interested in improving the quality of their education with civil rights and political activists who criticized the department’s authoritarian regime, made manifest the “family resemblance” between its two factions. What the demands for “academic freedom,” the protection of the social rights of students (and teachers), the creation of an independent professional union, and the improvement of the quality of education have in common is that they move the educational institution in the direction of greater autonomy.

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