Smolny Beyond Borders

A Liberal Arts Initiative

University in Exile?

November 3, Thursday, at 19.00 Moscow time. Registration link.

Russian universities started the 2022/23 academic year in a difficult situation. Many faculty members, researchers and students left the country due to the anti-war stance and mobilization. The war was preceded by years of attempts to close or control the country’s best universities in the social sciences and humanities. Their students and professors prevented the transformation of Putin’s authoritarian regime into a dictatorship. Many faculty members left the HSE, and the student movement there was actually banned. The criminal case against the rector of Shaninka Sergey Zuev has been going on for more than a year (accreditation was taken away from this university in 2018). The license was revoked twice from the European University in St. Petersburg.

The heaviest blow fell on the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences of St. Petersburg State University (Smolny College). In 2021, a few months after the plans to create a separate university on the basis of Smolny were publicly announced, the Russian authorities recognized Bard College as an “undesirable organization”, with which Smolny had been developing the liberal arts program since 1997 (where, as in Shaninka, students received double degrees). The Russian authorities considered that the program with a suspicious name is carried out by Smolny with the help of foreign NGOs affiliated with George Soros and conducting destructive activities on the territory of the Russian Federation.

In recent months, several faculty were fired from Smolny – Denis Skopin (for an “immoral act” – participation in a rally against mobilization), Michael Fries (for past connections with Bard College), political scientist Pavel Kononenko, sociologist Zhanna Chernova, philosopher Viktor Kaplun; Acting Dean, economist Danila Raskov was dismissed for “allowing extremism”. The enrollment of students for the current program will be closed. Starting next year, the university plans to change the curriculum: there will no longer be freedom of choice in it, and this season will most likely be the last for Smolny. Faculty members who have left the country are not allowed to teach remotely. The dismissals of professors caused a wave of student solidarity.

The dismantling of Smolny, Russian academic emigration of 2022 and support by Bard College allowed a group of Smolny faculty members who were forced to leave Russia due to the war of aggression unleashed by Russia to launch the Smolny Beyond Borders (SBB) educational initiative. The SBB now offers several courses and public lectures that are an attempt at a social and humanitarian understanding of the war. In the Spring of 2023, the program is planned to be expanded.

Why do Russian universities find relocation programs so difficult? Will Smolny be able to become the first institution that, to some extent, was able to transfer its activities abroad? Is a “Russian university in exile” possible in our time?

Discussion will be held in Russian.

Participants of the Smolny Beyond Borders project participate in the discussion:

— Ilya Kalinin, cultural historian, philologist, critic, editor-in-chief of the magazine “Versus. Journal of Liberal Arts and Sciences”, visiting scholar at Princeton University;

— Vsevolod Ostapenko, economist, former associate professor at Smolny and at the Department of Economics of St. Petersburg State University and visiting lecturer at the Higher School of Economics, author of the course “War Shocks and Economic development” within the SBB project;

— Andrey Rodin, lecturer at the University of Lorraine in Nancy, mathematician and philosopher-epistemologist;  author of the course “Science and War” within the SBB project;

— Natalia Fedorova, artist, researcher in the history and philosophy of technology, visiting researcher at Paris 8 University;  author of the course “War and the Decay of Language” within the SBB project;

— Philipp Fedchin, art historian, educational technologist, head of the Gagarin Center,  employee of Bard College Berlin, SBB administrator.

— Zhanna Chernova, sociologist, Doctor of Social Sciences, Professor, Faculty of Sociology, EUSP.

Boris Grozovsky, columnist, author of the EventsAndTexts telegram channel.

The conversation is organized by the telegram channel “About The Country And The World”. The broadcast and video recording of the conversation will be available on the About The Country And The World YouTube channel.

Materials for the conversation:

Philip Fedchin. Who and what will the online courses of former Smolny faculty members teach (in Russian).

Daria Kozlova. Free sciences of a non-free country. How in St. Petersburg the authorities are killing Smolny College, and students are trying to protect their professors (in Russian).

Denis Skopin. “Peaceful protest cannot be immoral.” The philosopher fired from Smolny is about protest, the destruction of science and morality (in Russian).

Boris Grozovsky. Cross, shorts, university. Why there are no liberal freedoms now even at the Higher School of Economics (June 2019, in Russian).

Boris Grozovsky. Malignant education. How and why the Kremlin cracked down on universities (July 2022, in Russian).

Boris Grozovsky. The final battle between patriotism and knowledge. Education will become a haven for patriots (February 2017, in Russian).