“Scientific Anti-Americanism”

May 05 | 2024

Repressive measures are affecting American educational and scientific organizations operating in Russia, as well as those who collaborate with them.

Dmitry Dubrovsky


Photo: First and foremost, Soros’ Open Society Foundations has been proclaimed an evil organization. Photo: Justus Hayes, CC0 1.0 DEED


From the very emergence of an independent Russian state, anti-American—and, more broadly, anti-Western—sentiments have paradoxically coexisted alongside the active globalization of Russian higher education and science.

These sentiments are primarily connected with Soviet ressentiment and the growth of nationalism among academics. Scientists and teachers involved in international exchanges (with the exception of political scientists and experts in the field of international relations) seem to have been less committed to anti-Western sentiment.

An example of this “scientific anti-Americanism” is the regular references in Russian scientific (!) literature to the well-known “Dulles’ Plan” conspiracy theory, which allegedly intended to “morally punish” Soviet citizens back in the late 1940s. It came to the point that a reference to this “plan” was used to accuse a human rights activist of “extremism” in promoting this evil plot.


A Turn Toward Implementation

For a while, the conviction that any U.S. gesture toward Russia was “ill-intended” was a fringe opinion. With the conservative swing, however, the anti-American sentiments of the Russian elites spread to Russian foreign and domestic policy.

In the field of higher education, this shift occurred relatively recently. That being said, many works in the domain of political science or sociology long ago moved from criticizing the United States and its foreign policy to direct anti-Americanism—that is, a belief in the sinister essence of America as such.


Soros Spreading Evil

First and foremost, the U.S.-based Open Society Foundations, founded by George Soros, has been proclaimed “evil.” The foundation itself has been branded an “undesirable organization,” and the textbooks it published in the 1990s have been burned for “forming…among young people a distorted perception of national history and popularizing attitudes alien to Russian ideology.”

American employees at Russian universities have started being laid off. Some American scientists who have visited or worked at Russian universities have reported experiences of harassment, surveillance, or exclusion. In 2015, for example, Nizhny Novgorod State University fired U.S. citizen Kendrick White, vice-rector for innovative development. At the time, a source in the city legislative assembly linked this dismissal directly to White’s citizenship.

Leaders in science and higher education have begun to express the idea that it is necessary to “fight the Americanization” of education, as did, for example, President of the Russian Academy of Sciences Alexander Sergeev in 2021.

American academia has been publicly accused of spreading “non-traditional” values and damaging the “traditional family” and Russian “historical memory.” Some universities and government officials have discouraged Russian students from studying in the United States, citing concerns about possible espionage or ideological influence.

The Commission for the Protection of State Sovereignty and the Prevention of Interference in the Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation, created by the Federation Council in 2021, argued that under its “policy of promoting its interests within Russia,” the United States does not hesitate to influence, above all, students and the Russian academic environment.


Hunting Down Foreign Values

Such statements have also influenced the work of the Russian prosecutor’s office, which has stepped up its spy-hunting measures and investigations into negative “foreign influences.”

In 2020, a prosecutor’s office request to RANEPA contained, among other things, a requirement to report the presence at the university of “… pro-American influence groups that can be used by foreign international non-governmental organizations to achieve their destructive goals (through the promotion of American and European democratic and liberal values, and the popularization of the American lifestyle).”

Thus, it is clear that from the point of view of the Russian political establishment and law enforcers, even “American and European values” are “destructive.”


“Unwanted” Researchers

Recent legislative developments concerning “foreign agents” and “undesirable entities” have also directly impacted American educational institutions. One example is the inclusion of the Open Society Foundations on the list of “undesirable organizations.”

In total, 45 of the 158 “undesirable” organizations currently on this list (May 2024) are American organizations. Many of them are directly involved in scientific research.

Among the “undesirable” institutions is Bard College of New York. It was declared an “undesirable organization” because it accepted donations from the Open Society Foundations. An American employee of St. Petersburg State University associated with the college was deported.


After February 24th

After the start of the war, anti-American hysteria intensified, both in Russia in general and in the academic environment in particular. There have been cases where universities and educational institutions have removed or censored “pro-American” content from curricula or libraries as “unpatriotic” or “enemy” literature.

Some teachers removed references to books written by American authors from syllabuses because they were “unpatriotic.”

Some American teachers were banned from entering Russia after the outbreak of war for being “undesirable elements.” Among them was Andrew Wachtel, a member of the international supervisory board of ITMO University in St. Petersburg.


Undesirable Universities

The Central European University, which is associated with the Open Society Foundations, was also recently declared “undesirable” in Russia. The basis for this decision, according to the website of the Prosecutor General’s Office, is the latter’s alleged “devaluation and distortion of the history of the Russian state,” “understatement of the merits of prominent Russian scientists, writers, and cultural figures,” and “pseudo-statements about Russia’s guilt in all world cataclysms.”


Repression for Collaboration

Some repressive measures have affected those connected in one way or another with programs conducted by American educational and scientific organizations.

Those who have worked with Bard College are under suspicion for “collaborating with undesirable organizations.” No less serious are the accusations threatening those who study the problems of Russian society, state, and law at the Kennan Institute of Contemporary Russian Studies: the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, which includes the Institute, is also considered “undesirable.”

Staff and students of the Central European University in Vienna have also been targeted. It turns out that continuing to work and study at an educational institution carries the risk of being accused of collaborating with an “undesirable organization.” This has made returning home to visit relatives a dangerous undertaking.


Repression of Exchanges

An equally strong blow has been dealt to the oldest and largest academic exchange program for Russian scientists, the Fulbright Program, which is one of the leading exchange programs and has always been attractive to Russian scientists. Now, Russian Fulbright graduates are trying to hide their affiliation so as not to fall under legal sanctions. They may, for instance, remove references to previous participation in the Fulbright Program from their social media.

There is also evidence of “informal conversations” in which Federal Security Service officers have asked Fulbright graduates about their research topics, internships, and future plans.

The anti-American activity of the Russian state affects academic freedom, especially the freedom of academic exchange. It seriously threatens graduates of exchange programs and academic internship programs. One way or another, they may be accused of “collaborating” with “undesirable” American organizations.


Dmitry Dubrovsky holds a PhD in History and is a researcher in the social sciences department at Charles University (Prague), a research fellow at the Center for Independent Sociological Research in the USA (CISRus), a professor at the Free University (Latvia), and an associate member of the Human Rights Council of St. Petersburg.


School of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Almaty Management University

Almaty, 31 October 2 November 2024


Academic freedom is a cornerstone of scholarly and research activities worldwide. The globalization of higher education and science necessitates a shared understanding of academic freedom principles globally, particularly in Eurasian countries. Despite the universality of academic freedom, the commitment to its protection and promotion varies and is shaped by the intricate interplay of legal, socio-political, and cultural contexts. A country’s legal regulations and policy frameworks significantly impact how the protection and promotion of academic freedom are understood and implemented.

The quality of democracy and freedom protection in a country also affects the level of academic freedom there. This effect is evident in the rapid challenges all political systems face, such as managerialism and consumerism in higher education. It is even more pronounced in undemocratic regimes with breaches of institutional autonomy and ideologization of higher education.

Equally striking is how the global academy interprets academic freedom when it encounters local traditions that are not universally democratic. In this regard, the operation of campuses of leading universities in authoritarian countries and the debates about the principles and conditions of their operation deserve additional interest.

These observable diversities raise the question of whether global academic freedom can be discussed as a universal concept and how to distinguish the diversity of academic freedom manifestations from aberrations. It also raises the question of how to protect and promote academic freedom as a principle while considering the legal, socio-economic, and cultural contexts in which it is practiced.

For a conference exploring the complexities of academic freedom in a global context, with a particular focus on Eurasian countries, here are some potential topics that could be addressed:

  • The cultural and social context of academic freedom in practice, the contextualization of academic freedom, its cultural and political interpretations, and the universality of academic freedom.
  • Academic freedom in democratic vs. authoritarian regimes, the balance between the social-economic dimension of academic freedom and political rights’ dimension,
  • Legal framework of academic freedom, comparative analyses of legislation, the impact of legal tradition on the application of academic freedom in different countries,
  • Globalization and academic freedom, including academic freedom on international campuses, academic exchange, and academic freedom strategies for maintaining academic standards and freedom in diverse political landscapes.
  • Managerialism and academic freedom, balance between financial sustainability and scholarly independence. Academic integrity and academic freedom
  • Effect of the social and political crises for the academic freedom, academic freedom for persecuted scholars: issues and supports of the scholars in exile
  • Ethnic and moral considerations in upholding academic freedom, including ethical dilemmas scholars faced due to the conflict between national and international academic standards.

The conference is organized by CISRus (Center for Independent Social Research) with generous support of Almaty Management University (AlmaU) and in information partnership with Ghent University.

The conference will be conducted in English. We welcome applications for individual contributions, which should include the title, a brief description (up to 200 words), and a short academic biography of the presenter (approximately 100 words). Presentations will be organized in either thematic panels or roundtable discussions. The organizing committee reserves the right to determine the presentation format (panel or round table) for each selected participant.

Please send your applications to the email: freeacademia.conference@gmail.com


Application Deadline: July 25, 2024

The Conference Committee is ready to provide accommodation for all participants for the days of the conference and has some capacity to contribute to the ticket costs as well. Please indicate your need for accommodation and travel expenses with your application.


The conference committee:

Dmitry Dubrovsky (Research Scholar, Department of Social Science, Charles University; Professor, Free University)

 Aleksandr Vileikis (Professor, School of entrepreneurship and innovation, AlmaU)

Elizaveta Potapova (Senior Researcher, Public Policy and Management Institute, Lithuania)

Irina Olimpieva (Director CISRus, Research Professor at the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies, George Washington University)


About AlmaU:

Almaty Management University – is a world-class, entrepreneurial, socially responsible university. More than 35 years in the education market, the oldest private university in the country, the 1st business school of the Republic of Kazakhstan, a pioneer of business education in the CIS.

The School of Entrepreneurship and Innovation (SEI) is a leading and internationally accredited (BGA&AMBA) entrepreneurship school with a commitment to excellence, innovation, and global perspective. SEI AlmaU offers a range of cutting-edge entrepreneurship programs designed to prepare students for successful careers in diverse fields.


Information for traveling:

Kazakhstan has adopted a policy allowing dozens of countries to enter without a visa. Please contact your local Kazakhstani embassy for further details. For guests who may require a visa, AlmaU will issue a letter of invitation confirming their participation in the conference. Participants will also receive information about housing and traveling to Almaty.


Біз сіздермен Алматыда кездесуді асыға күтеміз !

We are looking forward to meeting you in Almaty!

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