“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.

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