European University’s students fight back against the shutting down of their institution
Activists in St Petersburg gathered in an authorised protest on 11 November in support of the European University, whose education licence was once again revoked this year.
For the past 18 months, the university has been in the middle of a long bureaucratic war against Rosorbnadzor, the Russian state education monitor. Surprise inspections have resulted in the detection of bureaucratic violations that eventually lead to the removal of the university’s education license. However, according to today’s protesters, the complaints are politically motivated.
“Our university is aimed at integration with the Western academic world,” explains Andrey Gerasimov, a former student at the European University and one of the organisers of today’s protest.
“Many research topics are still controversial in our society. For example, law and gender studies. Conservatives in the government certainly don’t like this,” he continues.
The protest, organised by a committee of students, gathered in Lenin square and attracted several key speakers, including Russian opposition candidate Ksenia Sobchak, whose presence aroused controversy among participants.
“She was invited as the daughter of one of the founding fathers of the university,” says Gerasimov.
“Ksenia is a very controversial figure in politics because she is a TV host and many people don’t like her, so it was controversial, but we think that some controversy and some media hype is a part of our agenda because we should bring our situation to the attention of the federal government, not just the local government,” he continues.
As the education licence was revoked, the university can only continue its operations in the field of research, but numerous students are now left wondering what to do next, unsure of whether or not they will be able to eventually complete their studies at the European University.
As the protest came to an end, some activists gathered signatures and e-mail addresses to keep the participants updated on coming protests.
“If we do not defend the European University today, we lose the main thing – the belief that the lawlessness and injustice of the authorities can be stopped. The state has long signalled that free-thinking and criticism will be strangled,” says Nikolay Artemenko, the founder of the Vesna political movement.