The special departments in educational institutions that existed in Soviet times and were headed by the KGB were never banned, but until recently, their roles were limited to deciding on access to closed archives and overseeing contacts between Russian scholars with their foreign counterparts.
But now, these “curators” are assuming a new and expanded role to impose a Procrustean bed on Russian scholarship and to root out any displays of disloyalty to the Kremlin.
And this restoration of the KGB’s role is in at least one way even worse: the KGB was ultimately answerable to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union; the FSB isn’t answerable to anyone.
That is the conclusion of Yevgeny Smirnov, a lawyer for the Command 29 rights group, who adds that he isn’t surprised by the new prominence of curators in the Institute of History , the Institute of Applied Astrophysics or elsewhere. They were never abolished and now they are returning in “the very worst” form of Soviet times.
If Smirnov is not surprised, many Russian scholars are in shock. Scholars at the Institute of History of the Russian Academy of Sciences could not believe their ears when the head of the first department as such entities have always been known was introduced at their meeting on December 29.
They were so shocked, Irina Levinskaya, one of their number says, that “no one asked the curator any questions.” It turns out the newly active head of this department was installed in October.
“It is hard to say what interests him, but clearly it isn’t the ancient period or the middle ages.” Most likely, he is focusing on what scholars are writing about World War II.
“The very idea that before publishing” she should have to “show her essay to someone and secure his approval is insane and impossible. Such supervision is murderous for science; it destroys it. Science either is or it isn’t. And if over it stands a curator from the FSB, that means that it isn’t.”
Boris Vishnevsky, an opposition deputy in St. Petersburg’s legislative assembly, says that if this new activism by the FSB in educational and cultural institutions is not resisted, then “this trend will only spread,” to the detriment of scholarship and freedom in Russia.
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