Machine assisted translation
Since February 24, 2022, we live in a new reality. It has touched all people on Earth, but scientists have been particularly affected. International scientific ties, projects, and traditions that have been formed over decades are crumbling in front of our eyes. We asked representatives of various scientific fields to answer questions about how the war affected their activities and them personally.
1. Science. One year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, how do you assess changes in science?
2. Colleagues. What has changed in your specific professional environment, in your scientific groups, organizations, and communities?
3. Personally. How has this war year affected you personally? What have you learned for yourself?
Igor Efimov, Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Professor of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago IL USA
1. Science in the world’s leading scientific countries is advancing at full speed. Over the past year, many discoveries have been made. Scientific conferences are resuming all over the world after the covid. But not in Russia.
During the year of Putin’s war against Ukraine, Russia has actually been isolated by the world scientific community as a scientific partner. Whereas only a few years ago representatives of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Russian Foundation for Basic Research, Ministry of Education and Science, and other Russian scientific organizations and universities frequently came to Washington and other U.S. cities, this has now completely ceased. The Russian Embassy in Washington, which once attracted many to its musical, scientific and cultural events, has become a plague barrack that everyone avoids. This does not equal “cancellation of Russian culture”: music by Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky is played constantly from many U.S. stages. Art galleries are full of works by Kandinsky, Chagall, etc.
However, science has not noticed the loss of Russia, as the country’s contribution to the search for new knowledge is close to zero for the past 30 years, and after February 24, 2022 there was a collapse to zero. The mass exodus of Russian scientists, physicians, and engineers from Russia to Western countries is also noticeable. Today’s situation with Russia is reminiscent of what happened with regard to Nazi Germany in the countries of the anti-Hitler coalition.
2. Colleagues. Our scientific life is in full swing, not much has changed, except for the complete cessation of joint projects with Russian universities. I personally informed MIPT rector Livanov of the cessation of joint projects in human heart physiology a couple of days after the initial shock of Russia starting a full-scale war. Our Russian-speaking community, organized by the RASA, spoke out publicly and almost unanimously against Putin’s fratricidal war against Ukraine. The RASA conference held in Los Angeles in November also condemned Putin’s war with one voice and, for the first time in its history, provided a platform for film and art representatives to discuss the life of the Russian-speaking intellectual community during the war.
The U.S. professional scientific community is unequivocally on the side of Ukraine. U.S. universities are accommodating scientists and physicians in Ukraine and Russia who were forced to leave their countries because of the war, and facilitating the process of employment.
3. Personally, the main lesson for me is the horror of realizing that the bloody history of the last century has become our own reality, and we as a people have learned nothing from surviving the terrible century of communism and the Gulag. The awful realities of the Philosophers’ ships of 1922 became a reality in 2022. We dedicated the last RASA conference to this. We have not protected the democracy that Russia got at such a great cost 30 years ago. We need to start from scratch with a new generation and fight for the Beautiful Russia of the Future.
Another lesson is the gratitude of RASA colleagues who, with few exceptions, have been on the side of truth in supporting Ukraine and have spoken out publicly against Putin’s bloodbath. Alas, there are also those who, despite decades of living and working in the United States, support Putin’s imperial gains, believing that the post-Soviet borders require revision. But they are few in number, and they do not speak out publicly as those pro-Putin scholars who live in Russia do.
I also finally felt a personal closeness to the representatives of Russian science who had to leave the country in the 1920s and 30s. I found Vladimir Ipatiev’s archive at Northwestern University in Chicago, where both he and many Russian scholars, including myself, were and are professors. It has now become my mission to study his personal archive and write about him.
Askold Ivantchik, historian, corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Academy of Inscriptions and Fine Arts (Institut de France) and the German Archaeological Institute; Directeur des recherches, National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), Ausonius Institute for the Study of Antiquity and the Middle Ages, Bordeaux, France.
1. Science as a whole, I do not think that it has experienced any significant changes. If we talk about Russian science, then these changes, in my opinion, cannot be called other than catastrophic. I think that this is true for all scientific fields, but I see the situation in the humanities more clearly. Over the last thirty-five years Russian science has got used to be a part of the world science. In fact, this is the only way science can exist: it is either world science or nothing at all. Attempts to isolate science in one country lead to its gradual and sometimes rapid death. We have seen this in those disciplines that were isolated for various reasons, primarily ideological, in the USSR, and now in just one year the degree of isolation of Russian science has become even greater than it was then.
All ties have already been severed or are being severed. At least at the institutional level, virtually all joint projects and collaborations have been frozen. Isolated from the outside world, Russian science will be able to survive for some time on old stock — somewhere better, somewhere worse — and then perish if the current situation continues. Of course, there will not be a completely empty place, but an increasing role will be played by pseudo-scientists and homegrown authorities, who will do something there «for the first time in national science».
2. Colleagues. A lot has changed, literally everything. Over the past thirty years, I have spent a lot of time and effort to ensure that Russian science in my field develops as part of world science. I managed to build several research and educational projects, I think, quite successful, in which international cooperation played a large role. A year ago, all of this was destroyed in one day. I am trying to preserve some remnants, partly with the hope of future restoration, but it is becoming increasingly difficult. The isolation of Russian science is happening from both sides: from the inside and the outside. At first it was a question of terminating cooperation with Russian institutions while maintaining it at the individual level. And indeed, as recently as last fall, some of my young colleagues participated in international conferences in European countries without too much trouble, while others were given the opportunity to study or work in these countries by winning the relevant competitions. Now, however, these opportunities seem to be shrinking as well. I am aware of cases when the German embassy refuses to issue a visa to those who receive an invitation to work at a German university, having passed a difficult selection in an international competition. The justification for such a decisions is surprising: the person has worked or is working in a state institution (and where else in Russia can a researcher work?), and thus allegedly supports the policy of the Russian authorities and represents a threat to the national interests of Germany. Even the clearly and publicly expressed anti-war position is not taken into account. On the other hand, Russian universities are firing professors with European passports, who decided a year ago not to abandon their students and continue to teach them.
A separate and particularly painful topic is relations with Ukrainian colleagues. Throughout my academic career ties and cooperation with them have been extremely important to me: my academic interests make this natural and necessary. It is not just the working relationship, many of my Ukrainian colleagues have become close friends, and this friendship is decades old. Ukraine is an important part of my life, not only professional. I am very glad that none of my friends broke off our relations, and I did not feel hostility or alienation in my relations with them, though such a reaction could have been expected. But, of course, our cooperation is now possible only because of my French affiliation. By the way, I can only admire the courage and dedication of my Ukrainian friends and colleagues: despite the hardest conditions, they continue to do research, publish and edit scientific journals in a country at war.
3. Personally. I think it is clear from all of this that for me, as for many, it was a disaster, both personally and professionally. I had to change a lot in my life and in my professional and personal plans; it is likely that I will have to change even more in the future. Of course, my situation is much better than that of most of my Ukrainian and Russian colleagues, so I have nothing to complain about. As for what I understood, I cannot say that I understood something I did not understand before. Maybe I began to understand better the nature of the current Russian authorities, but in this respect I had no illusions before. Perhaps, looking around, I understand that the overall situation could have been much worse; however, it might still be.
Sergei Popov, astrophysicist, Professor of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Leading Researcher of Lomonosov Moscow State University, Associate Research Officer ICTP, Italy.
1. Science. For about 30 years (the Russian Foundation for Basic Research appeared in 1992, the Soros program ISSEP started in 1994) the feeling was gradually building that it was possible to do science in Russia. It was an important process, because, to put it mildly, there were doubts about it, which was expressed in the mass exodus of both scientists and graduates in the late 80’s — early 90’s, and later. In February 2022, all three of those three decades of creative work were suddenly undone. I do not want to exaggerate what has been achieved over 30 years, the readers of TrV-N are well aware of the huge number of problems in the organization of science in Russia and of the fact that in recent years there has been more of a negative trend. Nevertheless, the feeling in the bulk of the scientific community has been quite positive. However, the war with Ukraine, being a tragedy in itself, has set the country back in every sense. Including in science.
- At once, international cooperation above the person-to-person level was destroyed (although in many cases the war somehow interrupted the relationship at the personal level too). For many colleagues, this was a serious blow, because years (if not decades) of effort and time had been invested in creating projects. And all in vain. A striking example — shutdown of the German telescope eROSITA onboard the Russian satellite Spektr-RG.
- Many scientists (both young and not so young) left the country. Especially after the so-called partial mobilization was announced in September.
- Those who stayed in Russia now have a lot of problems with procurement and travel to conferences.
- Finally, a number of problems have arisen related to the possibility of expressing one’s own position, or even simply having a point of view that differs from the official one. Strict self-censorship always affects the creative process, even if the restrictions are not directly related to this activity. To live in such a stifling atmosphere is excruciating. To abandon self-censorship completely is scary: we see new examples of cases being set up just for «likes,» not to mention outright protests.
In the coming years, Russian science will be increasingly provincial. There will be fewer direct international contacts, fewer joint projects with strong scientific groups. Obviously, there will be no international expertise, which is detrimental to any national system of science organization. Russia overnight ceased to be attractive as a place of work for the vast majority of strong foreign colleagues. It is important to understand that Russia’s share of strong world science is at the level of a couple of percent (even less in some areas). Contacts with Iran and Central Africa will not get you very far in science. Even China, India and South Africa will not help here. And it is essential that this trend towards provincialization cannot be reversed quickly.
Here I want to return to my original thesis. It took a long time to build up a reputation. And it simply cannot be returned overnight. This is a reputation in the world (to trust Russian partners in a long-term project or not), and the reputation inside (worth to go to the Russian science or not). If 10 years ago it was quite normal when young people planned to continue their scientific career in Russia, now such plans (for competitive young people) will be less and less.
Also, spending on basic science (in real comparable prices) will probably be less. More attention will be paid to science related to the military-industrial complex. Even applied research focused on peaceful uses will suffer, because it will be more difficult to export some science-intensive goods and services.
In general, the prospects for the fundamental sciences in Russia are bleak. And I’m talking about the natural sciences! The socio-humanitarians have simply had a catastrophe. But they’d better tell us about it themselves.
2. Colleagues. In my inner circle, the problems generally duplicate those described in the previous paragraph. Except that neither I nor most of my colleagues in my inner circle have been very closely involved in international projects where Russia would participate at the level of state organizations.
The first thing that is noticeable is the departure of scientists, especially young people (although many colleagues of my age left because of draft-age children). I had two talented young people leave (a strong graduate student and a senior female student who had the potential to be a great graduate student). Actually, in our small group, almost all the young people and a few of the older staff left. Mostly to Germany.
The second — participation in the international conferences and organization of the international conferences in Russia. We had just begun to rejoice about the end of the pandemic, when we encountered a more serious contagion. Practically all our contacts are now online only.
The third thing is the purchase of equipment, software, etc. There are sanctions and payment problems. For astronomers-observers who must constantly upgrade their instruments, it is very painful.
Finally, the relationships between so many people have changed. The polarization of opinions has increased, which in some cases has either made communication impossible, or communication has been reduced to the bare minimum, and this, as far as science is concerned, certainly precludes close forms of productive cooperation. It is extremely unpleasant to communicate with people who, like Sorokin’s characters, eat their daily «norm».
3. Personally, even before the outbreak of the military conflict, somewhere in late 2021 or early 2022, I had a very grave feeling of what was happening in the country. With the start of a full-scale war, a significant reassessment of priorities, plans, etc., took place quite quickly. Until the fall, though, I had no plans to leave the country, apparently hoping for some kind of miracle. But around October it became clear that for both personal and external reasons I did not want to stay in Russia. I sincerely admire those people who stay in Russia and try to somehow resist the nightmare that is happening, at least to demonstrate their position at the risk of being fired upon by repression (and many, many of them actually are). Unfortunately, I did not find such strength in me. Right now I have a one-year contract at the International Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste. What will happen next — we’ll see. The prospects are not very bright. Quitting everything and looking for a new job after 50 is quite difficult.
T-invariant plans to continue publishing answers to these questions.