What is the extent of ideologization of education in Russia? Why will it be impossible to carry out lustration in the field of education? What awaits researchers in Russia and Ukraine after the war? What are the prospects for economic reforms in Ukraine? T-invariant spoke with Sergei Guriev, Provost of Sciences Po University in Paris. Watch the full video interview here.
Are Russian schools and universities returning to Soviet ideology?
There is a huge difference between then and now: the Russian government does not have an ideology in the sense we understood it in Soviet times. The communist ideology of the USSR may have been horrible and anti-humanist, but it was a coherent system of views. Putin’s Russia has no ideology. Putin talks about the need for a solid family, and yet we know he has illegitimate children. In the 21st century, this is no big deal, but when a person in power does this while trying to talk about the need for family security, it shows how Russia lacks any ideology.
The often ostentatious luxury in which Putin and his officials live also shows that they are not ascetic followers of an ideology. The corruption visible to everyone proves that the belief system of this government is money.
On the other hand, the damage of ideologization in educational institutions would certainly be enormous. This is a technical problem: more hours for ideology means fewer hours for English.
Brainwashing leaves its mark. Many people today say: “We were brainwashed during the Soviet period, but we did not believe in it, we resisted it. The ideological interference did not work” This is both true and not true. Even if you do not believe in the official ideology, there is the phenomenon of doublethink, when you are told one thing and think another. And that leads to distrust in the institution of the state, in the rule of law, in what Dmitry Medvedev would have called right-wing nihilism during his presidency. That is certainly harmful to modern society and modern economy.
Moreover, the propaganda is quite sophisticated and will leave its mark. People will say, “Not everything is so clear. Yes, we attacked Ukraine. But maybe Ukraine itself is to blame, maybe the West is to blame for something?”. I am sure that part of this ideological platform, this system of messages will remain in their minds in one way or another.
What to do with teachers who have written denunciations?
When it comes to building a new education system in Russia, it will not be possible to lustrate. Because it is impossible to replace all teachers overnight.
If we talk about the crimes of teachers, then the fraud in the elections was much more massive. This is a criminal offense in which many teachers participated. Those guilty of stealing votes and rigging elections must be punished.
As for denunciations, yet there are not so many. We observe such situations, but we are not talking about thousands of denunciations yet. It is quite normal that in such a big country there are bad people who want to take advantage of the situation to get ahead, to get a bonus, to reduce their workload — whatever. Still, we should not claim that all Russian teachers write denunciations about students or that all students write denunciations about teachers. So far, we have not seen mass denunciations, as was the case, for example, in Stalin’s time.
Where will the reorientation of Russian science toward China, India, and Iran lead?
Cooperation between Russian and Western universities has been stopped on both sides. It is impossible for a Western university to cooperate with an institution whose rector has signed a letter in support of total war. All institutional ties between the West and Russia in education have been cut. Therefore, the country is doing what it can: Russian universities are trying to find other partners.
Among these partners, China stands out. Of all the countries that are not afraid to negotiate with Russia, it is China that has competitive educational institutions. India also has strong universities, but China is certainly ahead. Iran, on the other hand, is no champion in science and education, to say the least.
In general, despite its successes in higher education, China lags far behind its Western competitors. If Russian universities focus on China instead of Europe and the United States, this will undoubtedly cause Russian education to fall further behind.
What it will take to revive science in post-Putin Russia?
Putin has done so many bad things that it would be extremely helpful to simply reverse those decisions. It would certainly be necessary to lift all restrictions on international cooperation and try to bring back the scientists who have left the country. This will not be easy. It may well be that the damage of this war is irreparable. Germany, for example, which was a major scientific power before the World War II, has failed to regain the positions it lost because of Hitler. It is possible that Russia will meet the same fate. Because people are emigrating, settling down. The best people settle down better than others — it is more difficult to get them to return.
Many things were done 10 years ago and have worked relatively well, including the Megagrant program https://megagrant.ru/ . We will have to try to revive them. Exact repetition will be impossible, because there will be far fewer people who want to return than those who left. But it is necessary to win back scientists and integrate them into science and education. It is necessary to attract college staff to research and prepare students for graduation.
A very important issue is scientific resources, expertise and evaluation of research projects by scientists. This system also needs to be rebuilt depending on how many people return. This will be a lot of work.
Nonetheless, there is an understanding of how to build modern science because all countries are going about the same way. We need a transparent system for funding scientific projects, competition, and openness. These things are easy enough to achieve. And, of course, we need to spend more money on funding science.
But the most important thing is to remove all the restrictions created by Putin’s 2022 war and the resulting isolation.
Is there a perspective for scientific institutions in Ukraine?
There is no doubt that Ukraine needs science. Unfortunately, Ukrainian science faced difficulties even before the invasion. And, of course, the war of 2022 did enormous damage to it. Many people died, many people left the country. All that now has to be rebuilt.
Ukraine is going to join the European Union. When a country becomes a member of the EU, it will have access to the European infrastructure for funding science and education, all kinds of exchange programs, and funding for research projects, including the European Research Council (ERC). This will give a very important impetus to the development of Ukrainian science.
In addition, the European Commission is funding new members earlier than planned. There are quite a few initiatives where the European Committee is asking for scientists from the new EU member states to participate. And there are projects where it is expected that most of the funding will go to the eastern countries. In this sense, Ukraine will certainly benefit greatly, including in the field of science and education.
At the same time, it is important to realise that the best professors will naturally seek positions at the best universities in the world. There is also a brain drain in France: scientists are migrating to America. This fact applies to all countries, including Eastern European countries. The same can be observed in Ukraine both before and after EU accession.
It is likely that post-war reconstruction will take into account the need to build universities of international standard. That is quite possible. But if you want to build a world-class research institute, you have to pay higher salaries. And that will be expensive.
But of course, these amounts are negligible compared to the total amount of reconstruction, which is now estimated at hundreds of billions of dollars. The World Bank puts the reconstruction needs of the Ukrainian economy at $400 billion. Material damages already amount to $150 billion - and these are only the damages proven and estimated by the Kyiv School of Economics.
Since these countries joined the EU, many good universities have sprung up in Eastern Europe — partly because these academics have access to funding from the Brussels budget.
What will be the political system and economy of post-war Ukraine?
We hope that a true democracy will emerge in Ukraine. The oligarchic system did great damage to the country’s society and economy. Big businessmen controlled the media and used it to protect their business interests. They made more money and used it to finance the media.
The system was already invented by the Medici. One of them had a motto: “Money to get power. Power to protect money.” This is a typical oligarchic system that has caused the Ukrainian economy to lag so far behind Poland’s. 30 years ago, Poland and Ukraine had the same GDP per capita. On the eve of the 2022 war, the difference was about three times greater.
If a democratic, competitive, and open government emerges in Ukraine, it will be good news for economic development, among other things. Many factors suggest that the former oligarchic system cannot be restored. Even before the full-scale invasion, President Zelensky passed a law on de-oligarchization to break the vicious circle between money on one side and media on the other. This may have been one of the triggers for the start of the war in 2022. For Zelensky used this law primarily to attack Putin’s friend Medvedchuk and his broadcaster. What will happen to other oligarchs after the war is unclear, but many of them have lost money and influence. Therefore, the situation could change qualitatively.
Spoken with Olga Orlova
Olga Orlova 28.08.2023