For a science without the constraints of the Putin regime

K.Science is currently in as difficult a position as that of Eastern European studies. Already in public: on the one hand, the past and present experience of post-communist states has become more important than ever since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. On the other hand, pundits like Richard David Precht exclude well-informed scientists in many media outlets.

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And they themselves have to contend with limitations: since the 1990s, more than 70 chairs of Slavic Studies and Eastern European Studies have been eliminated from German universities, and on-site research in Russia, Belarus and in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine is now becoming impossible.

Furthermore, this scientific community faces an important humanitarian task: it is necessary to take care of colleagues who are threatened in those regions or who have had to flee Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. For the latter, for teachers and escaped students, especially in the humanities and social sciences, things are now getting more difficult than before.

“In European universities, the time for short-term aid is running out,” says Jan Claas Behrends, an Eastern European historian at the Center for Contemporary History Research in Potsdam. After the start of the Russian war of aggression, lectures and scholarships for temporary guests were created in many universities, with the help of which refugees could teach and research.

Eastern European historian Jan Claas Behrends

Eastern European historian Jan Claas Behrends

Source: Andy Küchenmeister / ZZF Potsdam

“But now all of this is coming to an end,” says Behrends, “and it is not possible to create permanent jobs.” But since it can be assumed that scientists who fled Ukraine and especially Russia and Belarus will have to stay here longer, it is now okay to create permanent scientific employment opportunities so that their knowledge and skills do not expire. “They shouldn’t drive a taxi,” Behrends says, “it would be a huge scientific loss. They want and need to be able to keep working.”

That is why Behrends supports the plan to found a new university with these refugees. The project already has a name: The University of New Europe (UNE). However, it should be “not a ghetto for Eastern Europeans,” says Behrends, “but a platform on which a new exchange between scientists from many different countries becomes possible.”

“It’s not about bringing all the scientists to us”

The project was recently presented in Berlin by Dutch literary scholar Ellen Rutten, who heads the Institute of Russian and Slavic Studies at the University of Amsterdam. “Our long-term goal is a new international university where we reserve 50 to 60 percent of all posts and positions for threatened students and academics from Ukraine, Belarus and Russia,” said Rutten WELT. “In this university you will study, research and teach together with scientists from many other regions.”

The literary scholar Ellen Rutten

The literary scholar Ellen Rutten

Source: Esther de Jongh

It is fully open whether UNE promoters will be successful with appeals for donations and public funding from EU states and the EU itself and when and how the new university could be built. But a fundamental prerequisite – intense cooperation between Eastern and Western scientists – has already been created by Eastern European scholars. In the form of emergency help.

“We create networks,” says Rutten, “and we are currently using them mainly to support scientists, students and artists who have had to flee Ukraine due to the Russian war or who are threatened with repression in countries like Russia or Belarus. Currently, we are. it is a concrete help for people who are threatened and in need ”.

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An important role is played by the voluntary mentoring program of a Berlin-based organization which works closely with the initiators of the UNE and is called the Science at Risk Emergency Office. Funded by the Federal Foreign Office, the organization has established contacts with some 280 threatened or refugee scientists and artists who are followed by a similar number of mentors from Western countries.

“We connect refugees with scientists in Europe and provide them with scholarships, study places, research or teaching positions, especially in German universities,” says Philipp Christoph Schmädeke of Science at Risk. “At the same time, we try to help those who remain in their home countries and are threatened there.”

Philipp Christoph Schmädeke, Head of the Science at Risk Emergency Office

Philipp Christoph Schmädeke, Head of the Science at Risk Emergency Office

Source: Matthias Kamann

Ellen Rutten also points out that supporting those who want to remain in those dictatorships, at least for the moment, is just as important as helping refugees. “It is not about bringing all the scientists to us. Many do not want it at all, they want to stay in their home countries as long as possible.” This is why the university project should not only work in a building in a European city, but also researching and teaching with scientists and students who stay in Belarus and Russia Therefore, one of the most important – and probably most difficult – tasks is the development of secure digital channels.

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The participation of those who want to stay in their home countries is essential, according to Rutten. You have to “give them a long-term voice in international science”. Science in EU countries could also benefit from this. “Now that official contacts with Russian and Belarusian universities have rightly been severed, we here in the West urgently need to work together with liberal academics from these states and learn from them,” says Rutten.

“The new university should also contribute to this, as an alternative to no longer possible cooperation with state institutions in these countries”.

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