“Putin has done so many bad things that it would be very helpful to simply reverse these decisions.” Sergei Guriev — on future reforms

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


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