No history, no culture, please

Western governments should ‘re-focus financial support for Russia-related academic programs from culture and history to in-depth analysis of Russia’s authoritarianism, kleptocracy and corrupt practices’. So says a new report issued this week by the Institute for Modern Russia, a think-tank funded by former Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky. For God forbid that students should learn about Russian culture and history before expressing any opinions about that country. Knowing some culture and history might lead to understanding, which might lead to sympathy or at least empathy, and thus to a desire to engage in dialogue, find mutual solutions to international problems, and all the rest of it. And that, of course, would be dangerous. Ignorance is much to be preferred.

There’s a lot about this report which is rather disturbing, but as someone who studies Russian history for a living this particular recommendation stood out for me. History and culture are the foundations of study of any society. If you want to know a foreign country, you have for a start to learn its language, which means reading its literature. You then need to know its history to be able to put things in the right context. But there are some, it seems, who don’t want people to understand context. They know the truth, and anything which might challenge it needs to be censored.

In any case, according to the argument put forward by report’s author, Kateryna Smagliy, those who don’t agree with her deserved to be silenced. Why? Because they are agents of the Kremlin. She urges Western governments to ‘step up efforts to expose Russia’s network of agents within Western academia’. ‘The Russian government pursues a coherent and well-coordinated “knowledge weaponization” strategy,’ she says. This strategy

led to the rise of the new phenomenon of ‘hybrid analytica’, which we define here as the process of design, development and promotion of various  pseudo-academic narratives by duped or manipulated bona-fide intellectuals, academics and think-tank experts of political ‘lobbyists in disguise’, whose vested interests have been recruited through the global network of the Kremlin-linked operatives.

This network is extraordinarily widespread, as you can see by the following graphic:

hybrid analytica

Among the members of the Kremlin’s academic network, it appears, are the notoriously Russophobic Legatum Institute (ha, ha!), Oxford University, Durham University, King’s College London, and two score other European universities. In the United States it includes such institutions as The National Interest magazine, the Kennan Institute, The Wilson Center, and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. With a network like that, it’s amazing that public opinion in the West is still so hostile to Russia.

What exactly are these institutions doing which is so dangerous? Well, they’re doing things like establishing ‘an interdisciplinary research center “to communicate the riches of Russian civilization to the general public”’; running a conference ‘devoted to the discussion of Russian influences on California’s history’; hosting ‘Russian folklore choirs and the Saint Petersburg Horn Orchestra’, and fostering ‘lasting connections between Russian and American youth through music and theatre performances, film screenings, conferences, and student exchanges.’ This is scary stuff. People should be studying ‘Russia’s authoritarianism, kleptocracy and corrupt practices’ instead. All that history and culture will turn their heads. It must be resisted.

Western ‘experts’ suborned by Russia peddle dangerous theories, we learn. This includes the obviously preposterous, and politically dangerous, theory put forward by the Carnegie Endowment’s Eugene Rumer, who ‘published an article arguing that anti-Russian sanctions produce no desired results and that sometimes they even backfire.’ Such publications suggest that Carnegie’s work feels ‘like an analytical screen to cover a suspicious political project.’ The idea that scholars might come to conclusions like this independently, on the simple grounds that their research points them that way, seems not to occur to Smagliy. If they say these things, it must be because they’ve been bought by the Kremlin. To stop such things from happening, Western academic institutions and think tanks should cut off all contact with their Russian counterparts forthwith.

It would be easy to ignore all this as idiotic and unimportant. After all, the insinuation that those who study Russian history and culture, and who engage in cultural exchanges, are somehow witting or unwitting agents of the Kremlin, and assisting Russia in its acts of external and internal aggression, is quite preposterous. And it’s not as if this kind of report gets a mass audience. But still, it’s a little creepy. It’s not likely that some spook will read this and be so convinced that he’ll decide to start bugging professors’ phones. But then again, look at Carter Page, who was investigated by the FBI after he had the audacity to deliver a lecture at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. In the current McCarthyite atmosphere, you just don’t know any more. And I have to wonder what effect this will have on young researchers. Tenured full professors like me can shrug it off and carry on doing what we’re doing. But if I was advising young PhD students I’d have to tell them to be careful about what they write if they want to maximize their career prospects. It’s not a healthy situation.

In short, we are facing a concerted attack on academic freedom. The front of Ms Smagliy’s report contains a little logo saying ‘Free Speech’. Somehow I doubt that she appreciates the irony.

hybrid analytica2

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21 thoughts on “No history, no culture, please”

  1. “Western governments should ‘re-focus financial support for Russia-related academic programs from culture and history to in-depth analysis of Russia’s authoritarianism, kleptocracy and corrupt practices’. So says a new report issued this week by the Institute for Modern Russia, a think-tank funded by former Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky. For God forbid that students should learn about Russian culture and history before expressing any opinions about that country. Knowing some culture and history might lead to understanding, which might lead to sympathy or at least empathy, and thus to a desire to engage in dialogue, find mutual solutions to international problems, and all the rest of it. And that, of course, would be dangerous. Ignorance is much to be preferred.”

    I’m sorry, Professor, but why are you arguing against the General (Adorable) Party line as supported by such Luminary of the Democracy as Mordekai Borukhovich Khodorkovsky? Didn’t your own Helmsman of the Liberal World Order (the US of A) designate Russia as “co-Great Satan” in its military doctrine? Aren’t your own academia and mass-media zombify the populace into hating Russia and Russians on the instinct level? What made you think there won’t be a next step?

    As for the oligarch funding a think-tank that produces a report that is in liue of his agenda – what, are you against the capitablism as well? 😉

    “In any case, according to the argument put forward by report’s author, Kateryna Smagliy, those who don’t agree with her deserved to be silenced. Why? Because they are agents of the Kremlin. “

    SUGS! I told you, I told you all – the World will be either (mentally) Ukrainian or depopulated! Або мова, або геть!

    “She urges Western governments to ‘step up efforts to expose Russia’s network of agents within Western academia’. ‘The Russian government pursues a coherent and well-coordinated “knowledge weaponization” strategy,’ she says. “

    I guess this is clearly a projection, re: what Soros began in 1980s-90s. But thanks for advice – I think RF government should take note of it and apply to, say, Higher School of Economics in Moscow. That would only be fair 🙂

    “To stop such things from happening, Western academic institutions and think tanks should cut off all contact with their Russian counterparts forthwith.”

    But we all know this won’t happened, for the rival faction within the Beacon of Freedom (still US of A) believe, that such contacts allow to gather humint, get new “assets” and, when it comes to the Russian “yoof”, even try to influence the future generation to do their bidding.

    “In the current McCarthyite atmosphere, you just don’t know any more. “

    [GASP] You said McC word, Professor! Why, why? Did they turn you after all?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Fortunately, the circulation of such pieces is limited. But they do circulate among a certain section of those whom we might call ‘formers of public opinion’. One report doesn’t matter. But we’re getting a constant drip, drip, drip of them, and elements of what they say leak into public discourse, turning it in a more extreme direction. So one can’t ignore them entirely, I fear.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Exactly. What percentage of this article do you think is based on concepts that were earlier formulated in papers published by, say, the Atlantic Council? Even the language sounds eerily familiar. The growth of group-think in semi-academic scholarship financed by highly partisan, self-interested financial sources is becoming a major problem. Who is doing the weaponizing here? The logo used by Ms. Smagliy asserting that free speech reigns in Washington D.C. is particularly unscholarly. Not many years ago a Princeton study concluded that popular opinion had a significant effect on less than 1% of legislation passed by the US Congress. As a US citizen, I hope that in the future Ms. Smagliy will contribute to independent and objective world scholarship by doing some “in-depth analysis” of US “authoritarianism, kleptocracy and corrupt practices.” It is a huge, high-tech, highly developed, cutting-edge field, Ms. Smagliy. The more dedicated scholars the merrier.

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      2. “As a US citizen, I hope that in the future Ms. Smagliy will contribute to independent and objective world scholarship by doing some “in-depth analysis” of US “authoritarianism, kleptocracy and corrupt practices.” It is a huge, high-tech, highly developed, cutting-edge field, Ms. Smagliy.”

        I LOLed. Parataxual, sir, can you answer a couple of questions?

        1) Are you okay with the principle when any moneyed person/group of persons can willy-nilly lobby the society/government to do their bidding via what passes for the scholarship?

        2) Are you okay with the fact, that most of the academia is vulnerable to those who hold the purse strings, and, therefore, can fire undesirable academicians at will?

        3) If you answer “no” to either of the above, what are you suggestions to change the situation for the better?

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      3. I think it’d make sense to view these pieces as ‘product’, manufactured to fill demand. As long as demand is there, it’ll continue. The establishment, neocon establishment, emerged there since the 90s (call it the “deep state”, if you prefer), generates this demand.

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      4. Excellent points Paul. Demonising and dehumanising a community, country or religion requires people to know nothing about the target, ignorance is essential . If people learn about the target and begin to see them as fellow humans, with history, art, literature and ideas then demonisation fails. There is fertile ground in the west for Russophobia which has very deep historical roots, which reports such as this play to. Dehumanisation of a target group is also a way of externalising a society’s internal problems. For example US liberals cannot believe that people voted for Trump, hence so called Russian meddling, ditto Brexit and many other problems.

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      5. They land on long lists in appendices to prove something, sometimes without being on the subject of those lists. But when inquiring minds look at it, suddenly the mountain of evidence works as proof.

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    2. Paratextual asks: ‘What percentage of this article do you think is based on concepts that were earlier formulated in papers published by, say, the Atlantic Council?’ As it happens, the blurb about the author says that among the outlets she writes for is ‘the Atlantic Council’s blog Ukraine Alert’. A list of 4 ‘editors’ shows that three of them, Ariana Gic, Monika Richter, and Roman Sohn, are also associated with the Atlantic Council. So the similarities you notice are not coincidental.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think with some judicious Find & Replace (the F5 key in MS Word) K. Smagliy could republish this work as a strident argument against the Confucius Institute program… perhaps with a bit more justification, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Now, in all seriousness though – Professor admits that such reports serve “Overton Windowing” public opinion in the “right” direction. Say, imagine they succeed, and already ideology driven higher education in the West takes another step in becoming turned up to 11 propaganda outlet, serving special interests to the Powers That Be. What can an ordinary shy and conscientious intilligent like our host do in order to counter and resist it?

    This is not an idle of rhetorical question, Have you thought about it, Paul?

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    1. ‘What can an ordinary shy and conscientious intilligent like our host do in order to counter and resist it?’

      Write this blog, for one.

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  4. Don’t worry, comrades (or is it komrads? I forget), we’re one step closer to “victory” today as our Kremlin fellow traveler, Justice Kavanaugh (see? he spells his last name with a “K,” he MUST be one of us), has been sworn in to serve on the American supreme court.

    Seriously, that idea is about as dumb as what Smagliy has written.

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    1. “Justice Kavanaugh (see? he spells his last name with a “K,” he MUST be one of us), has been sworn in to serve on the American supreme court.”

      Hand of the Kremlin at work:

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  5. We are working with a Moscow university and academic arts therapies staff on https://dicats.org where we are working to have Russian site based in Moscow streaming live for 2 of the 24 hours. Even in early discussions we are discovering some similarities and differences in approaches to arts therapies which is very interesting all round. This isn’t a plug but just an example. This report sounds offensive and an assault as you say but we will continue.

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    1. Even in early discussions we are discovering some similarities and differences in approaches to arts therapies which is very interesting all round.

      Sounds interesting. Made me think of my favorite Slavist over here, as we call it, or his latest research project in East European history, more specially Russia. Difference, tradition obviously matters in the present both in narrow highly theoretical circles and in the wider popular culture.

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      1. Sean’s Russia podcast recently had an interview with a researcher following psychotherapy.
        https://seansrussiablog.org/2018/07/28/psychotherapy-and-neoliberalism-in-russia/
        I don’t know whether European traditions and/or Asian traditions have influenced therapies development in different ways or not, in addition to the changes throughout Russian history . There are articles on the web about the director (I think) of Russian art academy exploring therapeutic use of art, articles referring to sand based sculpture and therapeutic use for Russian prisoners.

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  6. Meanwhile China built up hundreds (thousands? One can’t know exactly) of Confucius institutes all over Europe and Africa, where you can learn Chinese, Asian history and why the Asian, uh, sorry, their way is better. As a side effect, those institutes promote another geopolitical agenda, of course. Because “those countries” are all in the SCO, those institutes accidentally or not promote the interests of those member states.
    But nobody speaks up. University towns have had some part or a whole enterprise taken away via shareholder transfers to Chinese interests, so rather not hush-hush them up about it. Jobs are at stake here, you see.

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