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Students Battle Nationalist Dean at Moscow State University

A few days ago the New York Times reported on dissatisfaction among sociology students at Moscow State University:

…The students said, for example, that extremist views had become institutionalized and that conspiracy theories had infiltrated the teaching.

“The dean’s office has distributed a brochure to all students that approvingly quotes the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion,’ blames Freemasons and Zionists for the world wars, and claims that they control U.S. and British policy and the global financial system,” the students wrote in one of their public appeals. “Studying conditions at the department are unbearable.”

The dean, Vladimir Dobrenkov, denies this. The students have formed an organisation, named the OD-Group, and its website has further complaints. Among them:

In recent years, fifteen recognized scholars have been forced out of the university, including Professor Vladimir Nikolayev, one of the few Russian experts on the Chicago School and translator of Robert Park, Everett Hughes, Alfred Schütz, Harold Garfinkel and Erving Goffman; Professor Elena Kukushkina, a well-known expert on pre-revolutionary Russian sociology; Professors Y.N. Tolstova and O.V. Ivanov, experts in the mathematical modeling of social processes; Professor V.V. Shtcherbina, a leading theorist of organization sociology and consultant to a number of large Russian companies; Professor Andrew Degtyarev, a well-known Russian expert in political sociology and member of the International Sociological Association’s research committees on Political Sociology and Urban and Regional Development; and Professor Helen Shestopal, a well-known social and political psychologist and vice-president of both the International and Russian Political Science Associations.

…To quote a student: “Every lecture starts from scratch: we start with a definition of what sociology is about and stop at the third page of the textbook. At every lecture, we ask ourselves: ‘Is this really what the social sciences are all about???'” In some cases, faculty members refuse to teach a class because they find it unacceptable simply to read out chapters from a textbook as they are told to.

Dean Dobrenkov is a conservative nationalist, who rails against globalisation and against the “liberalism” which was responsible for the end of the USSR and the rise of the oligarchs. A paper which he gave at the 37th World Congress of the International Institute of Sociology in Stockholm in 2005 gives further insights into his thinking:

Let us note the most important negative consequences of liberal globalization…liberal globalization, creating a unified culture without religion, being precise, a global surrogate of culture, tries to destroy religious traditions and national cultures as well…One of the most catastrophic results of liberal reforms of 1990-s was the collapse of the USSR.

…Our country does not need liberal freedom “without boundaries”, which is identical to the right to rob, to kill, to corrupt people’s souls with impunity…In reality freedom should only exist as being limited by frames of the law and by standards of moral.

…In order to revive Russia, we need a strong government, which would be an active subject in economic life, regulate economic processes and social relations…Aggressive circles in Washington are actually waging the Third World War with subordinating the hole world to the USA as an aim. The USA have performed aggression against Yugoslavia and Iraq, and are ready to declare war with Iran, North Korea, Syria. That is why Russia needs strong armed forces.

Also:

…It is necessary to exert maximum efforts for spiritual and moral revival of Russia. Russia will never become a strong and prosperous power without a detailed system of moral upbringing of the population in the way of humanism values (real, not liberal one), collectivism, and patriotism. A complex of measures on spiritual and moral recovery supposes the total change of policy of mass media (and, most of all, television), which should exclude demonstration of scenes of violence, sex, amorality, and absence of spirituality. It requires creation of public control councils and introduction of moral censorship in all mass media. It is also necessary to correct the education plans in secondary and higher school towards spiritualism and patriotism. Orthodox Christianity and other traditional religions of Russia should play an important role in reviving the moral.

The paper, it should be noted, is not overburdened with academic references or footnotes.

Dobrenkov has links with the right-wing “Rodina” political bloc (a grouping which, as I blogged here, has some anti-Semitic associations). In December 2004 he spoke at the Rodina Congress:

The Rodina congress discussed President Vladimir Putin’s proposals for strengthening the state, an economic program for young people, and the mooted creation of a Public Chamber…Moscow State University Sociology Faculty Dean Vladimir Dobrenkov called for a push to “do everything to get liberals out of the present power structure and prevent revenge on their part, otherwise they won’t be quiet for years.”

Meanwhile, Interfax reports that Dobrenkov is getting backing from the nationalist Union of Orthodox Citizens:

…The ideology of the OD-Group, the Union states, ‘is unequivocally hostile to the Orthodox Church’ and has as its aim ‘to squeeze out the Orthodox nation-oriented ideology from MSU, to undermine the emerging scientific relations between the university and major theological colleges in Russia and to spread the aggressive-secular liberal thinking under the guise of scientific secularism and objectivism’.

‘The orange revolution’ carried out before our very eyes by the OD-Group ideologies at the Department of Sociology threatens both the prospects for the intellectual cooperation between secular scholarship and theology and the consolidation of practical relations between Moscow State University and the Russian Orthodox Church’, the statement reads.

As ever, the UOC finds particularly upsetting that

…As an alternative to Orthodox conservatism and relations with the Orthodox Church the opposition have proposed a pro-active support for sexual minorities.

An essay on this site has more about the UOC, and its support for “dictatorship [which] must develop into a full fledged autocracy”.

Interestingly, Marxism.org has a letter which Erich Fromm sent to Dobrenkov in 1969, with the following introduction:

The following letter Erich Fromm wrote in 1969 to the Russian philosopher Vladimir Dobrenkov is a most impressive document of how deeply he was interested in getting contact with socialist thinkers and to discuss with them his reception of Marx and his understanding of socialism. Dobrenkov intended to write a book on Fromm and therefore started a correspondence with Fromm. Fromm tried to clarify many topics Dobrenkov misunderstood by presenting Fromm’s ideas. But actually one cannot say that Fromm’s clarifications showed much effect on Dobrenkov’s book Neo-Freudians in Search of Truth, published in many languages in the seventies (Moskau: Progress Publishers)…

It seems that Dobrenkov is a Vicar of Bray character: Marxist ideologue under Communism, right-wing Orthodox nationalist under Putin.

5 Responses

  1. […] Union is an offshoot of a Russian body which I blogged on a few days ago in relation to a nationalist take-over of the sociology department at Moscow State […]

  2. […] academic discipline in Russia that has been put at the service of nationalism – back in March I noted that sociology students at Moscow State University had risen up against a dean who is more […]

  3. […] on the academic front we’ve recently seen Orthodox nationalism corrupting standards in sociology and psychology) …the letter, text of which was published in several national newspapers, […]

  4. […] blogged on this situation at some length here, profiling in particular the hard-right authoritarianism of the dean, Vladimir […]

  5. […] of ultra-rightists on our streets, in the corridors of power, on the pages of newspapers, in university lecture halls, and at art exhibitions does not allow us to consign antifascism to the archives of the past […]

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