Ukraine war that freedom of expression in Russia has been in crisis?

Denis was an associate professor at St Petersburg State University’s Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences. On 20 October, he was fired by the university for “an immoral act that is incompatible with educational functions”.

What was the so-called immoral act? Participation in an “unsanctioned rally.”

Denis participated in a protest against the Kremlin’s decision to draft Russians for fighting in Ukraine on 21 September. The day before, President Vladimir Putin declared partial mobilization across the country. Denis was detained during the demonstration and was held for 10 days.

Denis informs me u. “All freedoms are in deep trouble.”

“I worked three more weeks after I was released from detention. I was asked by the university to explain my absence. I responded that I had been detained for participating in a protest. The Human Resources department called me back and informed me that I had been fired.

Denis’s final day of work was marked by students gathering outside the university to say farewell.

He gave them the following speech in an impromptu speech (video was posted online).

What is considered immoral? Acting against your conscience, and then passively following someone else’s orders. I followed my conscience. You are the one who will ensure that our country’s future is secure.

Students broke into cheers for their teacher.

Denis says, “I love my students very deeply.” They are smart and understand everything that is happening in Russia. I was not the one who received their approval. It was more disapproval of the current Russian situation.

“Many Russians don’t want to protest, as they fear being punished. Many would love to. These people would like to give approval to protestors, which is a way to disagree with Russia’s current situation.

The story of Denis Skopin highlights not only the pressure that Kremlin opponents are under, but also the dangers they face. It raises many questions about Russia’s future.

“Locked up in the detention center there were IT specialists and scientists, doctors, teachers, students, and teachers. Many of them have moved abroad. My cell-mate is a young, talented mathematician.

“About 25% my immediate colleagues left Russia already. They fled Russia on the 24th of February. Some left immediately while others left after mobilization was declared. Russia is losing its best people. Russia is losing the best educated, most energetic, and most critical thinking people. Russia is moving in the wrong direction.

Uncertain futures are not just a result of the present. It’s also a product of Russia’s past.

A small group of St Petersburg residents stands in front of a monument honoring the victims of Joseph Stalin’s Great Terror of the 30s.

This monument is made from a large boulder taken from Solovetsky Islands. It was once home to one the most notorious Gulag forced labour camps. The Solovki camp was established to hold political prisoners and other convicts.

People line up to a microphone. They take turns reading out the names of those who were executed, condemned or arrested in St Petersburg.

One million Soviet dictator Stalin’s citizens were believed to have been executed. His machine of terror, which produced mass deportations, arrests and forced labour, claimed millions more lives. His successors Nikita Khrushchev or Mikhail Gorbachev did not denounce Stalin’s crimes.

Yet, Stalin’s rehabilitation has been a part of Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Today, the authorities place less emphasis upon the darkest chapters of Stalin’s years. However, Stalin is often seen as a strongman who defeated Nazi Germany in World War II and made the Soviet Union a superpower. Putin’s Kremlin is looking for positives in the past, namely victories.

“Unfortunately, our nation didn’t flip this page properly. Stalin’s repressions weren’t discussed enough or thoroughly condemned. “This is why the war is happening in Ukraine today,” says Ludmila, a pensioner who came to put flowers at the Solovki Stone.

“Experience has shown that being silent can lead to bad things.” We cannot forget the bloody stains that have marked our country’s past.

Denis Skopin, a former university lecturer, has been studying the Stalin years. He sees similarities between now and then.

“I have just published an English book about how Stalin’s Russia removed people from group photos who were considered ‘enemy among the people’. Friends, colleagues and even close family members had to take out all evidence of them from photos. They did this with scissors and ink.

“The faculty I taught at Bard College had a partnership with them, an American liberal arts college. Bard College was made an ‘undesirable organization’ in Russia last year. Our faculty ended the partnership, and the Bard College name was taken off the stands in the corridors of the faculty’s faculty using black ink. The same as Stalin’s Russia.

Denis claims that his students understand very well what is going on in Russia and Ukraine. This raises the question: If young Russians don’t believe the Kremlin’s arguments then how will they persuade them to support the president long-term?

A new lesson on patriotic values has been introduced to schools in Russia: “Conversations about Important Things”. Although it is not an official lesson, it is the first lesson of Monday mornings and is strongly recommended that children attend.

What are the “important” things that are being discussed at this meeting? When Putin was a teacher in Kaliningrad in September he explained to a group that Russia’s offensive in Ukraine was meant to “protect Russia”. He also described Ukraine as an anti-Russian enclave. It is clear which direction the “Conversation” goes.

This is forced education. This is forced education. “In those days, we had to read Pravda. I also remember reading books by the Soviet leader Brezhnev like they were masterpieces. We were required to only give positive opinions. There was no discussion.

Olga, who was the deputy school director, believes that education and patriotism cannot be combined. There are children who believe. They believe anything that is presented to them. This is extremely dangerous.


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