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156 physicists sign open letter: »Stand up against Russian propaganda«

The Niels Bohr Institute has released an open letter from physicists from throughout the world. The pursuit of truth makes the rejection of Russian lies about the invasion a necessity, says the head of department.

Tetiana Kozynetz is doing her PhD in astrophysics at the Niels Bohr Institute. But she has lately been part of a completely different project. She is Ukrainian, born and raised in Kyiv, and the author of an open letter from physicists from throughout the world condemning Russia’s war in Ukraine.

»We hope to show that everyone can, and should, give voice to their points of view, and clearly distinguish between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’,« she says.

When she and her friend Mykhailo Flaks first aired the idea of an open letter at a Niels Bohr conference in March, head of department Jan W. Thomsen immediately made the decision to let the department stand as author of the letter.

Because it hurts scientists, who are in the pursuit of truth on a daily basis, to see the lies of the Russian regime in their justification for the invasion of Ukraine, he says.

»This is completely crazy. We pursue truth in science. So it is like rubbing salt in to a wound to invent these huge lies. And then, under this pretext, do these awful things to other people,« says the head of department. He says that the Russian allegation that somehow an invasion was necessary to defeat ‘Nazism in Ukraine’ is more crazy than claiming that the earth is flat.

READ ALSO: Open letter: In protest against the Russian war in Ukraine

»A delicate balance«

In the letter, the signatories both support civilians in Ukraine, and researchers in Ukraine and Russia.

»We stand against the brutal, unlawful, and inhumane attack on the independence of Ukraine and unanimously support the Ukrainian people in their choice of democracy and peace as opposed to autocracy and violence,« it states in the letter.

The signatories encourage foundations and grant-givers to finance temporary positions for colleagues on the run, and to spread the word about our values to scientists in Russian institutions and to those who have families in Russia.«

There are so many problems that we have to address in this world. These problems cannot be just pushed aside by foolishness like the use of weapons on each other.

Jan W. Thomsen, Head of Department, Niels Bohr Institute

Jan W. Thomsen, research institutions need to be objective. Are you not going beyond objectivity when you take a stand in international politics?

»Yes, you are right that research institutions need to be objective. This is a grey area, but it is important for us as natural scientists to dissociate ourselves from this. It hurts to see common sense being trampled on like this, so abominably. But you are absolutely right, it’s a delicate matter. It’s like sport, which can also be difficult to keep completely separate from politics,« says Jan W. Thomsen.

This is not the first time that the name of Niels Bohr is on an open letter. In 1950, Niels Bohr himself sent a letter to the UN with a message about the importance of openness and common purpose between the world’s peoples.

»It is within our DNA to say no to war,« says Jan W. Thomsen.

No time for war

Klaus von Klitzing is on the list of signatories. The German physicist won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1985. It means something to him that it is the Niels Bohr Institute that is the author of the open letter.

»I signed the open letter as the Niels Bohr Institute is a synonym for global scientific collaboration beyond political or ideological boundaries,« the Nobel Prize winner writes in an email to the University Post.

According to Jan W. Thomsen, the nations of the world should not have the time to fight each other. There is too much else that we need to achieve as a global community.

»We have so many major problems with, for example, the green agenda, food provision for everyone, and developing new medical methods. There are many existential problems that we have to address in this world. These problems cannot be just pushed aside by foolishness like the use of weapons on each other.

Wars unfortunately break out now and again. Are you going to write open letters for all of them from now on?

»No, we are not. But this war is taking place on our own doorstep – both geographically, and in terms of us sharing the same set of values. We need, therefore, to be able to reject it in the name of science,« says Jan W. Thomsen.

The head of department hopes that the letter will make just a little difference. It has certainly made a difference for Tetiana Kozynets.

»It means a lot to me that my place of work makes a clear public statement about the war, and that so many of my colleagues have put their names on this statement. We are very pleased to see so much support for something that just started out as a student initiative,« she says.