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Eastern European programme in Copenhagen wants to continue collaboration with regime-critical Russian researchers

Ukraine — The Eastern European programme is concerned that a University of Copenhagen halt to collaboration with Russian universities will restrict the opportunities for researchers who are critical of the Russian government. Because in this situation they will be vulnerable, according to programme director Tine Roesen.

The programme director for Eastern European Studies at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH) has a lot going on at the moment. A few months ago, calls from journalists were few and far between. This is now history.

»There’s really been a lot of interest. I work on Russian literature, and I still get 3-4 enquiries from the press every day,« says Tine Roesen. Shortly before this conversation with the University Post, the programme director had the Danish weekly Weekendavisen on the phone.

There have been many more enquiries from the media since the outbreak of the war, and when the UCPH rector followed Danish universities in stopping all bilateral and institutional collaboration with Russia and Belarus, it was all channelled to Tine Roesen’s inbox also.

»The rector’s announcement is understandable, expected, and something we can live with in this critical situation,« says Tine Roesen, but then quickly adds a ‘but’:

»But this is really something where we need to work on how this is designed in a specific way.«

READ ALSO: Danish universities to cut ties to Russia and Belarus

She is still in doubt about the details of what a halt to collaboration actually means. It is one thing to stop institutional agreements with universities, but should you, for example, also stop working with individual researchers at state universities? Tine Roesen is not quite certain about this.

»I hear it more as a call to action rather than a completely fixed set of rules. We are still starting, and we need to find out what is going on.«

Her plan, so far, is for individual researchers at Eastern European Studies to take a look at which of the Russian researchers that they can vouch for working with.

»And we can always report back to management if we are in doubt. I’m sure we’ll find a solution,« she says.

Building new bridges

Tine Roesen prefers that UCPH researchers continue to work with selected researchers – even though they work at state-affiliated universities.

»We hope that we will not have to cut off every single researcher from all state-linked institutions. In Eastern European studies, we would like to maintain links with researchers who do not support the regime,« she says, pointing out that you can, for example, look at who it is that has not signed declarations of support for the regime or who has, in fact, signed declarations that are critical of the war.

»If we introduce extreme boycotts of all researchers – also the good ones – then it is not good for anyone,« she argues.

Tine Roesen notes that the UCPH rector in his statements emphasised how important it is to distinguish between individual citizens and the government in the conflict. The programme director hopes therefore to be able to minimise the consequences for researchers who have, say, criticised the war.

»Why should we punish them? If we isolate them, we only put them in a more difficult position – they need our support and help. And for Putin, it is only an advantage if all researchers are prevented from contacting the outside world.«

Tine Roesen hopes that they, while stopping direct collaboration with state-linked institutions, can build new partnerships with organisations that are more independent in Russia. This applies, for example, to the Free University in Moscow, a group of researchers who have left the Higher School of Economics – which UCPH until now has collaborated with – because they felt constrained by the state-linked university:

»Instead of just sanctioning, we really need to think about what we can do for the forces of good in the country.«

Consequences for research

The war, the sanctions, and the halt to collaboration, also impacts the research that takes place at UCPH, according to Tine Roesen. Both the anthropological fieldwork in the country, and the collaboration with local researchers in Russia has been hit by the situation. Something that is limiting the contemporary part of research on Russia in particular.

»The concern is that we will return to the situation during the Cold War where we in the West sat around guessing about what was going on there instead of having real tangible knowledge.«

The halt to student exchanges with Russian universities means at the same time that the Russia experts of the future do not have the same opportunity to educate themselves. In the autumn semester, students on their fifth semester were to go to St. Petersburg and Moscow, where they would immerse themselves in Russian culture and language. But this stay has been cancelled, and the international department is now trying to find an alternative.

»The idea is to go to a Russian-speaking university, and they also exist in the Baltic States or in Kazakhstan, and some of our students have already opted to do this. However, it restricts the options for the Russia experts of the future if they do not have the opportunity for contact with the area in which they specialise in.«

Understanding

Tine Roesen has a particular concern that some of the same sanctions that we see in the area of culture will spread to academia.

»The situation is critical and acute, and right now there are severe reactions. But in time, we need to find a nuanced approach. I think that we can all agree internally at universities. But I am a bit concerned about the mood of the general public, where they might want to dissociate themselves from everything Russian – just like we have seen in the field of culture.«

In light of the situation, she understands that the UCPH rector has joined the announcement, even though the precise consequences are not yet clear. But she hopes that more detailed guidelines will be drawn up on the basis of inputs from the departments wíth specific experiences in cooperation with Russia.

»It would make sense to coordinate and bring specific decisions in line about collaboration or not. Ideally a kind of task force at UCPH level should look at our enquiries and justifications, and help lay out a general policy line instead of us all separately trying to find where the limits to cooperation are.«

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