Alfred Koch: Putin’s rejection of science and fear of the educated destroying Russia’s future

Russian National Socialists marching in St. Petersburg on 1 May 2014. Photo by Radio Svoboda

Russian National Socialists marching in St. Petersburg on 1 May 2014. Photo by Radio Svoboda 

International, Opinion

Edited by: A. N.

Vladimir Putin “understands that the threat to his regime is to be found among the thinking and educated” and thus has been taking steps to “destroy higher education” in Russia and cut the financing of science, according to Moscow commentator Alfred Koch.

Such actions may buy Putin some short term protection, but they will cost the country dearly in the longer term. Indeed, the analyst says, even Stalin recognized that the country could not long survive if it did not promote the development of education and scientific research.

Some people now say, Koch continues, that “Stalin himself prepared the basis for the end” of the Soviet system by getting involved in the arms race, something that required the dictator to recognize the importance of scientific and technical progress and to provide support for it.

Indeed, in the late Soviet period, there was “a general atmosphere of respect for scholarship, for science as such and for scientists.”Even Stalin carried on a correspondence with Petr Kapitsa “who was to put it mildly not his supporter and even refused to work on the atomic bomb.”

But it soon became obvious that “science as such cannot develop in isolation,” Koch argues. For it to flourish, there must be “a general atmosphere” of freedom beyond what specific scientific research requires. And ultimately Soviet leaders were forced to recognize this because they wanted the results of science even if they did not want the freedom it required.

During Brezhnev’s stagnation, for example, “there were the Strugatsky brothers, the theater at the Taganka, Tarkovsky, Okudzhava, Vysotsky” and many others … We read a little Hemingway, Ray Bradbury, and Stanislav Lem,” small but important parts of “an ‘alternative’ culture” and in many cases, their works and their careers were even supported by the state.

“All these undertakings led to the creation in society of a stratum of thinking people who in the end were the milieu which formulated the tasks of Gorbachev’s perestroika and then Gaidar’s reforms, with all their shortcomings and costs,” he continues.

Koch says that he is in no way a supporter of the Soviet approach, “but that which we see today is in general not about progress. Putin’s concept is doomed because he in general denies progress as such both in public life and in science and technology.”

The current Kremlin leader “understands perfectly well that the threat to his regime is precisely there among the thinking and educated. And he is therefore pursuing the destruction of higher education and cutting financing for science and culture.” And he has imposed such creatures as Medinsky, Rogozin and Patriarch Kirill.

“But here too are the sources of Putin’s end,” Koch concludes. By turning away from science and education, the Kremlin leader is rapidly destroying Russia’s chances “to survive in the world where progress, in any case, scientific and technical progress, is an objective reality.” Putin’s rejection of science will hurt Russia far more than and decline in the price of oil.

Edited by: A. N.

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