February 9th, 2014

Взгляд вправо

Kennan Institute Alumni in Russia: An Open Letter

Kennan Institute Alumni in Russia: An Open Letter

The Russian academic community learned with shock and anxiety of the Wilson Center’s recent decision to halt the activities of the Kennan Institute’s Moscow office. Such a decision seems to us inappropriate, ill-timed, and extremely harmful to the long term prospects of US-Russian relations. Budget savings from closing the office are no doubt a priority in Washington, and we understand this; but these modest short-term gains will never compensate for the loss they will engender: the functional base of the leading social network for academic cooperation between Russia and the Unites States will disappear overnight, and with it a heritage of improving understanding between the peoples of both countries that goes back over a quarter century.

The Moscow Kennan office has likely been the single most efficient venue for cooperation between Russian humanities and social science scholars and public figures – thus realizing the Wilson Center’s longstanding tradition of “bringing Athens to Sparta.” Its journal, the “Vestnik Instituta Kennana,” has earned the reputation of the best print medium for promoting interdisciplinary networking among Russian scholars and building bridges between them and policy-makers. Taken together, the Kennan alumni represent probably the most influential community of public intellectuals and academics in Russia with the authority to improve Russian-American relations despite propaganda efforts and diplomatic tensions. We will certainly continue our work here with or without the Center’s support – but without the free atmosphere of the Kennan office, its organizing capacity and the events the office has helped to coordinate, it is hard to imagine the same level of engagement.

What makes the situation especially discouraging – and ironic – is the fact that the Moscow Kennan office survived the Russian government’s wave of attacks against foreign-funded NGOs in early 2013…but will be closed instead by decision of its Washington superiors. Such a step cannot be seen in Russia outside the context of the general freeze in Russian-American relations – or indeed in any other light than, first, as a concession by the American funders to the unlawful demands of certain Russian enemies of US-Russian friendship; and secondly as a betrayal of those who worked hardest here to make the connections between our societies better. We consider it a genuine tragedy that the Kennan Institute will be contributing to thе deterioration of US-Russian relations when its historic record demonstrates a will and a capacity to maintain the deeper ties of US-Russian cooperation whatever the short-term setbacks and fluctuations of temporal politics.
The only semi-parallel US organizations that will remain here after the closing of the Kennan Moscow office will be the Carnegie Moscow Center and the Institute of International Education – both of which have very different missions and neither of which has ever enjoyed a Kennan-like level of engagement on the part of Russian scholars. It is impossible to imagine another American research institution or agency being allowed to open a branch in Russia today. So in practical terms, the Kennan Institute and the Wilson Center will never be able, if the Kennan office is closed, to restore the unique presence and positive influence they enjoy in Russia today.

We understand that financial constraints are a serious issue, and that funding for Russian studies in general and the Kennan Institute in particular is limited. But we also believe that the importance of maintaining Kennan Institute alumni activities in Russia is greatly underestimated in Washington. Finding the funds for those activities is in the best interests of both the Russian and American peoples, as we both seek to increase, not decrease, the level and quality of non-governmental dialogue. The Kennan alumni in Russia ask that the decision to close the Institute's Moscow office be reviewed - and add their hope that they will be able to help in the search for ways to sustain the operations of this vital center.