One of the last liberal universities in Russia shuts down its political science department

Photo: Crop by Maxim Bouev from an official info pack published for the 10th anniversary of the European University at St Petersburg. European University at St. Petersburg, FAL, via Wikimedia Commons. Used under a Free Art License.

Global Voices translated and republished an article by Holod Magazine, reporting on the closure of the Faculty of Political Science at the European University in Saint Petersburg. The unexpected move was announced by its dean, Grigory Golosov, who noted that the decision was made by the university's academic council at the end of June.

The last students from the Masters (MA) program have already defended their theses, becoming the final graduates of the faculty. Doctorate (PhD) and Masters students who need to continue their studies will have to complete them by transferring to the university's Faculty of History. Golosov, who is going on extended leave, will not participate in the new program but will remain affiliated with the Faculty of Economics as a professor.

The European University in Saint Petersburg has not yet provided any official comments, and the Faculty of Political Science is still listed on its website.

The history of the European University includes repeated conflicts with the authorities. At the end of 2023, the university was fined for storing books published with the support of so-called “undesirable” organizations like the Open Society Institute and the Kennan Institute. Books published with the support of these organizations were removed from the university library.

As Radio Liberty stated in February 2024, when the Russian Ministry of Justice designates an organization as “undesirable,” it claims the organization poses a threat to national security. However, experts argue that this is a tactic by Russian authorities to suppress any dissenting voices that do not align with the Kremlin's views.

Organizations must cease all activities within Russia or face severe fines and criminal penalties. Additionally, any citizens or entities that collaborate with an “undesirable” organization risk fines for the first offense. If cooperation continues after an administrative warning, individuals could face criminal charges with a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison.

There were, as for Februry 2024, over 140 organizations on Russia's “undesirable” list. This list includes media outlets, as well as organizations involved in political, cultural, and educational activities, support for democratic institutions, and religious groups.

Founded in 1994, the European University initially received funding through grants from American and European non-governmental organizations (NGOs). However, after many of them were labelled as “undesirable,” the university stopped receiving funds from them, which impacted its financial stability and likely influenced the decision to close the Faculty of Political Science.

After the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia, which began in February 2022, a lot of formerly free and progressive universities found themselves having to adopt conservative policies, either under state pressure or via their own initiatives, and many Russian academics left the country.

The project T-Invariant chronicles how the Russian state prosecuted Russian academics, pressured universities and prohibited many international organizations which used to support the Russian scientists. The cases include prison sentences for an anti-war stance, the termination of  employment contracts with anti-war academic staff, and the closure of scientific organizations which cooperate with other countries. One example would be  Academic Network Easter Europe (Akademisches Netzwerk Osteuropa). The organization helps scientists and students from Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine move to Germany to enroll in German universities or find employment in educational institutions.  Another one, among dozens of others, in the Central European University, where tens of thousands of students from the former Soviet countries have received excellent postgraduate education covered by scholarships from the Open Society Foundation starting from mid-1990s.

One of the latest cases of repressing activist students is when formerly very liberal The Higher School of Economics in Saint Petersburg had recently warned student leaders  that they could be prosecuted for spreading “LGBT propaganda” after a student group used a “feminitive” in one of its social media posts.

Feminitives are personal nouns that designate women in Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Polish, and other Slavic languages. The process of feminization includes re-classifying nouns and adjectives which as such refer to male beings — inclusive of occupational terms — as feminine.  The word which a student group used in this case, was кураторка (female curator) instead of куратор (male curator). Feminism, just as LGBTQ+ organizations and even identity, is considered a danger to the so-called “traditional conservative values” that the state imposes as an official ideology.

Start the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.