My interview with Laurie Manchester on her book Holy Fathers, Secular Sons: Clergy, Intelligentsia, and the Modern Self in Revolutionary Russia is online.
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By Sean — 2 years ago
Several years ago when I was living in Moscow I would often see people in the metro holding signs selling doctoral degrees. I even had a friend of a friend who earned money writing them on order. Fake diplomas, theses on order, and plagiarism. Already in 2006, Mikhail Kirpichnikov, the then head of State Commission on Academic Degrees, called the selling of diplomas and dissertations in the metro a “illness of society.” But it’s not just the buying of doctoral degrees that’s a problem in Russia. Plagiarism is quite endemic as well. In 2006, Clifford Gaddy, a senior fellow at Brookings Institute, found that Putin had lifted sixteen pages of his dissertation from a Russian translation of William King and David Cleland’s Strategic Planning and Policy. Indeed, Dmitry Livanov, Russia’s Education and Science Minister, admitted in 2014 that plagiarism was widespread, so much so that a 2013 study conducted by the Russian State Library estimated that ten percent of recent dissertations in history were plagiarized. Many of them were written by Russian officials.
The State Commission on Academic Degrees (BAK) is trying to stem the tide. In addition to adopting guidelines for awarding a masters or doctorate degrees, last year the agency drew up a list of 164 legitimate presses and academic journals for scholarly publications. This list was a extreme paring down of the 2269 on BAK’s 2014 list. The idea here was to especially eliminate the “large number of garbage journals” that will print anything if you’re willing to pay.
But the real fight against academic charlatans lies elsewhere. Dissernet, a crowd sourced project, stands in the front lines in the battle against fake or purchased dissertations and plagiarism in Russia. After many months of research, Dissernet in conjunction with Novaya gazeta, released the results from investigating the dissertations of State Duma deputies. They found that 57 members, or 12 percent of the Duma, had plagiarized, faked, bought or had their dissertation ghostwritten. Given that even Russia’s top dog did it, it’s not too surprising.
Below is a translation of the results.
A Mandate with Plagiarism
Dissernet and Novaya gazeta‘s guide to State Duma deputies’ dissertations.
We met Zayakin about three years ago. In January 2013, the physicist published his first examination of Duma deputies’ dissertations. Deputies Tatiana Alexeeva, Nikolai Bulaev and Richat Abubakirov were “busted.” You’ve probably heard that on November 20, 2015 the State Commission on Academic Degrees finally stripped Abubakirov of his doctorate in economics. This was the first such case in the history of the State Duma. And it all started with posts on Live Journal.
Over the years, activists from Dissernet, of which Andrei Zayakin is the co-founder, with the aid of Novaya Gazeta and other public and anonymous helpers have examined the dissertations of almost every Duma deputy. Here are the results of this work.
Regular readers of Novaya Gazeta will recall that Dissernet published its analysis as interactive tables where the cells were partially or fully filled with different colors. The more colors, the more examples of plagiarism. We decided to issue the final results about the State Duma along the same lines. Only it’s not a table, but a diagram of the parliament chamber on the Okhotny Ryad. And there are parliamentary seats instead of cells. “We need a smart ass infographic!,” demanded some Editor-in-Chief for some other reason. Here it is.
I clearly remember the meaning of what Zayakin told me in an interview three years ago: “The battle against swindlers and thieves should not be carried out with seriousness. It should be fun, like Carlson playing the bogeyman—ferocious, but loveable. It’s like fighting Freken Bok. After all, if you remember, at the end of the story, Freken Bok found a dignified gentleman and became a very nice lady, and not a terrible housekeeper.”
Nikita Girin, Novaya Gazeta
Research was conducted on all current State Duma deputies. The green group are dissertations we examined and found nothing. This does not mean that these deputies wrote these works themselves. It only indicates that we weren’t able to find any plagiarism.
A number of dissertations fell into the grey group because, for a variety of reasons, we didn’t get around to them, even if we wanted to. There are a few dissertations we didn’t check simply because we didn’t have the time (due to the turnover in the Duma and the bottleneck at Dissernet), but want to check because they don’t fall into the “old dissertation” category discussed below.
In some of the “grey” dissertations we found matching content, but the presence of collaborative work and co-authors in the dissertation doesn’t allow us to make definitive conclusions that these borrowings are wrong or we think there could be additional sources. All such cases are classified as “There are signs of matching content. Our work continues.”
The most interesting group among the “grey” are the phantoms, that is, dissertations that don’t exist. In early November, Novaya Gazeta sent twenty-four requests to dissertation authors and abstracts that don’t have references in the Russian State Library, the St. Petersburg Public Library, or TsITIS. Even the titles of these works are unknown. We received six responses: In one case, it pointed us to an old work, which we missed, in three cases the dissertations were classified, and two cases of fake dissertations. These are useless scraps of paper produced in “mickey-mouse outfits” and not recognized by the State Commission on Academic Degrees. According to our findings, such “dissertations” belong to Elena Drapeko (according to her comments to the press, her dissertation defense was held at a certain International Academy of Education), Victor Pautov (at the International Academy of Authors of Scientific Discoveries and Inventions) and Sergei Chizhov (his “degree” was awarded by the Higher Inter-Academic Attestation Commission of the International Inter-Academic Union of the Higher Expert-Qualification Committee). That said, Sergei Chizhov told Novaya Gazeta (quite truthfully, we might add) that he doesn’t have a scholarly degree, and after our inquiry he removed information about it from his State Duma website. That’s when we first made screenshots of these pages.
As a rule, if a deputy has a master’s thesis and a doctoral dissertation, this table will only have the doctorate. Master’s theses are usually written in more ancient times, and they are not so interesting to verify. The exception was United Russia’s Sergei Naryshkin and Alexandr Remezkov, who we have an interest displaying a master’s thesis and doctoral work, as it’s noted in the diagram.
Some dissertations weren’t checked because they were written a long time ago and, as a rule, before the deputy had a political career. Such dissertations are difficult to obtain and aren’t interesting to analyze, and in our experience, if there is plagiarism, it is practically impossible to dig it up. Therefore, we assigned such dissertations with the color purple.
Andrei Zayakin, co-founder of DissernetPost Views: 58
By Sean — 6 years ago
Stephen Kotkin, Professor of History at Princeton University, reviewed five recent books on Putin in the 2 March issue of the Times Literary Supplement. Kotkin is a tour de force when it comes to all things Russia, and when I heard about the review, I scoured the internet looking for an accessible version, but to no avail. Not having a subscription to TLS, I had to patiently wait until the University of Pittsburgh library received its copy. It finally hit the periodical shelves a week or so ago, and I eagerly made a photocopy. You can read of scan of the review here.
The five books under Kotkin’s analytical gaze are:
Gleb Pavlovsky, Genialnaya vlast! Slovar abstraktsii kremlya, Evropa, 2011
Masha Gessen, The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin, Riverhead, 2012
Augus Roxburgh, The Strongman: Vladimir Putin and the Struggle for Russia, Tauris, 2012
Sean P. Roberts, Putin’s United Russia Party, Routledge, 2011
Allen C. Lynch, Vladimir Putin and Russian Statecraft, Potomac, 2011
Here are some of my favorite passages:
This one-man capture of the State has stood out as utterly singular in writings on Russia. Throw in Putin’s KGB background and all the lingering emotions and politics of the Cold War, and Russia’s ostensible singularity becomes magnified. But the world knows myriad examples of personal rule, caudillos, juntas, in countries small and large. Did not Indonesia’s Suharto appoint senior military officers, equivalent to Putin’s KGB types, to civilian posts, whence they enriched themselves in the name of sovereignty and state security? Is not today’s Georgia under Mikheil Saakashviii essentially a one-man regime under which a tiny clique of associates holds sway over the executive, parliament and main national television channels, with a constitution altered by fiat and an opposition chased from the streets with truncheons? We would do well to understand that such regimes are often feeble, even before they reveal themselves to be so, and yet they are not so easily dislodged. They wield numerous instruments—tax police, courts, buy-offs—that are useful only for certain tasks, like holding on to power. Stalin excepted, the more leaders in Russia have pushed for a “strong state”, the more they end up producing weak personal rule and institutional mush. In the end, whether the current Russian regime falls or survives, the colossal modernization challenge will persist.
Pavlovsky draws a telling contrast with Karl Rove’s efforts under George W. Bush to create a permanent Republican Party majority, which failed. The “Putin majority”, he explains, encompasses people on the state budget (such as pensioners), the working class, state functionaries and the security services, and women. In other words, those who bore the burdens of the Yeltsin “reforms”, the losers of the 1990s, became the winners of the 2000s. The majority holds, provided the state budget can continue to find the largesse for its outlays, and the people continue to stay out of politics. But now? If the election of 2000 institutionalized the Putin majority, Pavlovsky concludes, the election of 2012 will institutionalize the “permanent insulted minority”.
When the voluble Sobchak inconveniently recalled Purin’s role differently from the emerging official line, he was, Gessen implies, murdered by poisoning. She piles up the suspicious corpses, recounting the death by polonium radiation of Alexander Litvinenko in London and the murders of the investigative journalists Yuri Shchekochikhin and Anna Politkovskaya, among others. Gessen’s friends fear she may be next. She is right that the regime shrinks from no act or method, but proving matters is not simple. In her telling, the deadly terrorist siege of a Moscow theatre turns out to have been a convoluted set-up; and the fatal storming of a school held hostage in Beslan two years later was unnecessary (Putin could have acceded to the terrorists’ demands). Tarring Putin, rather than just his associates, with corruption, she recounts the story of his supposed $1 billion dacha complex on the Black Sea, invoking the notion of pleonexia (an “insatiable desire to have what rightfully belongs to others”). Conversely, she tells us that Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the jailed tycoon, “invested money and energy in constructing a new political system”. She offers a similarly one-sided account of the destruction of Vladimir Gusinsky’s empire (”The day the media died”), where she used to work. Repeatedly, she scolds the New York Times for its allegedly naive response to these events. Above all, she frog-marches Putin’s facilitators before her interviewer’s court. Berezovsky, we hear, rues the day he ever helped him. Andrei IIlarionov, who worked as Putin’s top economic adviser, rues the day. William Browder, who applauded Khodorkovsky’s arrest before his own investment fund was evacuated under duress, rues the day. Gessen derides her peers for being taken in by Medvedev’s talk of modernization (“The intelligentsia ate it up”), then lets on that her recent boss, the ultra-rich Mikhail Prokhorov, a permitted presidential candidate, “just might topple the system”.
And finally, Kotkin concludes:
After twelve years at the pinnacle of power, with twelve more in prospect, Putin remains at a loss as to how to move Russia to the next level, towards a version of the modernity he rightly says the country needs. As for the man-boy Medvedev, even now he continues his enervating verbiage. “The old model, which faithfully and truly served our state in recent years, and did not serve it badly, and which we all defended – it has exhausted itself’, he remarked on December 17. Why have these endless calls for modernization not been answered? Masha Gessen has the simplest response: it was mostly a ruse. Angus Roxburgh’s explanation comes via a Russian businessman, who tells him that corruption “is the entire system – the political system, the business establishment, the police, the judiciary, the government, from top to bottom, all intertwined and inseparable”. Allen Lynch, too, singles out structural impediments, as well as accumulated Soviet rot and geopolitical constraints, some self-imposed. Russia wants to deal with the West and China from a position of equality, but it cannot; Russia wants to be a global power centre in its own right, the hub of a Eurasian Union, but it is not. Pavlovsky suggests another piece of the answer, on top of the exigencies of the global economy: Putin has exposed himself as ever more cocky and vindictive, and bereft of the political agility of his first term, refusing all concessions and unable to revive a sense of a future. Russia deserves better, but is in line for more of the same.Post Views: 144