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‘The emperor has no clothes’ Russian political scientist Valery Solovey says he lost his prestigious job in Moscow academia ‘for political reasons’

Source: Meduza
Vladimir Gerdo / TASS

Political scientist and historian Valery Solovey has left his position as the chair of the Public Relations Department at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO). Solovey says he stepped down “for political reasons.” Though the decision was reached unofficially in late May, Solovey only announced it on June 19 in a Facebook post. Spokespeople for MGIMO have been guarded about the scholar’s departure. In his many lectures and public appearances, Valery Solovey has repeatedly predicted radical changes coming to Russia, such as Vladimir Putin leaving the presidency early, nationwide mass protests, and restrictions on Russians traveling abroad. Meduza’s Vladislav Gorin spoke to Solovey about being forced from MGIMO and his various prognostications, including his latest about a revolution coming next year to Russia.

Valery Solovey told Meduza that he submitted a letter of resignation at the request of his department heads at MGIMO. He says he was led to believe that the school’s decision was “politically motivated” by forces outside the institute, who were apparently upset with his “anti-state propaganda and [efforts to] undermine [Russia’s] political stability.” “With high confidence,” Solovey says, “it can be assumed that powerful political pressure was exerted.”

Who was behind this meddling into academia? Solovey says he doesn’t know. It may have been the Foreign Ministry or it may have been the Kremlin, but he says he didn’t dig into the matter, in order to avoid “a messy trench war.” Solovey ties his ouster to the recent news that Moscow’s Higher School of Economics is disbanding its Political Science Department, which employs Alexander Kynev. Whoever has been orchestrating this academic purge, Solovey says, the “pressure” is never a direct order, but “happens in the form of persistent advice, opinions, and wishes.”

Solovey insists that he was forced out of MGIMO because he was too objective. “The analytical description of reality is now itself starting to look politically dangerous,” he says, arguing that he never insulted the government or advocated any actions against the state.

Solovey does not have overwhelmingly positive thoughts about the academics who have held onto their jobs, whether in academia or at Russia’s state-owned pollsters. “Regardless of the university, the professors now are absolutely servile and opportunistic, or, to put it more gently, they’re conformist-minded and silent,” he told Meduza. He believes his crime was saying publicly that “the emperor has no clothes” in an era when “there’s a certain conspiracy of official propaganda to hide reality at all costs.”

Known to many for his predictions of upheaval, Solovey told Meduza that he expects Russia to face a “sine wave” of nationwide political crisis, beginning next year, that will end within two years, forcing Vladimir Putin from office before his current term expires in 2024. Solovey says he still isn’t sure how exactly the Putin regime will fall, explaining that the process could be evolutionary or revolutionary. (Asked what an evolutionary end to Putinism might look like, Solovey says it would require the dissolution of the current State Duma and new elections under rules that were in place back in 2003 and 1995, when political coalitions and candidacy was more open.)

But hasn’t Solovey made inaccurate predictions in the past? Yes, he has, but in his own defense he says he’s only working with current events and what he learns from his sources. Things don’t always play out the way they seem they will. In 2014 and again in 2016, Solovey says, Vladimir Putin was allegedly close to tapping former Finance Minister Alexey Kudrin as a deputy prime minister to spearhead new economic reforms. This didn’t happen, but Solovey wrote about its possibility, regardless, he points out.

Valery Solovey says observers minimize the significance of the Ivan Golunov case when they talk about the public backlash in terms of the demand for police reforms. In fact, he argues, it’s the “beginning of the formation of a new political behavior” and a “qualitative transformation of the mass consciousness.” Moscow’s law enforcement may have harshly suppressed the June 12 protest against fabricated criminal cases, but Solovey is convinced that the Putin regime’s repressive tactics wouldn't hold up against larger crowds (he says groups as large as 25,000 people will overwhelm the police’s capacity to move detainees), partly due to officers’ own reluctance.

Asked about the legal restrictions on self-defense — another sensitive issue in Russia this summer, thanks in part to the case against the Khachaturyan sisters — Solovey says he expects major reforms to laws on domestic violence, but not to the law-enforcement system itself. (A true overhaul of this system, he argues, is impossible without more significant regime change.)

With all this talk about revolution and public protest, Meduza also asked Solovey why the recent decision to raise the country’s retirement ages — perhaps the most unpopular policy Vladimir Putin has ever adopted — hasn’t provoked larger protests and sparked the mass movement he has predicted. “Social processes have their own logic that’s not very clear to us,” Solovey says, arguing that more time is needed for squeezed pensions to develop into the kind of issue that sends people into the streets. In the end, Solovey insists, it’s “minor external causes” that spark mass demonstrations.

Interview by Vladislav Gorin

Summary by Kevin Rothrock