MOSCOW, September 17 (RIA Novosti) – Several dozen Russian scholars and their supporters protested against plans to reform the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow on Tuesday, as lawmakers met to discuss the proposed changes.
The reform initiative, which was rolled back Tuesday from the third to the second reading in the State Duma, the lower house of Russia’s parliament, proposes passing control over the 400-plus research institutions under the Russian Academy of Sciences to a government agency. Critics say this would cripple research.
As protesters rallied outside, work on the bill continued in the Duma on Tuesday, and a crucial second reading was proposed for Wednesday.
City police estimated the turnout at 150, including journalists, while academy member Valery Rybakov, an expert on quantum theory who took part in the protest, told Kommersant daily about 500 demonstrators came.
Ahead of the rally, organizers expressed the hope that this issue would draw crowds rivaling those seen at the anti-government rallies that have become a staple feature of Moscow’s political life since late 2011, bringing tens of thousands of people out into the streets.
The serried ranks of police deployed to the unsanctioned rally did not intervene. Inside the Duma, members of the pro-Kremlin United Russia-controlled parliament rejected the opposition’s proposal to let the protestors in.
This week, lawmakers found themselves – and their academic records – targeted by Russian scholars, as on Monday the grassroots group Scholar Society accused 25 lawmakers of plagiarizing dozens of pages in their respective dissertations.
The list, available online along with comparisons between the theses and alleged source material, included prominent Russian lawmakers Vladimir Burmatov and Olga Batalina.
These accusations triggered an angry backlash. Burmatov called it “blackmail” and “nonsense,” while Batalina dismissed their “pseudo-exposés.”
Anatoly Vyborny, a United Russia member who sits on the Duma’s anti-corruption committee and who was not named in this list, said the accusations were an attempt to pressure lawmakers and hinted that legal action against those behind them may follow.
Russia was rocked by a string of scandals over plagiarized dissertations earlier this year: A dozen officials were stripped of doctoral degrees, and others publicly dismissed plagiarism allegations.
The government introduced the bill to reform the Academy in July, and the pro-Kremlin parliament fast-tracked it within days. But it was put on hold following mass protests from senior and rank-and-file academy members who said that the reform was not discussed with them and ignored their interests.