MOSCOW, September 27 (RIA Novosti) – The Kremlin said Friday that President Vladimir Putin had signed into law a controversial bill to reform the Academy of Sciences, the country’s leading scientific research establishment comprising about 50,000 researchers in its 434 affiliated institutions.
The upper house of Russia’s parliament gave overwhelming approval for the bill on Wednesday, with 135 members voting in favor and only two abstaining. At the same time, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the legislature’s building in downtown Moscow.
The bill’s main provisions transfer the management of most academic property to a new federal government agency and merge three previously existing academies – focusing on the sciences in general, medicine and agriculture – into one, but bar the state from interfering in the academy’s scholarly activities.
An earlier version of the bill approved by the lower house of parliament, the State Duma, provided for the abolition of the academy, but the bill was reworked considering strong protests from the scientific community.
While the academy is to retain the right to shape the research agenda of its numerous institutes and distribute budget funds for research projects, opponents of the reform have worried how large a role the new property management agency – to be created under the new law – will play in the affairs of the academy, which will officially be a federal state-funded establishment.
The property management agency will be answerable directly to the prime minister, who will also appoint the head of the agency, a decision subject to presidential approval. The incumbent head of the academy, Vladimir Fortov, will stay in office for at least three years, according to the legislation.
Fortov said Friday that the new law would help science develop and added that the legislation’s drawbacks would be rectified by bylaws.
The reform has led to a public clash between scientists and authorities, with academy supporters holding numerous protest rallies countrywide since July.
Moscow police estimated the number of demonstrators outside the parliament building on Wednesday at about 200. Four protesters were briefly detained for disturbing the peace, as the rally was unauthorized, the police press service told RIA Novosti.
Despite decades of decline since the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Academy of Sciences is still the country’s top scientific research establishment. Critics have attributed the decline to the academy’s cumbersome and obsolete structure.