Why I have added “he/him/his” to my e-mail signature

I have recently started receiving e-mails from correspondents in the United States with pronouns listed in their signatures. This practice has started as a way to feel transgender people feel more included, a goal I fully support. In addition, however, it might help those unfamiliar with Russian names realize that Mischa is a male name.

Incidentally, while I personally have little interest in defining my own ethnic or national or other identity in general terms, I am very sensitive about the correct spelling of my name and do not respond well to people thinking they can alter that spelling because my name is “foreign” or just a transliteration from another language anyway. There are two spellings of my name, which reflect my biography and the fact that I publish in different languages. So please note that:

  • the only correct spelling of my name in languages that use the Latin alphabet is Mischa Gabowitsch (not “Misha” or “Mikhail” and not “Gabowitz,” “Gabovich” or the like),
  • and the only correct form of my name in Russian is Михаил Габович — not Миша, which is OK in informal correspondence but not in formal contexts such as publications.

“Foreign agents”

UPD: Same list in English (thanks to Anna Sevortian for pointing this out).

Article20.org has the most reliable list (in Russian) of NGOs already subject to accusations of being “foreign agents.” The list includes 51 organizations so far and is grouped in three categories:

  1. those already being fined for refusing to register as “foreign agents”;
  2. those officially asked to register as “foreign agents”;
  3. those “warned” that they need to register as “foreign agents” if they receive foreign funding in the future or plan to engage in “political activities.”

While the work of several of the organizations in each category is highly relevant to social science research (Golos‘s election monitoring programs are a case in point), several of the institutions listed are specifically devoted to the social sciences:

  1. The Panorama Center in Moscow, which has been at the forefront of documenting the details of Russian politics for a quarter of a century
  2. The Center for Social Policy and Gender Studies in Saratov, publisher of the internationally respected Journal of Social Policy Studies and a host of monographs and edited volumes in sociology and social policy studies
  3. The Grany Center in Perm, which produces highly valuable studies of the third sector in Russia
  4. The International Memorial Society in Moscow, primarily a research institution specializing in the history of Stalinist repression, but also in human rights abuses and other aspects of contemporary Russian society (their human rights division has received a separate demand to register as a foreign agent)
  5. Transparency International, a well-known corruption watchdog
  6. The Levada Center (see previous post)
  7. and, somewhat bizarrely, the All-Russian Center for Public Opinion Research, often considered Levada’s “evil twin”

If all or many of these organizations were to close as a result of the libellous accusations, most of our sources of first-hand social scientific knowledge about Russia would vanish.

Save the Levada Center and other social science institutions in Russia!

Independent social science is once more under attack in Russia. It feels uncannily like early 2008, when the European University at Saint Petersburg was shut down for several weeks and an international solidarity campaign contributed to saving it. Only this time the threat is more serious and more global. I have therefore decided to devote the English version of my blog to supporting the growing international campaign to help the Levada Center and other independent social science institutions that are suffering from the current wave of state repressions against non-governmental organizations accused of being “foreign agents”. (The German version of this blog is tied to my recent book Putin kaputt!? Russlands neue Protestkultur, the first full-length study of the 2011- Russian protest movement.)

First, here are the facts: the Levada Center, Russia’s best known public opinion research institute, has received a “warning” from the Savyolovo inter-district prosecutor’s office in Moscow accusing it of being a “foreign agent”. This is based on a recent law that obliges all NGOs that receive any foreign funding and engage in “political activity” to identify themselves as “foreign agents” in all official documents and public pronouncements, a measure that harks back to Stalinist terror, but also to McCarthyism in the U.S. and to the Nazis’ yellow-start policy for anyone identified as a Jew. In the case of the Levada Center, not only is the foreign funding the Center receives actually a neglibile part of its budget; the “political activity” it is supposedly engaged in consists in publishing its survey results.

This accusation comes after a series of demonstrative visits by the procuracy, justice ministry, and other government agencies to over 600 NGOs across Russia since March. A number of those harassed in this way are independent research organizations in the social sciences. As a result of these visits, several NGOs have been formally accused of being “foreign agents”; the most prominent among them, an election monitoring association called Golos, is being asked to pay a large fine and has been forced to shut down most of its operations.

In this first post, I will limit myself to listing a number of resources relevant to the attack on the Levada Center and, more generally, those aspects of the current wave of repressive measures that specifically concern the social sciences. (Later I will collect and systematize these and other links on my page devoted to academic freedom in the former Soviet Union.) Suggestions on what to do to help, inspired by the successful 2008 campaign to save the European University, will follow.

A New York Times article on the case.

The News section on the Levada Center’s website (in Russian), with updates on the situation and statements of support.

Appeal for Solidarity with the Levada Centrein German, English, and Russian, including English and German translations of a statement by Lev Gudkov, director of the Levada Center, and a German translation of the “warning” issued by the prosecutor’s office. Set up by Osteuropa, the main German journal of East European affairs.

English translation of the prosecutorial “warning.”

Italian version of Gudkov’s statement.

French version of Gudkov’s statement.

French version of the petition text.

Change.org petition in support of the Levada Center. Unfortunately (for technical reasons) the text on the change.org web site is in German only, but is simply the German version of the “Appeal for Solidarity” listed above, and I have suggested to the organizers that they should paste the other language versions below the list of signatories.

Declaration of support by the OIROM, the Russian Association for Market and Opinion Research, in Russian. Interestingly, one of the signatories is Valerii Fedorov, who has headed the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion ever since Yurii Levada’s team was forced to leave that organization in 2003.

Statement of support by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology, in Russian.

Podcast of a radio interview (in Russian) with sociologists Maria Matskevich, Viktor Voronkov, and Alexandra Dmitrieva, about the attack on the Levada Center and what it means for the future of sociological research in Russia. Here it is in embedded format: