Hundreds protest across Russia as Duma gives first nod to Academy of Sciences reform

Hundreds protest across Russia as Duma gives first nod to Academy of Sciences reform
Pickets and rallies have taken place in major Russian cities and near the Lower House HQ, but the State Duma still decided to vote on the controversial bill drastically changing the financing and property schemes in Russian science.

Several dozens people protested near the State Duma office in central Moscow on Wednesday morning as the Lower House prepared to discuss the bill in the first reading. A day earlier hundreds of scientists and students protested against the reform in many major Russian cities.

The head of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Trade Union, Viktor Kalinushkin, has told the press that more protests were planned and promised a nationwide action.

Regardless of these facts the Lower House held the vote and passed the bill in the first reading. The second reading was scheduled for Friday. The Communist Party caucus that opposed the reform and sought to postpone the second hearing till autumn left the session hall in protest and said they were not planning to return until the fall session.

The Academy of Sciences Reform Bill was prepared by the government and submitted to the Lower House in late June. Its basic points are the suggested merger of three existing academies (The Russian Academy of Sciences, Russian Academy of Medical Sciences and the Russian Academy of Agricultural Sciences) into one “public-state organization” and also the transfer of all property and funding to a federal “Agency of Science Institutes” that would be specially created for this purpose.

The second part was the primary cause of concern and protest as scientists worried that state-appointed bureaucrats would not understand the needs of scholars and researchers and in the worst case the whole initiative would end up as a major corruption scheme.

President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday replied with a public offer to the current President of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Vladimir Fortov, to combine his post with heading the property managing Agency of Science Institutes.

Fortov asked for some time to think on this suggestion and also asked the President to give him one year so that he could try to implement his own plan to reform the academies. “This could have been possible if the government have not drafted the reform bill to the parliament,” Putin replied. “Sometimes it is better to approve an initiative and make further amendments to it instead of just stalling in one place,” Putin noted.