Letter of Scholars in Support of Professor Mikhail Minakov

Mykhailo Minakov at Wilson
Mikhail Minakov during a presentation at Wilson Center, 2012.

As a group of scholars working on Ukraine and other post-Soviet states and in light of an ongoing controversy, we would like to express our support of Professor Mikhail Minakov who was recently appointed Principal Investigator on Ukraine at the Kennan Institute, a leading research institution on the post-Soviet region under the jurisdiction of the Wilson Center in Washington, DC.

The appointment was made as the Institute decided to end the contract of the Director of its Kyiv Office, Dr. Kateryna Smagliy. (On March 1, the Wilson Center announced the closing of the Office). On February 27, an Open Letter signed by 31 members of the Ukrainian Association of Kennan Institute Alumni stated that the decision may have been “politically motivated,” linked with the Institute’s “growing pro-Kremlin policies.” The charges related to the Institute’s public outreach initiatives and, in particular, its association with certain Russian and American businesspersons seen as close to the Kremlin and to a cultural event that featured artists who had been publicly supportive of the annexation of Crimea.

The Letter ended by objecting to Professor Minakov’s appointment, with the allegation that he is “known for his biased analysis of Ukraine’s post-Maidan developments” and is not “independent and academically balanced” enough to serve in this position and edit an online Kennan academic blog on Ukraine. No specifics were provided, but social media threads cited an op-ed that he published in the French newspaper Le Monde in September 2017, which claimed that “the ‘Revolution of Dignity’ had led to shameless corruption, militant nationalism and a decline in freedoms.”

While we understand that the Russia-fueled war in Donbas puts a constant strain on Ukrainian society, and that scholars and citizens at large have the right to criticize policies of institutions and organizations they do not agree with, we are nonetheless appalled that the sharp critical outlook of a scholar be considered grounds for denying him a research appointment. Academic freedom entails the freedom to share contentious interpretations. Any critical statement should remain an object of academic debate, however fierce the disagreements might be.

At issue is the assumption, implied in the Letter and all-too prevalent in the current climate, that public discourse is a zero-sum game, in which a contrarian view necessarily places someone in the opposing camp, namely, with the Russian state. We wish to stress that respecting intellectual freedom to critique policies and urge reforms without being called an agent of the Kremlin is not only a right in the open and liberal society that Ukrainians wish to live in but also a condition of its existence.

We have no doubt that Professor Minakov is deeply devoted to a vision of Ukraine as a free, democratic, inclusive and open society and that his life-long commitment to the study of Ukraine and to advancing the Ukrainian cause internationally is unquestionable.

Dominique Arel, U Ottawa

Anna Colin Lebedev, U Paris Nanterre

Mayhill Fowler, Stetson U

George G. Grabowicz, Harvard U

Oleh Kotsyuba, Ukrainian Research Institute, Harvard U

Sophie Lambroschini, Marc Bloch Center Berlin

François-Xavier Nérard, U Paris 1

Oxana Shevel, Tufts U

Ioulia Shukan, U Paris Nanterre


Signed by, in alphabetical order:

Alessandro Achilli, Monash U Melbourne

Alexander Adamiants, European College for Liberal Arts Minsk

Eric Aunoble, U de Genève

Margarita Balmaceda, Seton Hall U

Jan C. Behrends, ZZF Potsdam

Mark Beissinger, Princeton U

Simone A. Bellezza, U of Naples Federico II

Tetiana Bezruk, U Kyiv Mohyla Academy

Jochen Böhler, Friedrich-Schiller U

Alexey Bratochkin, European College for Liberal Arts Minsk

Giovanna Brogi, U of Milan

Jennifer Carroll, Brown U

Vasyl Cherepanyn, U Kyiv Mohyla Academy

Thomas Chopard, IHR, London U

Keith Darden, American U

Monica Eppinger, Saint Louis U

Alexander Etkind, European U Institute

Michael Flier, Harvard, U

Grzegorz Franczak, U of Milan

Christopher Gilley, Durham U Library

Elise Giuliano, Columbia U

Alexandra Goujon, U de Bourgogne

Catherine Gousseff, Marc Bloch Center Berlin

Yevhen Holovakha, Institute of Sociology Kyïv

Volodymyr Ishchenko, Kyïv Polytechnic Institute

Oksana Kis, Institute of Ethnology Kyïv

Hiroaki Kuromiya, U of Indiana

Pavlo Kutuev, Kyïv Polytechnic Institute

Anne Le Huérou, U Paris Nanterre

Tetyana Malyarenko, Odesa Law Academy

David Marples, U of Alberta

Mariya Mayerchyk, Feminist Critique

Jared McBride, UCLA

Oleksandr Melnyk, U of Alberta

Oksana Mikheieva, Ukrainian Catholic U

Anna Muller, U of Michigan Dearborn

Olena Petrenko, Ruhr-U Bochum

Jessica Pisano, New School U

Olha Plakhotnik, Feminist Critique

Gwendolyn Sasse, U of Oxford/ZOiS Berlin

Ulrich Schmid, U of St. Gallen

Dmytro Shevchuk, U of Ostroh Academy

Olga Shparaga, European College for Liberal Arts Minsk

Volodymyr Sklokin, Ukrainian Catholic U

Maria Sonevytsky, Bard College

Alfred Sproede, U Muenster

Roman Szporluk, Harvard U

Igor Torbakov, Uppsala U

Lucan Way, U of Toronto

Serhy Yekelchyk, U of Victoria

Oleksandr Zabirko, Ruhr-U Bochum

Jessica Zychowicz, U Michigan/Fulbright