SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: October 13, 2023

Attack Types: Other

Institution(s):Berlin Center for Eastern European and International Studies

Region & Country:Europe | Russia

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On October 13, 2023, Russia’s prosecutor general announced the designation of the Center for Eastern European and International Studies (ZOiS)–a Berlin-based research institution focused on conflict, migration, diversity, and political economy in post-Soviet Eastern and Central European countries–as an “undesirable” organization for allegedly promoting “ideas of hatred towards [Russia].”

ZOiS was conducting field research on the self-identification of Ukrainian and Russian civilians living in the Donbas region in Ukraine and on Russians who had fled to Georgia, Armenia and Germany after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Russia’s prosecutor general accused ZOiS of spreading anti-Russia propaganda by “initiat[ing] anti-Russian sentiments, discredit[ing] the authority of Russia in the international arena, destabiliz[ing] the socio-political situation within our country, and promot[ing] information that distorts the history of the Russian state.”

ZOiS is the first German scientific institution on the banned list.

ZOiS’s designation as undesirable comes amidst a larger crackdown on universities and research organizations, including the designation of the Central European University (see report), Moscow-based Free University (see report), and Bard College (see report) as “undesirable” organizations. Passed in May 2015, the “undesirable organization” law (Article 20.33 of Russia’s Code of Administrative Offences) provides Russia’s Prosecutor General and Foreign Ministry with the power to register foreign or international institutions as “undesirable organizations” if they present a “threat to the defensive capabilities or security of the state, to the public order, or to the health of the population.” Entities registered as “undesirable organizations” are banned from operating in Russia. Non-governmental organizations in Russia that work with or are supported by organizations classified as “undesirable” can be charged with violating the law. Since the law was passed, a growing number of foreign organizations that have been publicly critical of human rights conditions in Russia have been registered under this title. Those affiliated with an “undesirable organization” could face fines, restrictions on activities, travel bans, or jail sentences of up to four years.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about apparent retaliation against an independent research institution by foreign authorities for the content of its academic research. State authorities have a responsibility not to interfere with the peaceful exercise of the rights to academic freedom and freedom of association, so long as those activities are undertaken peacefully and responsibly. Actions aimed at limiting research and collaboration harm academic freedom and undermine society generally.