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 16, 2023

Attack Types: Other

Institution(s):Central European University

Region & Country:Europe | Russia

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On October 16, 2023, Russia’s prosecutor general labeled the Central European University (CEU), a Vienna-based research university founded by the Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros, an “undesirable” organization for allegedly discrediting Russian political leadership and the “Special Military Operation” in Ukraine.

The prosecutor general accused CEU of spreading anti-Russia propaganda by “devalu[ing] and distort[ing] the history of the Russian state, downplay[ing] the merits of prominent Russian scientists, writers, and cultural figures, and promote[ing] pseudo-statements about Russia’s guilt in all world cataclysms.” In designating the university as “undesirable,” Russian citizens are now also banned from participating in CEU programs and courses, and risk persecution if found to be associated with the university. Around 100 Russian citizens attended CEU as of early 2024.

CEU’s designation comes amidst a larger crackdown on universities and research organizations, including the designation of the Moscow-based Free University and Bard College as “undesirable” organizations (see report and report). 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 university in response to its political or ideological affiliations. 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.