Ivar Juhkam: Let us stand against Putin, not young Russians

Ivar Juhkam.
Ivar Juhkam. Source: Private collection

I hope the heads of the University of Tartu will, in the future, have the wisdom to take measures aimed against Vladimir Putin and his cronies, not ordinary Russian and Belarusian youths, Ivar Juhkam writes.

The University of Tartu Senate decided on March 7 not to admit new bachelor's and master's students from Russia and Belarus this year. The Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech) and Tallinn University are considering similar decisions, with Minister of Education and Research Liina Kersna's blessing, it seems.

As admitted by Kersna in a recent Facebook post, such (in my opinion ill-considered) sanctions also hit ordinary Russian citizens who do not approve of the aggression [in Ukraine].

It is clear that Russia's attack, that ignores human values and every possible aspect of international law, needs to be opposed. We also need to stand up against Russia's allies' (Belarus, Syria etc.) support of the aggression, whether their backing for war crimes is active, such as by contributing troops, or passive in publicly justifying a war of conquest.

Many countries and organizations have stood up against the aggression, helping civilians fleeing from Ukraine who have come under a beastly attack by Putin's forces, dispatching humanitarian aid or helping Ukraine in other ways. Many ordinary Estonians have also supported Ukraine in their own way, donating money and items. Others have stood next to compatriots at support rallies, to demonstrate their solidarity.

Many countries have also ordered sanctions against Putin's regime, both economic and aimed at the Russian leadership.

While sanctions against the regime are undeniably justified and even necessary, I hold the UT Senate's decision to be ill-considered and urge the university to overturn its decision and Tallinn University and other higher education providers not to make such an inconsiderate call.

As admitted by Kersna and University of Tartu Vice-Rector Aune Valk, the decision also affects young people who do not support Putin. What is more, Valk admits in an opinion piece published by ERR: "…we can assume that most of the 70-80 Russian or Belarusian people who come to the university each year are rather pro-Western. That would likely also be the case this year."

Therefore, even the proponents of the decision admit that it rather affects pro-Western youths. Its effect on the supporters of the Putin regime is negligible, if that. The Russian elite backing Putin's junta prefers Western European and U.S. universities to Tartu where I have yet to see a single offspring of a Russian oligarch. Tartu rather tends to be the destination of Russian young people who value Western education and want to inhabit a free country.

Aune Valk writes that, "the European security situation has thoroughly changed. The university cannot control or consider the mentality of prospective students," and that, "We cannot be sure that the authorities in Russia and Belarus will not take advantage of the possibility to send to Estonian universities people whose stay can be used for other than free academic pursuits."

This prompts me to ask how does the university plan to ensure the pro-Estonian sentiment and loyalty of students who are Estonian citizens? Neither an Estonian passport nor background is a guarantee of patriotism, and believing that we can keep those supporting the Putin regime out of the university by refusing to admit certain countries' citizens is ridiculous.

There are Russian and Belarusian citizens who would like to come to Estonia to be able to live in a free society, just as there are Estonians who would prefer to see a "father figure" with an iron fist running things. Therefore, I find the Senate's decision unfair and hope that the university's leaders have enough common sense and wisdom to review the decision and, in the future, take measures aimed against Vladimir Putin and his cronies, not ordinary Russian and Belarusian youths.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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