By Paul Goble
In the 1990s, those who came to power believed that if they had enough money from the sale of raw materials, they could buy anything else they needed and so put Russia on the path to economic and intellectual degradation, Academician Robert Nigmatulin says.
Now, the head of the Academy of Sciences Institute of Oceanology says, the country’s leaders seem to think that they can solve that problem simply by throwing money at it, an indication that they do not understand how science and technology work and that they are only going to make things worse (nakanune.ru/articles/120869/).
Scholarship, research and development have been underfunded, Nigmatulin says; and it will be most helpful if these key fields are given more funding. But that alone won’t solve the problems Russia faces in these areas. Other steps are required, and the leadership needs to be told that directly.
Unfortunately, most officials who supervise science in Russia today are effective managers and yes men who tell those above them what they want to hear rather than the truth; and even more unfortunately, those above them are all too pleased to accept the idea that everything is fine and that the leadership need not take any additional steps.
The authorities must take steps to create environments in which young scholars can flourish. Then they won’t leave Russia or may even choose to return, although Nigmatullin says that in his view, a significant portion of those who have left already are unlikely to do so unless things change in fundamental ways.
“Unfortunately,” he continues, “the leadership of the country doesn’t understand this. It starts from the position that it knows everything better than we do … But no, they don’t.” The leadership needs to be told the truth, and it needs to act on it. The longer that doesn’t happen, the more difficult it will be to recover.
Those who have been misleading the leadership by telling it what it wants to hear need to “repent.” “I am not in any case seeking blood,” Nigmatullin says; “but there must be repentance” for what they have done so that this negative pattern of the last 30 years will be overcome.
At the same time, he suggests, the country’s leadership must may far more attention to the real and ramified needs of science than it does and should take as its model Soviet times when scholars ran institutes and political figures attended meetings of academics for more than a few minutes.