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Russian Castigates NAS For Making 'Vague Accusations'

Editor's Note: The Sept. 28, 1992, issue of The Scientist (page 1) contained an article reporting on a letter from two officials of the National Academy of Sciences to Igor R. Shafarevich, a foreign associate of NAS and head of the algebra section of the V.A. Steklov Institute in Moscow, the mathematics institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences. In the 1970s, Shafarevich criticized the Soviet government, calling for increased human rights in the USSR. The unprecedented letter, signed by Fra

By | December 7, 1992

Editor's Note: The Sept. 28, 1992, issue of The Scientist (page 1) contained an article reporting on a letter from two officials of the National Academy of Sciences to Igor R. Shafarevich, a foreign associate of NAS and head of the algebra section of the V.A. Steklov Institute in Moscow, the mathematics institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences. In the 1970s, Shafarevich criticized the Soviet government, calling for increased human rights in the USSR.

The unprecedented letter, signed by Frank Press and James B. Wyngaarden, NAS president and foreign secretary, respectively, cited "anti-Semitic writings" in Russo-phobia, a text written by Shafarevich. It also said, ". . . we are informed that there are few, if any, Jewish members of the Steklov Institute in Moscow. . is appropriate for you to maintain your membership in the National Academy of Sciences."

In the following essay, Shafarevich responds to the article in the September 28 issue of The Scientist and criticizes the academy's letter. He notes that although the letter implied that he is responsible for hiring decisions at the Steklov, in the past he was excluded from the Steklov's power structure. In retaliation for his dissident activities in the 1970s, he says, he was ousted from the Steklov's Scientific Council. He denies that he has prevented Jews from publishing, as a quote from Wyngaarden in The Scientist implied. "Not a single example was given to support these accusations" by the academy, Shafarevich writes.

In his essay, Shafarevich also defends Russophobia, maintaining that he has the right to theorize on "national relations." He writes, ". . . it is the right of free discussion of some problems that is disputed."

In the past two months, a number of individuals and groups have contacted NAS to express their views about the academy's actions

This is a response to the publication of "Academy Criticism Of A Foreign Associate Stirs Debate Over NAS Role and Policies" in The Scientist (Barbara Spector, Sept. 28, 1992, page 1). The object of the "criticism" was my paper "Russophobia," published in Nash Sovremennik ("Our Contemporary") magazine (volumes 6 and 11, 1989) and also as a booklet (published by Tovaris-chestvo Russkih Hudozhinikov [Association of Russian Artists], Moscow, 1991). A letter from Frank Press, the president of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States (I am a foreign associate member of NAS), calls "Russophobia" an "anti-Semitic writing" (without giving any arguments or quotations from the text in support of the statement) and asks me "to consider whether it is appropriate for [me] to maintain [my] membership" in the academy.

First I want to elucidate some points not connected with my paper. The letter from President Press makes me responsible for the way the staff of the Mathematical Institute in Moscow is selected. It is probably not easy to appraise in an unbiased way the functioning of the Mathematical Institute during the last few decades. However, it is quite easy to estimate my part in the decision-making there.

For a long time I was excluded from the Scientific Council of the Institute and had not the slightest opportunity to influence its decisions. I was reinstated at the Scientific Council less than four years ago. (For a long period, mathematicians were only excluded from my section.) I myself have not lost my position thanks to a rule that a member of the Russian Academy can't be dismissed from an Institute of the Academy. However, I have lost my position as a professor at Moscow University. All this was a reprisal for my activity against the persecution of religion and the detention of some persons in psychiatric hospitals for political reasons; my support of Andrei Sakharov and Alexander Solzhenitsyn; and my criticism of communism, socialism, and Marxism.

I was also dumbfounded by the statement of the foreign secretary of NAS, James B. Wyngaarden, as quoted in The Scientist, where he says that I used my position "to interfere with the careers of young Jewish mathematicians." He also compares me with the late NAS member William Shockley, who expressed the view that lower achievement of the black people in science is determined by biological differences. But, says Wyngaarden, the difference "is that Shockley didn't prevent [blacks] from publishing"--implying that I have prevented somebody (presumably some Jewish mathematicians) from doing it. Not a single example was given to support these accusations, and they were actually refuted by the statements of my former students now residing in the U.S. and quoted by The Scientist.

Such accusations can't be qualified even as a distortion of facts--they have no connection to facts at all. The same can be said about a statement in The Scientist that "According to mathematicians in the U.S. with close ties to Russia, in recent years Shafarevich has been appearing on Russian television to express his support for extreme Russian nationalist, anti-Semitic organizations such as Pamyat." I can't recollect a single instance when I have even mentioned the name of Pamyat! I challenge the authors of these statements to support them by a single fact or to refute them openly.

Now I come to my paper "Russophobia" and its alleged "anti- Semitism." I have an uneasy feeling that many passionate critics of the paper have not read it. In "Russophobia," I have called attention to the vague and indeterminate way in which the term "anti-Semitism" is commonly used. Nobody explains what it concretely means. It is such a vague accusation that it can't in principle be disproved. And so it is used to silence opponents. In this way it resembles the accusation of "anti-Sovietism" so popular in our country until lately. The critics of my paper are certainly under no obligation to agree with me, but, if honest, they should give justification for the accusations they make. However, none of them has done that.

In my paper, the activity of certain Jewish radical literary and political groups and trends (during the Revolution of 1917 as well as in recent times) is discussed. There is also a detailed explanation of my view that this does not concern the Jewish nation as a whole (Nash Sovremennik, 6:189-90; 11:163, 165).

All discussion of national relations was forbidden in our country until the last few years. As a result, all conflicts were suppressed and became much more painful. My conviction is that it is much more wholesome to discuss openly all sides of all national relations--Anglo-Irish, Ukraino-Russian, Jewish-Russian, and so forth--on equitable terms. Indeed, I believe it is the only reasonable way.

I think that this is exactly the question under debate: whether these problems should be discussed or not. The fantastic and absolutely unfounded accusations like "interfering with the careers of young Jewish mathematicians" have the purpose of making the situation look more respectable. But these accusations can't camouflage the fact that it is the right of free discussion of some problems that is disputed. The fact that this attack on the freedom of thought is undertaken by the officials of the Academy of Sciences is really frightening. As I already wrote to President Press, in the worst of times in our country, my membership in the Russian Academy of Sciences was not questioned despite my radical criticism of communism and socialism, published in the West; and the membership of Sakharov was not questioned even while he was exiled.

We are all tied together in the modern world. I believe that such atmosphere of witch-hunting in the American scientific community is a danger to thinking people all over the world.

Igor R. Shafarevich, a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and a foreign associate of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, is head of the algebra section of the V.A. Steklov Institute in Moscow, the mathematics institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences.


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