Joint statement: Russian universities must remain free from authoritarianism

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Russian universities must remain free from authoritarianism

Brussels, 19.02.2021


Traditionally, universities have been often at the forefront of positive social change and enlightenment, bringing us numerous universal rights and freedoms. There is no place for authoritarianism in modern societies, and universities should be especially committed to promoting intellectual freedom as a precondition for peaceful human development. 

Against these principles, several Russian universities have announced punishments and expulsions for the participation of their students in peaceful protests calling for the release of Alexei Navalny and demanding democracy in the country. By echoing the authoritarian state practices, these universities are putting themselves on the wrong side of history, hindering intellectual and social progress rather than facilitating it. 

As civil society organisations representing young people from all over Europe, we urge Russian universities to remain true to the Magna Charta Universitatum which emphasises the idea of the university as an autonomous institution independent from political authority and safeguarding the freedoms of its students. 

We also call on all academic institutions belonging to the European Higher Education Area to deplore the punitive actions of some of their Russian counterparts in retaliation for the peaceful political engagement of their members. Furthermore, we invite European universities to consider opening special scholarship schemes for students expelled from their home institutions on political grounds in Russia and elsewhere. By doing so, they can demonstrate their commitment to promoting what academia stands for – the freedom to express oneself and empower others to do the same.


On 17th January 2021, Russia’s opposition leader Alexei Navalny was detained at the airport in Moscow, where he returned after receiving medical treatment in Germany following a near-fatal poisoning orchestrated by the Russian government. In response to the arrest, protests took place in over 100 cities several weekends in a row, gathering tens of thousands participants, including many young people. The peaceful demonstrations were met with a violent response from the police. 

The Magna Charta Universitatum is a document laying down the principles of academic freedom and autonomy signed by 904 universities from 88 countries, including 17 from Russia. Some of the Russian signatories include the biggest academic institutions like Moscow State University (MSU) and Saint Petersburg State University (SPSU) which, along with other non-signatories, have either expelled students or threatened to do so for their participation in the protests.


About us

The Young European Federalists (JEF Europe) is a non-partisan youth NGO with 10,000  members active in over 30 countries. The organisation strives towards a federal Europe based on the principles of democracy and subsidiarity as well as respect for human rights.


The European Students’ Union (ESU) is the umbrella organisation of 45 National Unions of Students (NUS) from 40 countries. The NUSes are open to all students in their respective country regardless of political persuasion, religion, ethnic or cultural origin, sexual orientation or social standing. ESU members are also student-run, autonomous, representative and operate according to democratic principles. The aim of ESU is to represent and promote the educational, social, economic and cultural interests of students at the European level towards all relevant bodies and in particular the European Union, Bologna Follow Up Group, Council of Europe and UNESCO. Through its members, ESU represents almost 20 million students in Europe.


The Youth Democratic Movement “VESNA” is a non-partisan Russian youth NGO campaigning not only for human rights and democracy but also for academic freedom for more than 8 years in numerous Russian regions


Our previous positions

15.02.2021 ESU Solidarity statement on students’ protests in Turkey

17.11.2020 ESU Statement of the Belarusian Students’ Association (BSA)

05.11.2020 ESU Resolution on the Pressure on Academia in Belarus

01.04.2020 JEF Europe Press release: We need to act now to safeguard democracy and the rule of law in Europe 

24.03.2019 JEF Europe Resolution: EU Foreign Policy towards Russia




Chris Powers

Executive Board Member, JEF Europe


Borna Nemet

Human Rights and Solidarity Coordinator 


Valentin Khoroshenin
International Office Member, YDM “VESNA”


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