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1968 Comes to Today's Russian Universities?

Last month, on December 18, students at the Russian State University of Trade and Economics [ru] (RSUTE) began a strike and blocked the main door of their alma mater. Controversy surrounds Sergei Baburin, the school's recently sacked chancellor, whose academic tenure overlapped with a long history of political activity. In December 2011, he became the leader of a new political coalition: the Russian Nationwide Union, a nationalist entity that aimed to challenge the country's “party of power,” United Russia. On November 4, 2012, Baburin and his comrades took part in a major nationalist parade on Unity Day in Moscow, where organizers even singled him out for special honors.

For the students, however, the main troubles lay elsewhere. In the wake of Baburin's resignation, state authorities determined that RSUTE was underperforming and announced that it would be merging with a smaller institution, the Plekhanov State Economic University (also known as Pleshka or Plekahnovka), which has only 17 thousand students to RSUTE's 75 thousand (scattered across multiple campuses).

Students turn to force in recent university policy dispute. Screenshot. 6 January 2013, date of Tweet: 26 December 2012.

Writing in online social networks, students have compared the merger with corporate raids, which have at times been a common feature of Russia's post-communist development.

On December 21, a moderator of a Facebook community for RSUTE wrote [ru]:

Нет окупации и рейдерскому захвату РГТЭУ!

No to occupation and the usurpation of RSUTE!

Summarizing the consequences of the strike, Volodar Kogonitzky turned to Facebook to voice a call to arms [ru]:

Охрану полностью заменили (новым ЧОП), забостовка свёрнута, многих студентов запугали отчислениями, нескольких преподователей уволилил своими распоряжением и.о Шкляев А. [...] Бубурин С.Н. находится в больнице, на него обещали завести уголовное дело, под любым предлогом, если будет продолжать упираться. (Граждане хватит пресмыкаться, боритесь за свои права, вставайте!!!)

The [university's] security guards have been completely replaced (with new private guards), the strike has collapsed, many students have been terrified of expulsion, a few tutors were fired by order of interim Chancellor Shklyayev. [...] Baburin is in the hospital now, and criminal proceedings have been promised, if he keeps up his stubbornness. (Citizens, quit your crying and fight for your rights! Stand up!!!)

RSUTE was for its students more than just a place to study—it became a part of their lives and a symbol of their future. Another community member, Elmira Dzhantemirova, personified these hopes in a post on Facebook [ru]:

РГТЭУ – для меня и многих кто учился там, стал по сути семейным ВУЗом.
Конечно, там были и свои проблемы, а также и свои успехи. Но, то что происходит сейчас, похоже на рейдерский захват, нарушаются права и законы, куда же смотрят Президент и Премьер министр?

Этот университет выпустил многих специалистов, достигших не малых высот в различных сферах. А также выпускал специалистов, простых тружеников, дипломы которых имели не последнее значение! А что теперь???
Кто дал право этим чиновничкам распоряжаться судьбами людей!!!! Это что, за “властители судеб???”

For me and many others who studied there, RSUTE has actually become a family school.

Of course, it had its own pluses and minuses, but what is going on here now looks like a corporate raid, it looks illegal, and I want to know [how] President [Putin] and the Prime Minister [Medvedev] are[n't] seeing this.

Many specialists have graduated from this university, rising to high positions in all different spheres. [The university] also trained [other types of] specialists, [as well as] simple workers, whose diplomas were not their least valuable achievement! And now what??? Who gave these bureaucrats the right to manage other people's lives!!! Are they the “masters of fate”???

Some students tried to rally support for Baburin on Twitter, spreading the hashtag #BaburinMyRector (#БабуринМойРектор). During overnight sit-ins, some participants also sang songs, as Twitter user Dmitriyev Artem tells:

@Alla_Mit@verbizkaja ))))))))) энергеты подпевали песню о реорганизации))) ночь#РГТЭУ

@Alla_Mit @verbizkaja ))))))))) the energy-students were singing the chorus for a song about reorganization))) night#RSUTE

Overnight, RSUTE became a popular symbol for educational traditions.

On December 27, the strike stopped. Students were promised the same academic conditions as before, and tutors were given a guarantee against ill treatment. The main result of the 1968 protests was a new interest in aggressively defending popular rights. That historical period changed many minds. Could Russia be on the verge of its own cultural revolution?

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