September 25, 2017

On behalf of the American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages (AATSEEL), we are writing to protest in the strongest possible terms the arrest and prosecution of the famous and culturally vital film and theater director Kirill Serebrennikov. This case presents all the hallmarks of political repression of the creative arts, which are now, as they have so often been in Russian history, crucially important as a bastion of free expression, progressive thought, and open political debate. Serebrennikov stands accused of the misappropriation of state funds that were provided for the production of a series of theatrical shows. This accusation appears, on the face of the matter, highly improbable, given that the shows in question were indeed produced to wide acclaim and at obviously great expense. As many commentators have observed, the ulterior motives for the director’s arrest are nearly certainly related to his fearless treatment of social and political issues, as exemplified, for instance, in his open criticism of religious extremism in his film (M)uchenik (Student). Yet other evidence of the political motivations that stand behind the persecution of Serebrennikov is to be found in the banning, just days before his arrest, of the director’s Bolshoi Ballet production depicting the life of Rudolf Nureyev, which presented the famous dancer’s homosexuality in a frank and honest manner. More and more in recent years, prosecution for financial crimes has become a potent weapon used to silence opponents of those in power in Russia. AATSEEL calls upon the Russian state to drop these spurious charges against Serebrennikov and to uphold the principles of freedom of expression and artistic license. Otherwise, Russia risks returning to the darkest days of political censorship of art and literature.

Mark Lipovetsky, Professor, University of Boulder, Colorado (AATSEEL president)

Kevin M. F. Platt, Professor, University of Pennsylvania (AATSEEL, past president)

Michael Wachtel, Professor, Princeton University (AATSEEL president-elect)


May 2, 2017

To Whom It May Concern:

We have just learned that Russian language program at Chugiak High School will not have a Russian program next year due to severe budget cuts and low pre-registration numbers. As presidents of the American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages (AATSEEL), we are deeply concerned, especially since this step will only add to many previous steps effectively putting an end to the teaching of Russian at all levels in Alaska high schools and universities. We urge you to reconsider this decision, if at all possible. Knowledge of Russian, the language of one of Alaska’s closest international neighbors, is essential for the economy and security of Alaska and, indeed, of the United States.

The University of Alaska Anchorage program started cutting advanced levels in recent years and they also lost their full-time professor of Russian. Out of six high schools teaching Russian, West High School in Anchorage has canceled beginning programs, and three regular Russian middle school programs ended the same year (Gruening and Romig in Anchorage and Wasilla Middle School). Although Gruening was put back in this year, its fate for next year is unknown. Retirements ended programs at Bartlett, East, and Service, since no new teacher was hired. The state and regional Olympiada of Spoken Russian lost at least 75 participants at the beginning levels due to those cuts. Some US organizations bring teachers from Russia to support teaching and immersion activities during the regular school year and in the summer. However, this is not enough, and the number of students of Russian in Alaska is steadily declining. With the elimination of the Chugiak High School program in Russian, the last regular high school Russian program in the Anchorage School District, and one of few programs in the entire state of Alaska, will disappear.

This is especially troubling; of all US states Alaska has the deepest historical connection to Russia. It is impossible to learn about a country and people without learning their language. Russia and its people are so close to and interconnected with Alaskans that cutting off Russian Studies would have significant political and economic repercussions that will affect relations with this powerful neighbor. In today’s economy a knowledge of Russian is a strong asset for any graduate (whether from school or college) seeking employment in Alaska’s businesses and state organizations. Given that the Russian government has recently been acting much more aggressively towards its neighbors, a knowledge of Russian is also a matter of national security and potentially even of defense. Furthermore, to neglect the study of Russian in Alaska is to neglect its history and geography. By economizing on the teaching of Russian Alaska is cutting off its cultural identity and depriving the next generation of the legacy that is reflected in Alaska’s museums, its topography and even its place names.

A near-sighted decision to cut the Russian program at Chugiak High School will have far-reaching negative consequences. If it is still possible to avoid them, we urge you not to make a decision that would have large-scale negative effects on Alaska’s cultural and historical memory, identity, economics, politics and security. Instead, we urge the support of high-school Russian, perhaps by means of creative measures that might add visibility and prestige to the study of Russian and recruit more students. Please let us know if we can provide any help in supporting Russian Studies in Alaska on all academic levels.


Mark Lipovetsky, Professor, University of Boulder, Colorado (AATSEEL president)

Kevin M. F. Platt, Professor, University of Pennsylvania (AATSEEL, past president)

Michael Wachtel, Professor, Princeton University (AATSEEL president-elect)


The European University at St. Petersburg (EUSP), which is among Russia’s leading institutions of higher education, has recently been sanctioned by the Russian state oversight agency for higher education, Rosobrnadzor, for ostensible violations of administrative standards and regulations. AATSEEL stands in full solidarity with the EUSP, its administration, staff and students, as they seek to eliminate any possible lapses identified by the agency, and in their legal defense of the institution and its mission.

The European University at St. Petersburg is unquestionably a leader in Russia education and scholarship. Its professors are globally recognized authorities in a range of social-scientific and humanistic disciplines, whose publications appear in the most visible and highly rated scholarly journals and presses of the world. The graduates of the EUSP go on to become important and productive professionals in business and government, and also to pursue careers as successful scholars in their own right at other leading institutions in Russia and elsewhere. The EUSP’s programs for foreign students are among the most important centers offering the riches of Russian scholarship and culture to the world.

In all of this activity, the EUSP is one of the most important institutions presenting Russian scholarship to the world and interpreting global scholarly life for Russia, contributing in this way to global communication and mutual understanding.

This makes the recent administrative actions of Rosobrnadzor, which have placed the functioning of this extraordinarily valuable institution in question, highly regrettable. With this letter, AATSEEL expresses complete support for the EUSP and urges the Russian state and its agencies to work with the institution to overcome any regulatory concerns that might impede its important educational and scholarly work.

Kevin M. F. Platt

Edmund J. and Louise W. Kahn Term Professor in the Humanities

Chair, Program in Comparative Literature and Literary Theory

President, AATSEEL