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UH: Academician and nonconformist Igor Shafarevich is not an anti-Semitic extreme nationalist

Author: Maria Peltonen/halvi/Helsingin yliopisto 22.06.2009 07:49

University of Helsinki
22 June 2009

Academician and nonconformist Igor Shafarevich is not an anti-Semitic
extreme nationalist

A recent dissertation by M.Soc.Sc. Krista Berglund reveals that the
Russian mathematician and academician Igor Shafarevich (born 1923) is not
an anti-Semite or an extreme nationalist as he has been labelled in
research literature dealing with Russian politics during the perestroika
and the post-perestroika period. This labelling led to a situation where
Shafarevich, a member of honour of the American National Academy of
Sciences, was asked to resign from the Academy.

According to Berglund, Shafarevich?s notorious reputation is based on an
old article of his, Russophobia, published in 1988. The scandal concerning
the article reached a peak when the board of the National Academy of
Sciences of the United States asked its honour member Shafarevich to give
up membership. Nothing equally severe has ever happened throughout the
history of the Academy.

In her study, Berglund discusses Shafarevich?s social activities, writings
and ideas as well as how they were received. Special attention is paid to
the Russophobia article, the detailed discussion of which undoubtedly
shows that the article's status of being an anti-Semitic text has no
justification. There were many reasons for judging the article in a hasty,
but an extremely fierce manner. One of these reasons was the fact that
once the Soviet system started to tremble, it was commonly feared that
anti-Semitism would flare up, which is why readers easily found worrying
signs in the article, even between the lines. In her dissertation,
Berglund says that the Russophobia article was first judged by a small,
active group of emigrants whom Shafarevich had criticised in the article
for their deterministic interpretation of history and their irrational way
of instigating friction between Russians and Jews. Despite the criticism,
they assumed the role of researcher or expert, loudly presenting their
argument of Shafarevich?s alleged anti-Semitism to Western readers.

In the 1970s, Shafarevich was known as one of the most famous
nonconformists in the Soviet Union, who worked together with academician
Andrei Sakharov in the Moscow-based human rights committee of
nonconformists. Shafarevich also engaged in close cooperation with
Alexandr Solzhenitsyn (another leader of the Soviet nonconformist
movement) before Solzhenitsyn?s exile. During the chaotic years of
perestroika, Shafarevich stood up for the basic rights of common people
and warned that the democracy-related enthusiasm might turn against itself
if the citizens have basically felt that democracy means the loss of basic
security and social justice.  He has therefore also been labelled as an
objector to democracy in research literature.

Krista Berglund will defend her doctoral thesis at the University of
Helsinki on 25 June at 10 am in Hall 5 of the Main Building (Fabianinkatu
33). The title of the thesis is The Vexing Case of Igor Shafarevich, a
Russian Political Thinker. A summary of the doctoral thesis is available
in electronic format at:

Contact details of the doctoral candidate:

Krista Berglund, tel. +358 41 4555927, e-mail

Best wishes

Anna Maria Peltonen
Press Officer
University of Helsinki