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I can't speak

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For several years now, we have been organizing a scientific conference in Russia, inviting scientists from all over the world to its program committee. In the last two years, for understandable reasons, there have been many rejections, especially from Western European scientists. However, what is interesting is that while in the past rejections contained subjective negativity like “I don’t want to participate in a Russian conference,” lately they all sound something like this: “I can’t speak at your event.” Despite the dramatic nature of the situation, I am still curious if respected scientists understand that the freedoms that European civilization is so proud of are incompatible with the expression “I can’t speak,” especially coming from people in science?

I received the last letter yesterday.

And there are many letters like this, all in a similar style: I would be happy, but they don’t let me, interfere, restrict, and even forbid. Here’s another one:

And this is not written by used car dealers who are not allowed to bring old Toyotas across the border. This is written by scientists, many of whom remember both the Berlin Wall and the Prague Spring. They understand what freedom of speech is. They cannot not understand.

Many of them probably remember the censorship of the Cold War era, when every article had to be approved by the relevant authorities before being presented at the ideological opponent’s conference. However, even during Andropov’s time, it was unimaginable that all scientists would be prohibited from publishing their articles and speaking at all conferences in the “enemy” country.

Scientists have always been above politics, even during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Afghan conflict, the Vietnam and Korean Wars. For example, in 1977 in Novosibirsk, a conference dedicated to “Building Quality Software” was held, where David Parnas, Barbara Liskov, Tony Hoare, Edsger Dijkstra, and Peter Neumann spoke in person. And all this against a backdrop of much more intense ideological confrontation than today.

Apparently, in those days, those in power understood that science and technology are our common, global movement forward for all of humanity, while bullets and bombs are a step back. They probably understood that isolating scientists harms both sides - those being isolated and those doing the isolating, automatically finding themselves in isolation. It is very unfortunate that those in power in modern Europe do not understand this.

Most worrisome is the silent obedience of scientists who “can’t speak,” and who surely understand where this will lead them and all of us.

Translated by ChatGPT gpt-3.5-turbo/42 on 2024-04-20 at 14:26

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