Saturday, February 23, 2008

Legal Q&A

Two points on the legal situation:

1. Why make such a fuss about the EUSPB's closure, given that the fire hazards involved are real?

Indeed, following a recent spate of much-publicized fires across Russia, the Ministry for Emergency Situations published a list of endangered institutions in Moscow, including some educational institutions, that were fined or closed by court orders for brief periods of time. A new law that came into effect on Jan 1, 2008, stipulates that fire inspector may no longer order a building's shutdown without a court order.

But many of the fire hazards pointed out by the inspectors have been known for a long time, and indeed ever since the university's creation. (Incidentally, the very same fire inspector examined the building last year, and had no complaints.) Some of them cannot be removed without illegally altering the structure of this listed historic building. The vast majority of organizations in historic buildings such as this one are allowed to go about their business. If this was a bone fide concern with fire safety, some solution could have been suggested that would have allowed the university to continue its work while dealing with the problems.

Moreover, the fire inspector's visit coincided with controls by the Federal Registration Service and the Federal Agency for the Supervision of Education. While it is important to note that, as usual in such cases, there is no positive proof of a concerted attack, this coincidence does raise serious doubts about the motives behind these actions. All of this does very much look like an instance of selective application of the law. Nevertheless, it is crucial not to oversimplify the situation: it is counterproductive, for example, to blame everything directly on a supposedly omnipotent Vladimir Putin, as the New York Times did in a recent editorial.

2. Now that the university has been offered to move to new premises, is the situation resolved?

Far from it. In addition to the logistical issues pointed out in my opening post, it is far from clear that the EUSPB is even allowed to move. Its license explicitly mentions the building on Ulitsa Gagarinskaya #3. A new license can only be issued by the city government's Committee on Science and Higher Education. While this committee has sent the university a letter of endorsement for its partial move to new premises, that letter has no legal force since it is not an official license. So far it remains unclear whether the university will actually be able to proceed with even a limited curriculum.
I thank Vladimir Gelman and mesopotam for pointing this out.

UPDATE: Rector Nikolai Vakhtin just mentioned in a Radio Liberty interview that the university has received a _license_ to carry out its activities in other buildings. (Sat 5:35 ET)

FEB 26 UPDATE: That seems to have been a misunderstanding. The license was revoked on Feb 21, and no new license has been issued (yet?). See my new post.


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