A professor from Ireland’s Dublin City University has lambasted a “remarkable attempt to undermine academic freedom” from the embassies of Georgia and Ukraine after they complained about a course he teaches at the institution.
Donnacha Ó Beacháin is an internationally-respected professor with extensive experience teaching students about politics in the countries that once formed the Soviet Union. He was targeted by two diplomats who claimed that his program, named ‘Russia and the post-Soviet space’, was spreading “disinformation and Russian propaganda narratives.”
Georgia and Ukraine, who both have strained relationships with Moscow, are covered in the course.
In particular, Ó Beacháin was accused of inviting a “well-known Russian propagandist” to speak. In fact, the person in question was Sergey Markedonov, a visiting fellow at the Washington-based think tank CSIS, which receives funding from the US government. Ó Beacháin described him as “probably the leading authority in Russia on conflicts in the Caucasus.”
As well as inviting Markedonov, the professor also pointed out that the course has had a guest speaker from Ukraine, and he even asked the current Georgian ambassador to address the students.
“The module is called ‘Russia and the Former Soviet Space,’ but if the Georgia/Ukraine diplomats had their way, the only view we wouldn’t get is from Russia,” Ó Beacháin wrote on Twitter.
In a letter to the embassies, the university’s president, Dáire Keogh, stressed the importance of “academic freedom” and noted that the professor had “invited guests from different backgrounds to expose students to their points of view.”
“Those invited to contribute to the module include speakers from Georgian and Ukrainian backgrounds, including former officials,” the letter said.
Speaking to Ireland’s state broadcaster, RTE, Ó Beacháin’s colleague John Doyle blasted the complaints as “absolutely unprecedented,” noting that there has never been another issue when an embassy not only complained to a university professor, but also contacted the Department of Foreign Affairs – presumably attempting to create a diplomatic incident.
“There are other ways to do it but to seek to intervene with the president of the university to get them to change how a course is taught and what questions students are asked to address goes well beyond the limits of the role of an ambassador in a democratic society,” he said.
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