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Russia’s Culture Minister Could Lose Ph.D.

Conservative historian comes under scrutiny from academics, who describe his thesis as unscientific, biased, and cluttered with misleading statements.

4 October 2017

Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky’s outspoken defense of traditional Russian values ensures plenty of media coverage, but this time he might wish the reporters would scatter.


The national board that oversees awards of advanced academic degrees, or VAK, could move to rescind the culture minister’s doctorate, after finding errors and bias in his dissertation, The Moscow Times reported on Tuesday, citing the Kommersant newspaper.


Experts from the Higher Attestation Commission, which assessed Vladimir Medinsky’s 2011 dissertation, found serious errors and selective use of sources in the work. The commission will make a final decision whether to strip Medinsky of his degree on 20 October.


The charges are ironic in view of the subject of his dissertation. It deals with “problems of objectivity” in treatments of 15th- to 17th-century Russian history, according to RFE/RL.


Prior to becoming culture minister five years ago, Medinsky was known as a conservative historian and author of bestselling but controversial books debunking “myths about Russia.” Liberal critics depict him as an attack dog for Vladimir Putin’s nationalist vision of Russia.


The commission’s reviewers said they came across various questionable and unscientific statements in Medinsky’s doctoral research. Kommersant obtained a letter reporting on its conclusions, which was sent to the commission leadership.


"Of course, any study can contain some shortcomings, mistakes, inaccuracies, misprints,” the letter read, translated by The Moscow Times. “But they are off the charts in V.R. Medinsky’s thesis, constituting a systematic, qualitative problem.”


The experts also reported that Medinsky ignored relevant sources who contradicted his arguments, and that overall his work “reveals nothing new.”


Questions about his dissertation have circulated for years, and gained traction in 2016 when philologist Ivan Babitsky and two historians filed a complaint to the Education Ministry. Babitsky later labeled some parts of the paper as “simply unscholarly, and in places downright absurd,” RFE says.


Medinsky declined to comment on the report. On Tuesday, he was defended by Education and Science Minister Olga Vasiliyeva in an interview with the state-operated RIA Novosti agency. Vasiliyeva said there was no evidence of plagiarism in Medinsky’s dissertation – although he has not been accused of that – and defended his right to present a polemical understanding of history.



  • Medinsky was in the spotlight again in September, when he held a speech at the inauguration of a monument to Lt. Gen. Mikhail T. Kalashnikov, designer of the AK-47. The culture minister hailed the weapon as “Russia’s cultural brand.”


  • Last year, Medinsky accused the U.S. government of financially supporting online streaming service Netflix to “invade every TV set” in order to influence audiences around the world.

Compiled by Peter Georgiev

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