A hundred professors demand a hearing for Vladimir Pliassov at the University of Coimbra

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Almost a month after the dismissal of Vladimir Pliassov, two requests for a hearing of the former professor have been filed at the University of Coimbra. Rector Amílcar Falcão admitted mistakes on Monday.

Vladimir Pliassov
Vladimir Pliassov

Following the criticism of a petition from teachers in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Coimbra two weeks ago, it is now the turn of around a hundred teachers and researchers from across the university to request that Vladimir Pliassov be heard by the institution. The lack of clear explanations and the absence of an investigation prior to the dismissal are at the root of the criticism levelled at the university’s rector, Amilcar Falcão, in a text that has been sent to the General Council of the University of Coimbra – an independent body with supervisory functions over the institution and the rector himself.

In a short statement, the hundreds of teachers stress “the urgency of opening a process of investigation into the facts imputed to this teacher who scrupulously respects his rights”. The group includes names such as former minister Anabela Rodrigues, who held the post of internal administration in the government of Pedro Passos Coelho, current deputy Cláudia Cruz Santos of the Socialist Party, José Manuel Pureza, former deputy of the Left Bloc and Vice-President of the Assembly of the Republic in the last legislature, and former Constitutional Court judge Maria João Antunes.

“We consider that this decision by the rector has not been clearly and fully explained to the university community, even after the public controversy and the general council meeting [on May 22] at which the issue was debated,” reads the text, to which the PÚBLICO press agency had access. “By proceeding in this way, the rector of the University of Coimbra has failed to respect principles and values such as the presumption of innocence, or the right of the accused to know the objective reasons for the accusation, in order to be able to implement the right to an adversarial procedure”, stress the hundred or so teachers and researchers.

The signatories also include two civil servants currently associated with the Center for Russian Studies: the Director of the Language Center, António Rebelo, and the Deputy Director of the Faculty of Letters, Ana Peixinho. The signatories also include members of almost all Coimbra faculties, but no directors.

University of Coimbra fires director of Center for Russian Studies

The text was sent almost a month after the dismissal of Vladimir Pliassov, a former professor at the Centre for Russian Studies, who received an e-mail on May 10 announcing his resignation – following the accusation of “Russian propaganda” in an opinion piece published by two Ukrainian activists in the Jornal de Proença on May 8. In response to this criticism, Amilcar Falcão met last Wednesday with the director of the Faculty of Arts, Albano Figueiredo. The rector of the University of Coimbra therefore decided to attend an extraordinary meeting of the faculty’s scientific council, held this Monday, in order to provide further justification for the dismissal – at this meeting, it was expected to hear an apology or even to reconsider the dismissal of Vladimir Pliassov.

Rector Amílcar Falcão, in front of the elected members of the Faculty of Letters’ Scientific Council, acknowledged that he had made a mistake in terminating the contract with Vladimir Pliassov, but gave no clue as to the future of this process, nor did he open the door to a possible public reaction to the matter or to a possible reinstatement of the former Russian professor.

The day after Vladimir Pliassov’s resignation, the rector of the University of Coimbra said he had “other types of data” in his possession, but did not specify the reasons for the dismissal. “I can give explanations to the supervisory authority and other responsible entities. Publicly, I don’t see the point,” he told the Lusa news agency. The Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education reaffirmed on Monday that it “does not comment on this matter”, after having declared, in response to the agency ce press PÚBLICO, that the University of Coimbra had “provided all the necessary clarifications”.

Pliassov could be heard by the General Council

In a second statement on the subject, on May 26, the University of Coimbra reaffirmed its ignorance of Vladimir Pliassov’s continued appointment as head of the Center for Russian Studies and added an accusation beyond “teaching activities”: until December 2022, the center’s website “also featured, in an undue and unacceptable manner, the logo of the Russkyi Mir Foundation”, the presbytery said.

This foundation was set up by Russian President Vladimir Putin, and has supported the construction of Russian study centers around the world, such as this one at the University of Coimbra or the Gabinete Mundo Russo at the University of Minho. When Russia invaded Ukraine in early 2022, both universities terminated their protocols with this foundation – and the Russian Studies Center at the University of Coimbra was maintained with the university’s own resources.

The end of the agreement between the University of Coimbra and the Russkyi Mir Foundation came in May 2022, when the presbytery itself announced the end of the partnership. It was not until August that Vladimir Pliassov retired, remaining under contract until that date. In September, the Russian-born teacher would return on a pro bono basis to teach this academic year. “If the activity was so subversive, the logical thing would have been to suspend it as soon as the process of denouncing the cooperation agreement with the Russkyi Mir Foundation began,” said João Gouveia Monteiro, professor at the Faculty of Arts at the University of Coimbra and member of the institution’s general council, in statements to PÚBLICO last Tuesday.

The second statement already mentioned from the University of Coimbra came after an extraordinary meeting of the university’s general council (on May 22), during which Amílcar Falcão’s explanations did not dispel all the doubts of the elected representatives. A further extraordinary meeting of the General Council was held on Monday at 8 a.m., at which Vladimir Pliassov’s case was again excluded from the discussions.

Despite this, some members of the General Council of the University of Coimbra will be calling for a hearing to be scheduled with Vladimir Pliassov and the students of the Centre for Russian Studies, within this body of the University of Coimbra, in order to answer some of the remaining doubts about the dismissal of this professor – who had worked at the institution since 1988. However, a decision on the hearing is not expected until the next meeting of the General Council, scheduled for June 26. In other words, the hearing, if approved, is unlikely to take place until July, or even the beginning of the following academic year.

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