Dublin City University (DCU), an Ireland-based higher education institution, is “astonished” following a complaint made by the Georgian and Ukrainian embassies in Ireland over the content of “Russia and the post-Soviet Space” course, Irish public media agency RTE News wrote on April 18.
In a joint letter sent on April 8 to senior administrative and academic staff of the DCU, as well as to a senior official at the governmental Department of Foreign Affairs, the embassies reportedly accused the course of spreading “disinformation and Russian propaganda narratives.” The letter was reportedly signed by George Zurabashvili, Georgian Ambassador to Ireland, and Ukrainian Chargé d’Affaires Olena Shaloput.
DCU rejected the allegations, stating the letter “amounts to political interference and seeks to undermine the core democratic principle of academic freedom,” RTE writes.
In a response letter of April 16 quoted by the media agency, Professor Dáire Keogh, President of the DCU, reminded the diplomatic missions of two countries that “academic freedom is a fundamental principle that applies in DCU,” adding, however, that the course included guests from different backgrounds “to expose students to their points of view.”
The controversial course, run by Professor Donnacha Ó Beacháin, an academic with extensive research experience on former Soviet republics, is said to engage speakers from Georgian and Ukrainian backgrounds, but also “presents Russian perspectives.” For example, Sergey Markedonov, a Leading Researcher at Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), has been reportedly invited to contribute with a lecture.
John Doyle, another DCU professor also receiving the letter, evaluated in RTE’s “This Week” radio program on April 18 the criticism of diplomats as “absolutely unprecedented,” describing the letter as an appeal to the university president to “censure a colleague.“
It is wrong that they sent it,” he added, noting that the move goes “well beyond the limits of the role of an ambassador in a democratic society.”
Professor Doyle went further to inquire whether the complaints were greenlighted by the Foreign Ministries of the respective countries, since “both governments have articulated their support for European values” and the countries would “no longer be perceived as supporting European values on academic freedom.”
“The subject of our communication was how to promote the accessibility of objective and comprehensive information about the issues of Russo-Georgian conflict and Russia’s actions in Eastern Europe for students and researchers or the university,” the Georgian Embassy in Ireland told Civil.ge when asked to comment on the issue.
Georgian diplomats “proactively work” with Irish experts, academic circles, and media representatives for this purpose, the Embassy said, adding that the mission communicated with the partner university in Dublin, with which it enjoys “longstanding cooperation and friendship,” precisely “in the spirit of this cooperation.”
Ambassador Zurabashvili himself later told Civil.ge that the Embassy learned that students of the “Russia and Post-Soviet Space” course were given “one-sided disinformation filled with Russia’s narrative about Georgia’s occupied territories, which was provided by an invited lecturer, Head of Russia’s military-analytical center.”
The two embassies wrote to the President of the university, “expressing dissatisfaction over the Russian propaganda that was spread and providing correct facts about Georgia’s occupied territories, human rights violations, creeping annexation,” the diplomat said. The Embassy reportedly also expressed the desire that “the position of the international community is considered” on such matters.
According to Ambassador Zurabashvili, “it is clearly stated in the letter that the Embassy respects the university autonomy and in no way aims to interfere with the teaching process or restrict the academic freedom in any form.”
The aim, the diplomat noted, is that throughout the teaching process, fact-based information is provided on issues such as Georgia’s territorial integrity, sovereignty, and independence, the matters of “highest significance” and “inviolable” for any country.
Ambassador Zurabashvili also said the Embassy hopes that the reaction of the diplomatic mission will be “correctly perceived,” while expressing readiness to continue the close partnership in the future.
“Russia wages hybrid information war, which also comprises educational field,” as well as “disinformation, propaganda, aimed at justifying Russian occupation in Georgia,” the diplomat stressed.
The Ukrainian Embassy reportedly also responded, calling allegations about attacking “academic freedom” as “emotional and groundless” and claiming that the letter “delivered irrefutable facts of the ongoing Russian aggression” against two countries.