Cold war resurfaces between anthropologists

December 29, 1995

British academics have been accused of exhibiting "the inertia of the cold war mentality" by criticising their Russian colleagues.

The council of the Royal Anthropological Institute passed a resolution earlier this month deploring the involvement of a leading Russian anthropologist two years ago in a court case in which a former professor of Marxism-Leninism was charged with fomenting ethnic hatred by publishing works with an allegedly racist and anti-Semitic content.

Largely on the basis of Viktor Kozlov's evidence as an expert witness in his defence, the publisher, Viktor Bezverkhiy, was acquitted.

The RAI resolution described the use of anthropology to "extenuate the publication . . . of incitement to racial or ethnic hatred" as "repugnant and shameful".

Valery Tishkov, director of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, of which Professor Kozlov was a member, urged his professional colleagues abroad to play down the issue. Criticism from abroad, he says, could provoke a very strong backlash in Russia.

The IEA's reluctance to take action provoked the circulation in April 1995 of an "Open letter of Russian Anthropologists to their Colleagues Abroad". Its signatories were concerned that, shortly after Bezverkhny's acquittal, elections reconfirmed Kozlov on the IEA's academic council.

Valery Tishkov says the excerpts quoted from Professor Kozlov's opinion in the open letter are biased and incomplete.

"I'd like to ask the RAI on what material they took their decision," he said. "They just want to punish Russian anthropology."

The RAI resolution speaks of having "heard from a number of sources" about Kozlov's expert testimony, and deplores his "reported" statements. But director Jonathan Benthall says that the institute possesses a complete text of what appears to be Kozlov's report although it has not been verified by the court, and has had it read for them by an expert in Russian.

The RAI's concern is not the resurgence of racism in Russia per se, he said, but that Kozlov's actions had invoked anthropology to support racist ideas.

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