Charles University hit by Russian disinformation about student expulsions

'Victim of Russophobia'

In recent days, European universities have been the target of a Russian disinformation campaign claiming that they are expelling Russian students in a wave of Russophobia. Charles University this week categorically denied claims that it was expelling or discriminating Russian students in response to the war in Ukraine.

The Kremlin propaganda machine has been putting out reports about Russian students being “unreasonably expelled from educational institutions, not allowed to attend classes, and morally persecuted” in an example of “racial discrimination.” They claim that Russia is taking “unprecedented measures to protect the rights of Russian students who are being expelled from universities in France, the Czech Republic, Belgium and other European countries due to the situation in Ukraine.

These claims have appeared on the Russian news service Interfax and are widely circulated on pro-Kremlin social media accounts.

This week the roumours were fuelled by a report on Russian state television Russia Today about a Russian student named Liza, who had allegedly been expelled by Charles University. The report is now circulating on the Internet and has been viewed by tens of thousands of people.

“Sometimes I had to lie, simply out of fear," the young woman, reportedly a student of sociology at Charles University, says in a report titled “Victim of Russophobia". „A lecturer made it clear to me that I would not be able to continue studying here, that there was no room for Russians at their university” she adds.

Charles University | Photo: Cross Duck,  Flickr,  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Her claims have been interspersed with statements that Charles University in Prague had denied the young woman the opportunity to continue her studies, had deliberately lowered her grades and made her life a misery. The report ends on an upbeat note: She's going to become a sociologist after all, although she won’t be graduating from a Czech university, but a Russian one.

According to the Russian Education Ministry more than 1,200 Russians studying abroad have reportedly requested a transfer to universities in their homeland. Most of them are from the Czech Republic and Ukraine, followed by Poland, Britain and the US.

More than four hundred of them have already been admitted to Russian universities, where they will be able to continue their studies for free, the Russian authorities said.

Universities across Europe are fighting back, issuing denials and slamming Russian pro-governmental media for spreading disinformation.

Charles University this week also issued a categorical denial that it had expelled or discriminated against any Russian student because of the war in Ukraine or out of Russophobia for whatever reason.

The university’s spokesperson Klara Hyláková says the story is clearly fabricated to suit the Russian government’s propaganda needs.

“On the basis of our register of foreign students I can confirm that no Russian student of that name terminated her studies at the university this semester.”

Hyláková moreover points out that the claim that lecturers had intentionally lowered the student’s grades –even retrospectively- were nonsensical.

"Since the beginning of the war, i.e. February 24, there have been no exams at the Faculty of Social Sciences of Charles University. Therefore, it is not possible for lecturers to retrospectively lower students' grades, as they do not have any grades for the current semester yet,"

Hyláková adds that, if the faculty were to hypothetically terminate a particular student's studies because of poor grades in this semester, it would happen in the autumn, not in the spring.

Right from the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Education Minister Petr Gazdík issued a statement rejecting the concept of “collective guilt” and appealing for teachers and students to show understanding for the difficult circumstances of Russian students in this country.

“There are about 8,000 Russian students studying at Czech universities and we realize that because of the sanctions against Russia some of them may run into financial problems. Individuals cannot be held accountable for the decisions of politicians. Therefore all universities in this country will help out students overcome these problems with social benefits – we will help them no matter what country they are from.”

There are currently some 1,800 Russian students studying at Charles University. Although the  university suspended cooperation with Russian universities in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it says Russian students have not been discriminated against in any way.

Russian student Daniil Naumov, who is in the final year of his master's studies at the Faculty of Social Sciences at Charles University, confirmed this for Czech Radio.

“I am studying international relations and people in my group approach you on the basis of what kind of person you are. There has been some ribbing, and the mood is sadder overall, but no confrontation. I talked about the situation with my lecturers and they are sympathetic. They know that as an individual I cannot be blamed for what is happening and that, even so, I will suffer for it as a result.”

Daniil himself has no plans to return to Russia after graduation, at least not for the time being, precisely because of the war in Ukraine. He adds that most Russian students he knows in the Czech Republic want to do the same. "I have also not heard from them that they have any problems with their studies or that they want to return to Russia because of discrimination," he says.