Without a Country: The Changing Face of Human Rights

Updated: Dec 3, 2018


Article / I profile the Russian academic and activist Dmitry Dubrovsky.



It’s an unseasonably warm day in mid-November, one week after the U.S. elected Donald Trump to the forty-fifth presidency, and I’m with Dmitry Dubrovsky, associate research scholar at the Harriman Institute and an Institute of International Education Scholar Rescue Fund fellow, on a small children’s playground near Columbia University. Dubrovsky, dressed in a light blue seersucker jacket and dark blue jeans, is trying to stop his three-year-old from injuring himself with a giant stick, and telling me, in rapid-fire Russian, about the implications of the recent election for the international human rights landscape. Dubrovsky, an ethnologist by training, taught human rights at St. Petersburg State University (SPbU)’s Smolny College for ten years until, in March 2015, he was dismissed and his position permanently eliminated. He believes his dismissal was related to his criticism of the university and the Russian government. (The university’s official stance is that Dubrovsky failed to sign a contract in a timely manner. University officials later decided to eliminate his old position altogether).


Dubrovsky, who came to the Harriman Institute in the fall of 2015, has been teaching and researching the trajectory of change in the rhetoric and practice of human rights from the USSR to the Russian Federation. Human rights discourse in academia, he says, has become much more isolated, xenophobic, and conservative since the later years of the USSR, and the Russian government has coopted and appropriated human rights rhetoric in order to promote its own geopolitical interests. The most prominent example of this, he says, is the 2014 annexation of Crimea, which the Kremlin justified as retaliation against purported fascist tendencies of the new leadership in Kyiv.


Read the article in the Spring 2017 issue of Harriman Magazine.