In his St Petersburg apartment, university lecturer Denis Skopin shows me the document which has changed his life.
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It’s headed: “Directive No.87/2D. Subject: Dismissal.”
Until recently Denis was associate professor at the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences of St Petersburg State University. But on 20 October the university sacked him for “an immoral act incompatible with educational functions”.
What was this so-called immoral act? Participation in an “unsanctioned” rally.
On 21 September Denis joined a street protest against the Kremlin’s decision to draft Russians to fight in Ukraine. Earlier in the day, President Vladimir Putin had declared “partial mobilisation” across the country. During the demonstration Denis was arrested and spent 10 days in jail.
“Freedom of expression in Russia is in crisis,” Denis tells me. “All kinds of freedoms are in deep crisis.”
“After I was released from detention, I worked for three more weeks. The university sent me letters asking me to explain my absence. I replied that I’d been arrested for participation in a protest and put in detention. Then the Human Resources department called me and told me that I’d been sacked.”
On his final day at work, Denis’s students gathered outside the university to say goodbye.
In an impromptu speech (the video was posted online) he told them:
“What is an immoral act? Acting against your conscience and passively obeying someone else’s orders. I acted according to my conscience. I am sure that the future of our country belongs to you.”
The students broke into applause for their sacked teacher.