On December 5 last year, Russian authorities dramatically marched to the Norwegian university center in St. Petersburg. They confiscated a server and several computers, according to the newspaper På Høyden.
Two days later, nine Norwegian students at the center were told they had to leave Russia within three days.
Now, course leader Helge Blakkisrud fears five master’s students will have to cut their plans short. He says Russian prosecutors plan on bringing a case against the center that could have major consequences for the classes taught there.
Possible program cancellation
«There are a few possible scenarios,» Blakkisrud explained. «The prosecutors could decide not to follow up on the case, and the students would be able to travel as planned. Or, a case could be opened, and there could be fallout. We would have to cancel the course. For now, we don’t know what will happen,» he said.
It is still unclear what the Norwegian center might have done wrong. According to Blakkisrud, the Rissian authorities say there is no connection between the students who were thrown out of the country, and the possible case against the center in St. Petersburg.
«They asked for – and received – documentation and an oversight of all the courses and activities the university center has run in the last two years. They haven’t said anything specific about the case,» Blakkisrud said.
One of the students who had planned on going to St. Petersburg is 25-year-old Morten Flisnes. He studies Political Science at the University of Oslo, and says he has no idea what is happening with the program.
Flisnes said at first he though the course was cancelled: «We didn’t actually get any notice about it, we just had to follow the news. The day after we got an email that the master’s course was cancelled, and they wished us good luck with our studies,» he said.
Since then the students have received conflicting messages. In the end of December an email came saying there was a chance they could still go, but they would have to wait until January for more information. Then they received a new message pushing the deadline even further back.
«We have no idea if we’ll get to go or not,» said Flisnes.
«This is politically motivated»
Although there has not been any definite information, Flisnes says he doubts he and the other students will be allowed to travel.
«I don’t think we’ll be able to go. This is what happens in Russia when there’s a presidential election, and they’ve been clear that they don’t want any unrest ahead of the election,» he said.
Markus Daae-Qvale Holmemo, who also planned on studying at the Norwegian center, agreed.
«With this kind of reaction from Russian authorities, it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to travel there,» he said.
There have been several cases connected to Norwegian citizens in Russia. In addition to students being kicked out of the country, Frode Berg, a former border officer, was jailed and accused of espionage.
Flisnes thinks the possible investigation into the Norwegian center could be part of a bigger investigation.
«I think this is politically motivated. It’s hard to believe anything else, although of course there could be some other issue,» he said.
Minimal information given
Both Flisnes and Holmemo say they have heard very little about what will happen with their studies.
Course leader Blakkisrud said he has tried to communicate all the information he has.
«We could have done things differently. But at the same time, there’s not a lot of information to pass on. Until the Russian authorities make a decision, everything is up in the air,» he said.
Do you think the students will be allowed to go?
«I really hope everything works out, but it’s hard to say. A decision will be made soon,» Blakkisrud said.
The course is supposed to begin in February.
«It’s getting down to the wire.»