S. Frederick Starr: Shilling for Dictators?





S. Frederick Starr is by any measure that rare academic whose success mixes administrative work (former president of Oberlin College and the Aspen Institute) and top-level scholarship (leading expert on the Soviet Union, Russia and the countries in Central Asia that were created when the Soviet Union fell apart). A talented jazz musician, he’s also mixed that interest with his scholarship — and his lectures and op-eds make him a highly successful public intellectual as well.

In the last few weeks, however, Starr has found himself under attack — accused of being an apologist for some of the world’s worst dictators and for in effect selling his credibility for funds for the research center he currently runs, the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, a part of the School of Advanced and International Studies of Johns Hopkins University.

Starr says that the accusations are unfair for multiple reasons. He says that the financial links between oil companies that need the support of Central Asian governments and his research center have been overstated and have had no impact on his views. And more important, he says that he is being criticized for demanding solid evidence to back up claims being made against those governments — something he says scholars should always do.

Criticism of Starr’s links to the governments of Central Asia was recently the focus of a Web site of the Central Eurasia Project, which is affiliated with the Open Society Institute, the effort founded by George Soros to promote democracy and civil society in the countries formerly ruled by the USSR. The site noted that Starr’s institute at Hopkins recently held a screening for a video produced by the Uzbek government to refute accusations made by journalists and human rights groups that last year, in the city of Andijan, there was some sort of uprising against the government and that security forces put down the protests, with many killed in the process.

The Central Eurasia Project quoted people at the event as saying that Starr told people that the video provided “overwhelming” evidence to back the claims of the Uzbek government that the protests were instigated by Islamic fundamentalists, and that the bloodshed was much less than reported. Starr was also quoted as criticizing the journalists who reported on the events in Andijan for “lying” because of their “anti-government agenda.”

These reports were the primary source in turn for an article on the Harper’s Magazine Web site in which Starr was dubbed “The Professor of Repression” and his support for the Uzbek government was questioned. In that article, Starr was quoted as saying that his center did not get money from Central Asian governments or oil companies — except for one discontinued grant....



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