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Monday, March 12, 2007

Annals of Russophile Screwball Yuri Mamchur


Reader Note: This is an editorial in which LR gives her opinion about the educational background of Russia Blog publisher Yuri Mamchur based on information provided to her by Charlie Ganske of Russia Blog. The information is documented in the text and gives rise to various disturbing questions which Mr. Ganske has refused to answer. Therefore, the editorial offers our informed speculation about possible answers to these questions. Our speculation is just that and nothing more until further facts become known, and we will be happy to provide more information should Russia Blog choose to provide it. However, we feel that Russia blog readers need and want as much information about publicized claims such as those made by Mr. Mamchur as they can get before deciding whether to rely on statements they read in the blogosphere. In short, LR is concerned that Mr. Mamchur could be overstating the extent of his educational credentials and understating the extent to which his education is connected to the Kremlin.

You know very well, dear reader, that La Russophobe never makes any attempt to lord "credentials" or "qualifications" over the blogosphere. She simply makes sourced information available along with her own opinions and lets the world make of it what it will.

The same cannot be said, however, for the folks at Russia Blog/Real Russia Project. Therefore, in the continuing saga of trying to find out just who Screwball Yuri Mamchur, publisher of Russia Blog, really is (because he publicly brags about his credentials and uses them as leverage for his crazed dictatorship-enabling Russophilic propaganda diatribes but gives precious little detailed information about them), LR is pleased to offer readers the following investigative update. Given the fact that Russia Blog is claiming to lure as many as 2,000 unsuspecting visits per day into its web of propaganda for the Kremlin (and for intelligent design), this ongoing investigation is obviously important.

In an e-mail, Charlie Ganske of Russia Blog has finally identified for La Russophobe, months after she asked, the actual Russian name of the educational institution in Russia from which Russia Blog's publisher Yuri Mamchur claims to have graduated. No wonder it took so long. He's stated that its website is this one. LR could hardly believe what she read there. If you click through the link, the Russian text you see at the top of the page reads:

Official Site
All-Russian State Tax Academy
of the Ministry of Finance of the Russian Federation

In other words, this institution is analogous to an American school for accountants that was operated by the American Internal Revenue Service itself (if there were such a thing, which LR doesn't think there is). For all practical purposes, in LR's view, it makes Yuri a functionary of the Kremlin, certainly someone steeped for years in the Kremlin's propaganda. Not very surprising, then, that Yuri would spout so much pro-Kremlin Russophilic gibberish himself, or that he wouldn't wish to voluntarily reveal this information, now is it? Kind of tends to undermine his credibility a bit. It also makes him, to all appearances, an accountant.

As you can see from the following screenshot of Yuri's biography on the Russia Blog website, "All-Russian State Tax Academy of the Ministry of Finance of the Russian Federation" is not the title given by Yuri himself for his alma mater. Instead, he calls it the "Russian Tax Academy School of Law." Click the screen shot to see it full size.

Given this mistranslation of the name (perhaps understandable, after all English isn't Yuri's native language), it's little wonder that neither LR nor anyone else would be able to find the institution's website. Yuri has made not one but four errors in this short translation: (1) he's omitted "State" and (2) he's omitted "All" and (3) he's added "of law" and (4) he's omitted all reference to the Ministry of Finance -- so anyone translating his translation back to Russian would get a completely different title for the main entity that constitutes the school. In so doing, he's hidden the connection of this institution to the Russian government and implied it has a broader range of educational coverage than the true name actually conveys. In other words, it's more flagrant dishonesty (or maybe just lame-brained stupidity) from the publisher of Russia Blog. And there's no excuse for it, because all Yuri had to do was post a link to the Russian website.

Mamchur's RB bio states that he is currently a "Foreign Policy Fellow" and "Program Associate Director" at the Discovery Institute. However, Yuri's own personal website states: "Right now I’m working as a Director of Foreign Policy." Here's the screenshot:

So which is it? Is he the "Director of Foreign Policy" or is he the "Program Associate Director" or is he a "Foreign Policy Fellow." Has he been promoted? Demoted? And no matter which one he is, how does a degree from a tax academy qualify him to hold that position?

But wait! The plot thickens! Interestingly, on his personal website (where he touts not his foreign policy knowledge but his musical acumen, here he's a composer seeking to hawk his wares -- hard indeed, of course, to fathom how being a musical accountant qualifies one to be a foreign policy expert), he refers to his alma mater as merely the "Russian Tax Academy." No "of law" here, and again no "State." Yet here he explains:
"The Russian educational system is different. It is not a 4-year college followed by a 3-year masters program. I went for a Law major in 1998, and after five and a half years of school, I received my European law degree with honors."
So although the "of law" was dropped, here he does claim to have studied law (not Russian law mind you, but "European") at this tax academy run by the Russian government, and he claims that the Russian government taught him about European law (tax law?) and he claims that just five years later he became a lawyer (as he notes, it takes seven years to do that in the U.S.). On neither his personal website nor his bio at DI does he post a link to the website given above. Here's the screenshot:

And then it gets really interesting. The personal website continues:
I am proud of my perfect GPA. I worked at a law firm for half a year and found it extremely boring. Though I never really used the degree, the education helps.
Helps what? Dupe the unwitting? So, after five years of study to become a lawyer Yuri gives up the practice of law after one job and six months, and decides to become a "foreign policy expert/composer"? Hmmmm . . . Note that Yuri doesn't name the "law firm" he worked for, and implies he left its employ merely because it was "boring." Maybe it's true, but its an excuse people often give when they fail, and it can't be verified unless he names the firm. He also fails to mention how easy it is in Russia to get a "perfect GPA" by paying money for it (especially at an institution that just opened its doors), and he doesn't give any details about his course of study or whether he entered via a competitive entrance exam. As for his "perfect GPA," if he's such a bright boy why would he choose to study law at this obscure institution whose primary focus is clearly not legal education? What not Moscow State University, or any one of a number of much more prestigious universities? All these are the questions LR is asking, and she's not getting any answers from the folks at Russia Blog.

As you can see from the RB screenshot, the bio claims that Yuri is also a "PhD candidate." Yuri's RB bio also states that he "took classes at Georgetown University." LR asked Georgetown, and (as she's previously reported) was told that "Yuri Y. Mamchur was enrolled in a Non-degree Program through the School of Continuing Studies at Georgetown University during the Spring semester of 2004." Note that Yuri doesn't care to say what kind of "classes" he took (basket weaving? origami?) or why (since apparently he got no academic credit for them), and he doesn't name any academic institution where he is currently enrolled in a PhD program (or state the nature of the degree he is seeking or the topic of his alleged dissertation).

With so much mystery about, LR went to the source and asked Charlie Ganske of the REal Russia Project (apparently he's Yuri's lapdog, since he's written comments on this blog, and sent e-mails to La Russophobe, defending Yuri and RRP) the following questions by e-mail:
(1) Why did Yuri add "of Law" to his translation of this institution's name? Why did he omit reference to the Ministry of Finance?

(2) Please give me the specific link to the page of the school's website that explains their law education program, including their accreditation.

(2) Approximately many law students were in Yuri's graduating class? How many classes of legal graduates had the school produced prior to Yuri's class?

(3) What specific qualification did Yuri take from this institution when he graduated? Is he a tax lawyer? His personal website states that he holds a "European law degree." What does that mean? Is Yuri qualified to practice law in Europe? Please describe his general course of study in detail and state how long it lasted (including whether he was a full-time daytime student or not). Include a complete list of all "foreign policy" coursework Yuri undertook during his studies.

(4) Yuri's personal website states that he "worked at a law firm for half a year." What law firm did Yuri work for, and where was the office located? If he washed out, I suggest you tell me now.

(5) How did Yuri matriculate that the Tax Academy? Did he take a competitive entrance examination and earn his place or did he pay money to enter?

(6) Yuri's Russia Blog bio states that he is a "PhD Candidate." It says that he "took classes" at Georgetown, but I've confirmed with them that these were not degree-related courses. How many credits towards a PhD has Yuri earned, and from what universities? What is the topic of his dissertation?

(7) Yuri's personal website states that he is "Director of Foreign Policy" at DI. That title differs from what is listed on his RB bio page; Does he hold that title now? If not, has he ever held it? If so, when/why did he lose it? If not, why did he claim it?

(7) If Yuri had a "perfect GPA" as he claims on his personal website, why didn't he study at one of Russia's really prestigious centers of legal study (Moscow State University, for instance)? I'm sure you're aware that grades can be easily bought and paid for in Russia at fly-by-night institutions, as can admissions itself. Therefore, claims as to grades have to be checked out carefully.
Ganske refused to answer any these questions, claiming that he personally didn't know the answers and refusing to ask Yuri. Here's what he said:
"This is as if the IRS was operating a college for accountants. In my view, it virtually makes Yuri a former employee of the Kremlin, and it makes him, to all appearances, an accountant." This is as ludicrous as declaring that anyone who ever worked for the federal government was "virtually a former employee of the White House, or the Bush White House" if they worked for the feds in the last seven years. While it may be true in some very limited technical sense (especially for military personnel who have the President as their commander in chief) it's ridiculous to make such a comparison in the first place. Kim, I have respectfully replied to every non-insulting question you posed on your site. I have shown you a lot more respect than you have shown us - for example, you claim that we're part of some vast conspiracy to push intelligent design in Russia simply because one girl in St. Petersburg didn't like her biology textbook. I've read two articles about this and that's the extent of my knowledge about the whole thing. I don't go around telling people that you're getting paid by Boris Berezovsky or something ridiculous like that, why do you insist on making outlandish claims about us? Why is it my job to tell you exactly what it says on the Russian Tax Academy website? Don't you read Russian? Simply because a title reads differently in one place than another doesn't make it "fake". Furthermore, I have personal friends who attend Moscow State University, and your question about the prestigiousness of institutions is like asking why doesn't everyone go to the Ivy League... seriously, get a grip.
That's quite an impressive amount of neo-Soviet question dodging, isn't it?

This means it's quite possible that "lawyer" Yuri graduated from a "law school" that had only just been invented, in a class the size of a bowling team, without competitive admissions. A school operated by the Kremlin, spewing plenty of nationalist propaganda. It's also possible that, having had poor preparation to say the least, he couldn't handle work in in actual law firm, and hence decided to give up the whole notion of being a "lawyer." Next stop, mongering intelligent design. But that, of course, is only LR's guesswork based on Charlie's stony silence in the face of her questions. She'll be happy to correct the record if Yuri will only have the guts to answer her questions.

Since RRP refused to provide further details about the school, LR did some poking around herself. It appears that this is one very odd law school, to say the least. Generally, it appears that a great deal of the education dolled out at the school is by correspondence, including some very short sessions (three weeks each) three times a year. It is unclear what the relationship is between this "academy" and the Russian MinFin. It takes tuition money, and has no dormitory (it says on the website, though that is kind of obvious, since it's basically a correspondence school).

The law school lists only one faculty member, Natalya Valeryevna Zlubovskaya; the heads of the other six departments in the school (covering various areas of law) are shown as vacant (see screenshot below). Zlubovskaya also has no extension number, and no academic credentials (PhD, M.A.) are noted for her. Meanwhile, all the other departments of the academy (economics, IT, HR, etc.) are fully staffed, mostly with PhD's or PhD candidates. There is also an Assistant Dean of the law school, Ilya Vladimirovich Ivanov, but again, no academic title or any other info on him. All of this can be found here. There is a picture of Ivanov shown on a "faces of the faculty" page. He looks to be in his mid-30's. (check out the photo of of of S.R. Demidov, the "Pro-rector for International Affairs", who is shown wearing a leather jacket with his tie.)

We could find nothing of any substance (publications, substantive public appearances) in Internet searches on either Zlubovskaya or Ivanov. We did find a listing of a dissertation for Zlubovskaya, "Inheritance as a means of gaining property rights to a residence," written in 2005.

The law school claims to have about 1,300 full-time students and 400 correspondence-school students, 130 graduate students, and a faculty of 159, including 25 PhD's (due to a typo on the page, we couldn't tell how many PhD candidates and how many with no academic title given, but one is 105 and one is 80 - we're guessing many of these may be their graduate students). The law school claims to have been around since 1996, but only in 2005 appears to gotten something that sounds like an accreditation -- but then, the rest of the departments in this academy make no mention at all of their accreditation.

Again, the striking thing about this "law school" is how much different it is from the other departments at the same academy - no faculty, no phone number or academic qualifications given for the dean or vice-dean. Here's a screenshot of the law school's information page, with dashes where the names of faculty and administrators should be:

Meanwhile, the rosters of all the other schools in the academy are completely full, and every one of them has a phone number. There might be a logical explanation for this (maybe the law school has discovered the value of "outsourcing", like a lot of smaller U.S. colleges), but we are sceptical. Another possible explanation would be that it is someone's cash cow, appended onto the academy for appearances only and cranking out diplomas for a fee. Would you rely on the leal advice of a graduate of this institution? Not, of course, that you'll get any such chance where Yuri is concerned.

So it appears, as LR suspected, that Yuri may well have entered this institution a couple of years after it was founded, when everybody was running around like chickens with the heads cut off, and the classes were tiny, when standards for admission were non-existent. Even now it's not that credible; while it claims to have a "faculty" of 160, it only lists one person on its website, along with one administrator. They may well be "outsourcing" to hired-gun "faculty" on an as-needed basis.

Now we ask you, dear reader, to form your own conclusions about whether Yuri Mamchur's background is any basis for attaching additional gravitas to the statements that appear on Russia Blog -- or whether, in fact, it implies readers need to be even more careful in assessing the propaganda they find on his blog. We'd be delighted to publish Yuri's answers to our questions, if he ever sees fit to give them.

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