Saint Petersburg Branch of the Russian Humanist Society
Democracy is a Way of Life

Excerpt from an interview "The Academy of Sciences Ought to be Part of a Civil Society" (Novoye Vremya, 23 July 2006).

For more than a year and a half our outstanding scientist and Nobel Laureate Vitaliy Lazarevich Ginzburg has been bedridden with a serious illness. However he bravely fights it without halting scientific work. He edits the journal "Successes of Physical Science" and actively follows events in the country and the world. In spite of ill health he received our correspondent Valeriy Kadzhaya in the hospital where he is undergoing treatment and shared with him his thoughts about the fate of Russian science.

You are among those scientists who do not retreat into science, but actively comment on public events in the country and abroad. What worries you in our life most of all?

I am a democrat by conviction and there is much that is going on in our country that I do not like. For example, they imprison scientists and give them 14 years such as Danilov. What absurdness! Specialist say that Danilov is not guilty of anything, that the FSB found some phony experts and the man was given such a sentence. I fear nothing, they'll not put me in prison anymore, but unfortunately my protest is a gust of wind. I don't need an imperial Russia or a totalitarian Russia, I need my country, in which I was born and live, to finally become a country in which all people live well. Patriotism consists of fighting specific ills. So I fight insofar as I can.

First, young people are not going into science right now. The reason here is that as a profession science has not become prestigious. I have created a foundation [called] "Successes of Physics". Its goal is to help talented young scientists. But it needs money. Not only is my Nobel Prize not enough to do this but even a hundred of them are not. Alas, our oligarchs are not so generous and the problems of Russian science, physics in particular, unfortunately concern them very little.

Second, the struggle against pseudoscience, astrology in particular. Even the serious press prints horoscopes. You see, they bring in profit. So you drug the population for the sake of a few kopecks? This is a scandal.

Third is the struggle against clericalism. We have become accustomed to considering militant godlessness as atheism. This is absolute nonsense. What is militant godlessness? Putting priests in prison, knocking down churches, etc., violates freedom of conscience. I am a convinced atheist but I regard the feelings of believers with respect. To consider an atheist one of the militant godless is the same as considering any loyal Catholic a supporter of the Inquisition. We have a secular state. According to the Constitution, church is separate from the state. At the same time the Russian Orthodox Church is clearly in contradiction with this. It is trying to seize everything possible. The penetration of churchgoers into schools alarms me the most. You see, they want Divine Law taught in early grades under the guise of history of Orthodox culture. They say that it is optional, if you don't like it, don't go. But, in the first place, we know what is optional in school. I insisted that the Academy discuss the question of faith, for there are two ideologies: a scientific world view and a religious one. Who is going to look into this question if not the Academy? But no, they don't want to do anything.

As an atheist, I am struck by how intolerant representatives of various faiths are, even within the framework of a given religion, Christian, Muslim, or Jewish. Look at the relations between Catholics and the Orthodox, for they say they believe in one God. I am struck at the passivity of atheists, although today a majority of educated people are generally not believers or are completely indifferent toward religion. The revival of clericalism is occurring as a result of this, that is, a turning back in social development. For some reason the concepts of spirituality and religiousness have become synonymous. I am for freedom of conscience but first of all, for freedom of thought and only science provides this.

Translated by Gary Goldberg