Prince William was not only greeted by excited students and fans of the royal family at the Blavatnik School of Government. After the prince’s official opening of Magdalen’s Longwall library this Wednesday, former Oxford student and Glasgow lecturer on Russian culture Martin Dewhirst held a picket outside the School building.
The protest was aimed at the University accepting Leonard Blavatnik’s donations, which helped build the School, as the origin of the Russian businessman’s fortune is controversial.
Dewhirst carried a sign which read “due diligence or undue negligence?” and was accompanied by a few other protestors in the inconstant weather.
On top of William’s visit, a conference on world-wide corruption held by David Cameron on the next day motivated Dewhirst to protest. “I wanted to do my bit in Oxford today to in-
crease the chances that Russia will get more public attention,” he said.
“Mr. Blavatnik has been accused of being corrupt, but not much of the evidence is available in English. I don’t understand why the University didn’t invite Transparency International and Global Witness to do some research on Mr. Blavatnik’s activities. I was able to express my concern on this point to quite a number of people in Oxford today – this made the trip worth while.”
Talking to Cherwell after staff from the Blavatnik School of Government refused to accept his photo being taken in front of the new glass building, he said, “Maybe the attempt to control us was a sign of worry, if not fear?”
Oxford graduate and founder of the Moscow alumni society Ilya Zaslavskiy, who has been protesting against donations from Blavatnik and Saïd at Oxford, held a picket in front of the Oxford North America Society Office in New York at the same time as Dewhirst was outside the Blavatnik School. Zaslavskiy had been asked to leave the premises of the Society after raising a sensitive question on April 11, and has launched a petition for the University to “review cooperation with Putin’s oligarchs”.
Its description states, “We believe it is high time to demand transparency and procedural reforms at Oxford with regards to foreign donations and awards that will be benefi cial to the University in the longer term and thus will open a cleaner chapter in broader UK-Russia relations.”
Mr Dewhirst is a signatory of Zaslavskiy’s petition, and told Cherwell, “I spoke several times today about the scandal at the LSE five years ago when its Director, an honourable man, felt he had to resign because he had accepted money for the School from the Libyan Gaddafi Foundation.
“I was not, of course, comparing Mr. Blavatnik to any member of the Gaddafi family, but providing an example of how dangerous it can be to have any dealings with people who are regarded by some experts as morally suspect.”
Commenting on Mr Dewhirst’s remarks about University due diligence processes, the University told Cherwell, “Oxford University has a thorough and robust scrutiny process in place with regard to philanthropic giving. The University is confident in this and in its outcomes.”