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Oct 13, 2020
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How academic independence is valued in Japan

As a rule, upon taking office, the new prime ministers of Japan receive rather high support from the country's inhabitants, because the Japanese associate changes in the top leadership with something new, which is capable of improving their lives if not much. In addition, this time at the head of the Land of the Rising Sun was not another descendant of a political clan, as is often the case, but, as they say, a native of the people, from a peasant family. Suga really can be attributed to the politicians who "made himself." Unless, of course, we do not take into account that with all his hard work, with all his experience in political maneuvers, he was personally nominated and supported by the former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who remains influential.

At the time of Sugi's election as prime minister, he was supported by 65% ​​of the Japanese who responded to a poll by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper through a vote of parliament members. The rating of the government led by Suga turned out to be higher than the 59% that the Cabinet of Ministers of the previous head of government scored in 2012.

However, the rating of the head of government and the Cabinet of Ministers is an indicator that largely depends on specific political decisions, on the cautious or careless statements of the prime minister or his ministers. And here a big role is played by the Japanese media, which constantly keep at gunpoint the actions or even dropped words of the "servants of the people". In almost every composition of the government there were ministers who were either implicated in unseemly behavior, or careless in their language. In this case, in order to avoid the expansion of the scandal, the Prime Minister made a decision to resign the member of the cabinet who had fined.

However, it also happens that the prime minister himself becomes the object of criticism from the media and the people, as was the case with the resigned Abe. He and his wife were involved in a corruption scandal, the proceedings of which, after resignation, remained pending. At the same time, 54% of the Japanese surveyed said that Suga should complete cases related to suspicion of corruption. 60% of respondents over 60 insisted on re-investigation. However, Suga cannot help but feel a sense of gratitude towards Abe for his many years of support and promotion to the top. This debt of gratitude is called in Japan "giri ninjo" - a moral necessity that sometimes forces a person to do something for his benefactor even against his own will or against his own benefit. And, of course, the new prime minister will do everything in his power with respect to Abe and his wife to prevent a re-investigation and will try to "put the brakes on the case." But in one of the cases, Abe violated his promise to the people to resign if it was proved that he and his wife were involved in the corruption case in the acquisition of a land plot by a friend of their family and a like-minded person for the construction of a school "with a nationalist bias." It even went as far as the destruction by a government official of documentary evidence of the Abe couple's involvement in the scandal. As is customary in Japan, this official took the blame, who then committed suicide.

However, less than a month after Sugi took office, he himself found himself at the center of a scandal over an attempt, according to media reports, to block the entry of six Japanese scientists into the Scientific Council of Japan - one of the country's highest academic bodies, which presents policy recommendations to the government. Half of the 210 board members are appointed every three years based on internal academic recommendations. The final word on who gets the appointment rests with the prime minister. Suga is believed to have set a precedent by rejecting six recommended individuals. All of them were critical of government policy, including in matters of national security. The controversial move by the prime minister has led to accusations that it infringes on academic independence.

According to Kyodo Tsushin, Suga denied the charges, saying that the decision to block the six scientists from joining the Japan Scientific Council had nothing to do with their beliefs. However, criticism of the new prime minister for interference in academic affairs is growing in the country. Protest rallies are held in front of the Prime Minister's office, and photographs of scientists believed to have been discriminated against are published in the press. The campaign to condemn Sugi's actions, whose participants cite examples of suppression of freedom of speech in the country during the Second World War, has already collected about 140,000 signatures. Discrimination against a number of researchers will destroy the whole concept of the council, participants in the protest campaign say, demanding that the prime minister cancel his decision.

"We must not make such mistakes."Said Takahisa Furukawa, professor of modern Japanese history at Nihon Daigaku University, who is one of the organizers of the campaign. By rejecting the recommended candidates, he said, Suga carried out political interference in the academic field. "One has only to allow something like that, it will be repeated"says Takahisa Furukawa.

The Japanese are protesting not only against the selection by the prime minister of suitable members of the Scientific Council of Japan. They see here the danger of a general attack on freedom. Screenwriter Junichi Inoue says: "This is a problem associated not only with academic freedom, but also with freedom of expression, freedom of speech."... Sugi's assertion that council members need a comprehensive and panoramic perspective is meaningless, said Inoue, who issued a statement protesting the prime minister's decision and described the new prime minister as "arrogant and dishonest."

Creating such a negative impression of himself, Suga embarks on a dangerous path. Many in Japan and abroad see him as an interim or "technical" prime minister, who will either be re-elected in less than a year, or, if things don't go well, cede the prime minister's seat to another. A high rating at the start does not give any guarantees here ...

Photo: REUTERS

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