Georgetown invited Navalny’s child at the beginning. “Chaos” followed.

The Walsh School of Foreign Service in Georgetown is packed with students who are likely to become influential in international affairs in the years to come, and its debut often attracts big names. In recent years, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright have stood on the podium.

With the ongoing war in Ukraine and the recent imprisonment of Wall Street journalist Evan Gershkovich in Russia, Navalnaya – a 22-year-old psychology student at Stanford – seemed to the school to be an appropriate choice to highlight the freedom of expression while pushing back the Kremlin. behavior.

This is not how a number of Ukrainian and Georgian students saw it.

Ukrainian undergraduate student Iryna Tiasko said she hopes to one day sit in the Ukrainian parliament and that being photographed with a Russian political figure, pro-war or not, could harm her future.

“Last year, they shook hands with Blinken, who was giving the speech. Am I supposed to shake his hand? Tiasko said. “Like, I’m not going to, even if I have to.”

The students wrote a series of scathing letters and hundreds of students, professors and alumni signed a petition to protest the choice.

Following the backlash, Georgetown shifted gears to divert the spotlight from Navalnaya alone.

The school has added two new speakers to include multiple perspectives: Debra Tice, the mother of imprisoned journalist Austin Tice, and Evan Mawarire, a Zimbabwean pastor who has challenged corruption, injustice and poverty, according to the school. . This week he also purchased about 200 Ukrainian flags that students plan to use in a peaceful protest at the ceremony, according to students and a school official.

But the school says it never considered removing Dasha from the program.

“We don’t turn away speakers from the Georgetown campus, and we don’t dissuade speakers from speaking,” said Joel Hellman, dean of SFS. “We communicate to speakers when concerns are raised among students, so they can take them into account.”

Dasha and the other speakers will not shake hands with any students, SFS spokeswoman Marie Harf said, but she will be seated front row on stage alongside the other two speakers. She and the other speakers will also not receive honorary degrees, like those in the past.

Dasha Navalnaya’s response team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The uproar began May 3, the day Georgetown announced its speaker list. When Ruslana Kochmar, a Ukrainian masters student finishing her final year, heard that Navalnaya was going to give the speech, “honestly, I thought it was just a really bad joke,” she said. She has since organized students against the decision.

In a May 5 letter to students, which POLITICO obtained, Hellman wrote, “I understand that some of the individuals whose stories will be highlighted have made past statements that are deeply problematic,” adding that the university does not condone not Navalny’s past comments. But he insisted that Dasha’s speech continue.

The students continued to urge university officials to reconsider in a May 9 letter signed by six student senators, who each represent a school of study in Georgetown student government.

Student activists say the new speakers don’t make up for Dasha’s presence on the podium. When she takes the stage, many graduates intend to stand, some with their backs to the stage, in an act of peaceful protest, while holding Ukrainian flags provided by the school.

Not all students think Dasha’s appearance is such a bad thing. In comments to a post on the school’s Instagram account announcing the speakers, a handful of people defended Dasha against others who criticized the school for being “deaf”. A user asked if the speech would be recorded.

The end of the spring semester is usually a time for Georgetown students to focus on finals and year-end celebrations. This year, Kochmar said, “It’s been such chaos and such a mess.”

A version of this story was previously published in POLITICO’S National Security Daily Bulletin.


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