[Corpora-List] Fw: SketchEngine CEO: No “business as usual” with Russia anymore

Christian Chiarcos christian.chiarcos at gmail.com
Fri Mar 11 12:30:06 CET 2022

Dear colleagues,

thanks for making this public, and it hit a nerve as almost everyone seems to congratulate SketchEngine to this step. At the same time, as scientists we should actually look a little bit beyond the current hysteria (how well justified it might be) and try to analyze the situation in a broader context.

One aspect of this picture are the core facts, i.e., to condemn Russia for the invasion of the Ukraine, and that there are good reasons to not accept Russian state funds anymore. I think that outside Russia (and even among considerable portions of the Russian population), neither of this is controversial.

But another aspect of this picture is that such a declaration is somewhat disproportionate. In particular, I don't recall any similar action during any other comparable event in the last 30 years. (Correct me if I'm wrong.) And despite common perceptions, we had (and we continue to have) plenty of these. Outside NATO countries, there is a strong impression that this involves some degree of discrimination and racism (e.g., https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/2/27/western-media-coverage-ukraine-russia-invasion-criticism). I don't think this is necessarily true, and in fact I fully understand that a threat from Russia feels somewhat more serious to Europeans and Americans raised during the Cold War than anything happening in the Near East, Africa, Asia or even in south-eastern Europe -- but we have to keep in mind that this involves a psychological bias that most of the world's population does not share. I mean, if language technology providers would seriously commit to pacifism and uphold this position in all directions, that would be a great thing -- but economically, this would not be feasible. In a market economy, this can work only if all market participants adhere to the same policy -- and, indeed, this doesn't seem to be what is suggested here.

Yet another aspect is that, as far as unpaid services are concerned, this is a symbolic act that will disrupt digital lexicography in Russia on a short term, but one for which workarounds can be relatively easily found. Personally, I am more sympathetic with the position of StackExchange ( https://meta.stackexchange.com/questions/376743/stack-exchange-qa-access-will-not-be-restricted-in-russia?cb=1), that is to formulate a clear position against war and aggression, to monitor and to regulate possible violations against this position, but not to try to erect technical obstacles that can be trivially overcome by a proxy server. (And in fact, also paid services can be accessed via proxy companies, just as in the good old days.)

More generally, this is part of a broader process of decoupling Russia from academic infrastructures and communication ( https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2022/03/02/decoupling-from-russia/). That might indeed be necessary as far as military innovation is concerned (and remember that this includes language technology), but it is a two-sided sword, as it will destroy yet another soft communication channel that at some point in the future might be needed to build new bridges to replace those that we are just about to burn. I would stay cautious here.

Overall, I am sympathetic for Miloš' position from a moral and political standpoint, but with these considerations in mind, I consider shutting down SketchEngine a questionable act -- but one that any entrepreneur is free to take.

Best regards, Christian

Am Di., 8. März 2022 um 11:53 Uhr schrieb Eric Atwell < E.S.Atwell at leeds.ac.uk>:

> I support Miloš Jakubíček's public statement, and have forwarded it to
> 500+ students and staff at Leeds University who use SketchEngine
> Eric Atwell, Professor of Artificial Intelligence for Language
> School of Computing, Uni of LEEDS, LS2 9JT, UK
> A public statement
> <https://www.sketchengine.eu/news/no-business-as-usual-with-russia-anymore/>
> by Miloš Jakubíček, CEO of Lexical Computing, on Sketch Engine
> unavailability in Russia and Belarus.
> https://www.sketchengine.eu/wp-content/uploads/ukraine-gebe587dbc_640-300x169.png
> 300w" sizes="(max-width: 640px) 100vw, 640px">
> One week ago, I decided to cut off the Russian and Belarusian internet
> address space from Sketch Engine (and related services) following the
> Russian invasion of Ukraine. That decision was not easy to take but after
> one week I am perhaps even more confident it was the right decision than I
> was back then. While the overall feedback was supportive, we have also been
> getting all sorts of complaints. This text attempts to respond to the main
> critical voices:
> *“this is ethically wrong”*
> I do not think so. On the contrary: for me, this is the only ethically
> plausible solution. By operating on a market you legitimate that market and
> those who are in control of the market. But the Russian market lost its
> legitimacy one week ago when it became a war machine. Moreover, since most
> Sketch Engine users are academics, it is state money we would continue
> taking (directly, or indirectly through users’ salaries). I do not see how
> we could continue providing services in Russia, take money for it and
> pretend as if nothing happened. The next day after the invasion we have
> contributed 250,000 CZK (approx. 10,000 €) to the account of People in
> Need
> <https://www.peopleinneed.net/what-we-do/humanitarian-aid-and-development/ukraine> for
> humanitarian aid in Ukraine.
> I should perhaps also mention that by cutting Russia off, the amount of
> hacking attempts targeted at our infrastructure dropped by 90%.
> *“science should not be political”*
> This, I admit, I find completely ridiculous. Anyone having a job in
> science, sport or culture and thinking they are apolitical, please have a
> look at your payroll and where the money is coming from. Have a look at
> your government’s website how proud the country is of its scientists,
> athletes or artists? In these areas, you represent your country more than
> in others, willingly or not.
> *“but I’m against Putin”*
> Me too. You are unfortunate in that you live in an economic area that
> Putin (absolutely) controls and used its gains to initiate an invasion of
> your neighbouring country, Ukraine, committing atrocities and killing many
> people equally innocent as you claim to be. All the sanctions punish the
> guilty ones, the innocent ones as well as those initiating the sanctions,
> otherwise they would not be effective. We all need to make sacrifices now.
> If you live in Russia, now is the time when you need to act and do what you
> can to prevent the otherwise inevitable: Russia becoming the second North
> Korea, completely isolated from the outside world, completely cut off from
> any type of collaboration in business, science, culture or sport.
> *“and you think Putin will stop because of Sketch Engine?”*
> Surely not. Sketch Engine is not the bread and butter people need for
> everyday living. But it is the bread and butter for corpus linguistics.
> It is a high-tech premium product that enables people to take part in
> state-of-the-art research and science in some fields. Not making it
> available in Russia constitutes a very, very tiny bit of pressure against
> ongoing aggression in Ukraine. But I believe that every bit counts.
> Many people much more competent to do this than me have been analyzing the
> current situation, an excellent summary was provided e.g. by Garry
> Kasparov
> <https://twitter.com/Kasparov63/status/1499439820363468802?s=20&t=3X-hfb9U88sKfUgfctXNJg>.
> I am afraid that, for all kind of reasons (massive propaganda from Putin in
> the first place of course), many people in Russia are still far from
> realizing the damage Putin is making to Russia as well as Ukraine. It is
> now not the time to make business in Russia, collaborate in research and
> science or compete in sports. It is now not the time to
> do corpus linguistics in Russia. There is only one task for anyone in
> Russia: help get rid of Putin by any means you can. This is the task for
> Russia. The task for the rest of the world is to repent how come we did not
> see this coming and let it go that far. Equally, when Putin is gone and
> there is peace again in Europe, it will be our task to help rebuild Ukraine
> as well as Russia, and I will be happy to think about what Sketch Engine
> can then do to help the researchers in Ukraine as well as Russia to catch
> up. But until then, there is “no business as usual” with Russia anymore.
> Practically speaking: whether and when Sketch Engine becomes available in
> Russia no longer depends just on me. Since payments to Russia (both online
> and offline) are getting unavailable, there is no way to get paid. The EU
> sanctions list suggests that we may not even be allowed to provide our
> services in Russia.
> Afterword
> For me as a Czech, I do fear that the reminiscences of 1938 in
> Czechoslovakia are way too real. They are actually incredibly real. It is
> once again useful for everyone to recall the circumstances of the Munich
> agreement <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Munich_Agreement>. In 1938
> Hitler started iteratively escalating his demands on Czechoslovakia making
> sure they would not be acceptable by the Czechoslovak government (like
> Putin did with Ukraine). He finally demanded all border parts of
> Czechoslovakia, constituting about 30% of the country, with predominantly
> German speaking citizens, arguing they are oppressed by the Czechoslovak
> government and need to be protected (like Putin did with Luhansk and
> Donetsk). He claimed Czechoslovakia is an artificial country and part of
> historical Germany (like Putin claims about Ukraine). Finally, both France
> and the UK forced the Czechoslovak government to accept his demands in
> September 1938 on a conference in Munich.
> The UK prime minister Chamberlain then returned home claiming: *a British
> Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honour. I
> believe it is peace for our time. *He was responded by Winston Churchill: *You
> were given the choice between war and dishonour. You chose dishonour, and
> you will have war.* Chamberlain’s naivety only made him an everlasting
> symbol of appeasement. In March 1939 Hitler invaded the rest of
> the defenseless Czechoslovakia. In September 1939 he attacked Poland. You
> know the rest.
> Since then, the Czech society has been split about whether we should have
> defended ourselves even without the help of the UK and France (who we had
> alliances with). Looking at Ukraine these days, it is hard not to think we
> should have and that it likely would have had significant influence on the
> course of WWII. Similarly, the people in Ukraine are now literally fighting
> for all of us and we should do all what we can to help them. I ask everyone
> to focus on this in the first place now, regardless of where you are. Slava
> Ukraini!
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