An open letter from students of the London School of Economics and Political Science regarding Peter Cvjetanovic and his presence at the university
We, students of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), condemn in the strongest possible terms the beliefs and actions of Peter Cvjetanovic, and LSE for admitting him to the MSc in Political Theory. LSE’s decision unequivocally contradicts its stated values of equity, diversity and inclusion, jeopardises the safety of its students, inhibits the free academic exchange of ideas and diminishes LSE’s reputation.

Cvjetanovic, 22, became the face of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 after a photo of him shouting and holding a lit tiki torch surfaced in the aftermath. Unite the Right attempted to bring together different white nationalist, white supremacist, neo-Nazi and hate groups in the United States of America to oppose the removal of a confederate statue. Demonstrators at the rally hurled racist and anti-Semitic epithets while carrying fully loaded semi-automatic weapons, chanting “You will not replace us” and holding signs that read “Jews are Satan’s children”. The rally is remembered for the tragic murder of 32-year-old Charlottesville native and counter-protestor Heather Heyer.

Cvjetanovic flew cross-country to Charlottesville to “listen to a few alternative right speakers [including] Richard Spencer” a well-known advocate of what Spencer himself calls “peaceful ethnic cleansing”. Cvjetanovic further attempted to justify his participation in Unite the Right by claiming, “As a white nationalist, I care for all people. We all deserve a future for our children and for our culture. White nationalists aren’t all hateful; we just want to preserve what we have”. His words mirror the so-called Fourteen Words, a well known white supremacist slogan inspired by Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Cvjetanovic’s views reveal a shocking disregard for the equal dignity of all people, as well as the legacy of racist discrimination and violence in the United States. Cvjetanovic must also be seen in connection to his membership in the white supremacist group Identity Evropa, whose founder has stated that America was created by and for white people, and whose former leader openly advocated for the Nazification of America.

The actions of Cvjetanovic at Charlottesville and his hateful views already affect life within the LSE community. White nationalism, white supremacism, and Nazism directly contradict LSE’s values of equity, diversity and inclusion and cannot be squared with its endeavour to provide an open and safe environment. Cvjetanovic’s attendance at LSE will be felt in the courses he attends. His presence in the classroom undermines the safety and security of students and staff, necessary for the free exchange of ideas and open discussion. It threatens to keep students from attending class or speaking openly about their views and lived experiences as many are directly targeted by his beliefs and others may have to gauge whether they too will become a target of hate. Freedom of speech cannot be used in defence of hatred and bigotry. Cvjetanovic’s disdainful, racist views threaten the safety and security of our community and therefore also the freedom of speech our community ought to enjoy. LSE’s own Karl Popper famously showed that an open, tolerant society depends on forcefully, emphatically denying intolerance, else the latter destroys the former. We are thus saddened and appalled that LSE has abandoned its commitment to an open and tolerant society.

Some see an interview Cvjetanovic gave to Sharyl Attkisson, in which he claims to no longer identify as a white nationalist, as proof that his views have sufficiently changed to justify his acceptance and presence at LSE. While we firmly believe in the capacity for change, we do not think such a cursory disavowal is sufficient to ensure the emotional and physical safety of LSE students, who until recently Cvjetanovic deemed racially and ethnically inferior. The fear, pain and oppression inflicted by him and his views on a number of communities cannot be simply ignored or wiped out through this disavowal that can hardly be characterised as more than a change in taxonomy. Cvjetanovic, in another former interview, has asked for people’s willingness to listen to him; this is his chance. We invite Cvjetanovic to issue a public apology and a statement clearly outlining how he intends to repent for his past actions and assuring the LSE community and society at large that he will not threaten or oppress anyone on the basis of their racial or ethnic background.

LSE and its student community must not become the ox drawing the cart of societal acceptance of a white nationalist and his racist views. Regardless of whether Cvjetanovic comes forward with a statement, we believe that his presence is already reflective of a process of normalisation of white supremacist views. This is why our main demands do not address him but the institution that admitted him. Further, there is a chance that, if he is allowed to graduate, LSE’s name will be used as a sign of credibility for the furthering and distribution of racist ideologies. This is directly at odds with LSE’s mission of working for the betterment of society and devalues the degrees of former and future alumni. In connection with our belief that a free and open society requires opposing hatred and bigotry in all its forms, we demand from LSE that it:

- issues a statement fully renouncing Cvjetanovic’s beliefs and actions.
- reviews whether Cvjetanovic’s beliefs and actions are consistent with its code of conduct and takes all necessary steps to combat white nationalism, white supremacism and Nazism within its community.
- allows students who have unknowingly registered for courses with Cvjetanovic to be given the free option to change their course selection without penalties or hindrances.
- reviews the eligibility of Cvjetanovic to live in LSE accommodation given the potential of his threatening and intimidating presence, and offers students sharing the hall the free option to change rooms without penalties.
- develops a more rigorous selection process for applicants and not admit publicly self-identified white nationalists, white supremacists, or Nazis.
- appoints a permanent Division Head for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion as soon as possible.

This letter and these demands do not mean that we oppose the exposure of students to controversial beliefs in the educational environment. We believe that such exposure is valuable to understand historic academic discourses, but not if it gives a platform that threatens our community or its members. Nor do this letter and its demands indicate a belief in barring people from education.

As a final and yet most important point, we, as students, want to reiterate our commitment to the values of an open, inclusive, diverse and equal society. This means that we will act to welcome everyone into our community as long as they are committed to these same values. We see our first responsibility to protect those threatened by the views of Cvjetanovic and his ideological kin. We oppose attempts to reverse the role of oppressor and victim which defend the beliefs and actions of white nationalists, white supremacists and Nazis under the veneer of free speech. This responsibility we see not as limited to the LSE community, but extended to society as a whole. We thus promise to continue to openly challenge those that use the education and platform provided by LSE to discriminate and oppress. In relation to this, we demand of the LSE Students’ Union that it retracts its previous statement regarding Cvjetanovic’s presence, which does not embody the opinion of the student body, and adopts this letter and its demands as its official statement.

Signatures will be made available only to the university.

Image source The Independent

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Edit 10/10/18 10:30pm: A prior version read America instead of United States of America in the second paragraph. As to not conflate country and continent this was changed. Further usage of America in a later part of the letter is context dependent.

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