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Why Russian research within the West failed to offer a clue about Russia and Ukraine • The Berkeley Weblog

co-authored with Ilona Sologoub (VoxUkraine) and Tetyana Deryugina (College of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)


The complete-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 has introduced a sobering realization that, even 30 years after the autumn of the Soviet Union, Russia continues to be a brutal empire. On the identical time, after anticipating Kyiv to fall in three days, the world has been amazed by the Ukrainian resistance and resilience. How may the worldwide group be so incorrect about Russia and Ukraine? We argue that these failures can stem from the methods Russia, Ukraine, and the remainder of Japanese Europe are studied within the West and name for a serious assessment of each the amount and high quality of ‘Slavic’ research.


As step one, we collected information heading in the right direction choices in 2021/22 and 2022/23 tutorial years in prime 13 non-public and public US universities. We centered on programs in Japanese European, Russian and Eurasian research (together with Soviet and Submit-Soviet). We chosen solely the programs provided by undergraduate packages (since they cowl many extra college students than graduate programs) and solely people who had been really scheduled (i.e., a enough variety of college students signed up for these programs). To compute mixture statistics, we categorized the programs into 5 topic areas (language, literature, tradition, historical past, and politics) and a number of other teams over time and house, e.g. Soviet and post-Soviet, Japanese European, Ukrainian, Polish, Baltic, and so on. Then we calculated the variety of provided programs over the past two tutorial years and examined the share of programs devoted solely to Russia, to Russia and different nations, and to Ukraine.


Determine 1 conveys the gist of our findings. 82% of ‘Slavic’ literature programs are actually Russian literature programs (the share is even larger if we embrace Soviet and post-Soviet writings). We perceive that Russia is an enormous nation but it surely doesn’t account for over 82% of individuals or literature in Japanese Europe. In different areas the scenario is healthier however nonetheless Russia dominates. For instance, simply over a 3rd of programs in historical past focus solely on Russia but when we rely programs that cowl Russia along with different nations (e.g. Russia & Japanese Europe – orange bars in Determine 1), the Russian hegemony is clear once more. In truth, some programs successfully deal with the USSR as Russia (e.g.  “Russia: Historical past of the Soviet Union”). Moreover, some programs are utterly in step with Russian historic narratives together with each East Slavs and USSR into ’Russian’ historical past (though some Japanese European and Central Asian nations had been occupied by Russia, their histories are fairly distinct from Russia’s).


Determine 1. Share of “Russia” programs in ‘Slavic’ research departments of 13 main US universities, by topic 

Figure 1.

Notes: “different” class contains further time/house mixture (e.g. Russia & Europe) and particular person nations (Poland, Czechia and so on.). We classify programs in response to their names and descriptions (e.g. ‘Russian language’ or ‘Russian historical past’ programs belong to the ‘Russia’ class, in addition to programs named ‘Tolstoy’ or ‘Dostoevsky’ novels)


These statistics should not pushed by a selected college or a gaggle of universities. Determine 2 paperwork that these patterns apply broadly. For instance, though the share of Russian literature ranges from a whopping 100% in Cornell College to a “modest” 52% within the College of Chicago, the median share is near 90%.


Determine 2. Share of “Russia” programs by class and college

Figure 2.

Observe: bars symbolize the odds of “Russia” programs in a particular class. For instance, 56% of “Tradition” programs and 92% of “Literature” programs in Harvard are devoted solely to Russian tradition and literature respectively.


Each classification is topic to judgment calls, and we tried to have the Russian share recognized as unambiguously as attainable to get conservative estimates. Nonetheless, it’s informative to look at programs which might be associated to Russia and group Russia with different nations. To this finish, Determine 3 reveals that these programs additional enhance Russian dominance in all fields besides literature, which is already practically maxed out on Russia.


Determine 3. Share of programs that contact upon Russia (e.g. check with “Japanese Europe & Russia”, Soviet or post-Soviet house, Europe and Russia, or Ukraine & Russia)

Figure 3.

Observe: percentages in “language” programs are low as a result of such course choices normally cowl particular person languages moderately than “Japanese European” or “Slavic” languages.


Moreover, when diving deeper into course descriptions, we see that Russian research appropriated contributions of countries subjugated by Russia. For instance, Gogol is studied as a Russian creator, though he thought of himself Ukrainian (Gogol wrote in Russian however recall that Oscar Wilde recognized as Irish regardless of writing in English). Medieval Rus is classed as Russian historical past, though it is part of Ukrainian, Lithuanian and Polish historical past and was at warfare with Moscovia for a whole bunch of years. To understand how absurd this remedy is, think about treating the historical past of Britain as a part of French historical past simply because the Normans invaded Britain. One “Russian literature” course covers Isaac Babel (a Jewish creator from Odesa), Svitlana Aleksiyevich (a Belarussian creator), and Andriy Kurkov (a Ukrainian creator from Kharkiv). We imagine Mr. Kurkov could be very stunned to be taught that US universities label him as a Russian creator whereas the Russians destroy his metropolis.


For comparability, Determine 4 experiences Ukrainian course shares. The determine is basically populated by zeros. That’s, Ukraine successfully doesn’t exist in tutorial instruction. Moreover, these constructive shares overstate the presence of Ukraine within the curriculum as a result of the info are aggregated for 2 tutorial years and within the 2022/23 tutorial yr universities began to supply extra Ukraine-related programs (Desk 1), with particular kudos to the College of Michigan that launched the “Let Ukraine communicate” course. Satirically, though extra programs on Ukraine had been provided in 2022/23 than in 2021/22, extra programs on Russia had been provided too. Maybe the considering was “if we examine Ukraine extra, let’s examine Russia extra too to be truthful”. However this bothsidesism makes issues much less balanced.



Determine 4. Share of “Ukraine” programs provided by class

Figure 4.

Observe: one course in Ukrainian literature was provided in Harvard and two in Princeton in Spring 2023 however these programs weren’t scheduled – in all probability there was inadequate demand.


Desk 1. Variety of programs provided in 2021/22 and 2022/23 tutorial years

Area/ time Tradition Historical past Language Literature Politics
2021/22  2022/23 2021/22 2022/23 2021/22 2022/23 2021/22 2022/23 2021/22 2022/23
Ukraine 2 10 ⇑ 0 8 ⇑ 22 37 ⇑ 0 3 ⇑
Ukraine & Russia 0 1 ⇑ 0 4 ⇑ 0 1 ⇑
Russia 36 34 ⇓ 16 27 ⇑ 162 174 ⇑ 78 94 ⇑ 10 12 ⇑
Japanese Europe 15 25 ⇑ 12 17 ⇑ 4 2 ⇓ 7 5 ⇓ 3 2 ⇓
Japanese Europe & Russia 6 11 ⇑ 0 1 ⇑ 0 2 ⇑ 0 4 ⇑ 0 4 ⇑
Soviet & post-Soviet 6 7 ⇑ 4 10 ⇑ 3 0 ⇓

Observe: the info for tables and figures can be found from the authors upon request


We’re not going to debate whether or not Aleksandr Pushkin is healthier than Lesya Ukrainka or Adam Mickiewicz however the statistics clearly doc a disproportionate concentrate on Russia. Is that this Moscow-centric view an issue? We imagine it’s.


The present method makes generations of US college students largely unaware of non-Russia in Japanese Europe. Consequently, Samuel Charap and different Ukrainian “specialists”, who are sometimes graduates of Russian research, predict the autumn of Ukraine and interpret Ukraine by way of a Russian lens. The identical applies to the media protection of Ukraine. For instance, New York Instances admits that Andrew Kramer, the chief of the newly established New York Instances bureau in Kyiv and one other pupil of Russian in faculty, “… for years … was the first reporter overlaying Ukraine from his perch within the Moscow bureau.” The notorious Hen Kiev speech of President George H.W. Bush (the speech was written by Condoleeza Rice, one other pupil of Russian at Moscow State College) epitomizes the gross misunderstanding of Ukraine. How can one get Ukraine proper with out talking Ukrainian, understanding Ukrainian historical past, or being in Ukraine? The shortage of Ukrainian experience and coaching has led to colossal errors.


We recognize that academia can hardly activate a dime and that by now 1000’s of professors have invested a lot of their time into studying Russian language and tradition. However the case for a extra balanced method to Slavic research is patently apparent. Extra sources ought to be directed to Ukrainian, Polish, Bulgarian, Czech, Slovakian and different programs, particularly in literature. How a lot cash is required? In his speech on the Ukrainian safety discussion board, Dr. Michael McFaul mentioned that he wants just a few million {dollars} to extend the variety of Ukrainian research programs at Stanford. With Stanford’s $8.6 billion finances and $36 billion endowment, the required funding is a matter of priorities moderately than monetary constraints.


In abstract, data is energy. This contains the ability to stop wars by understanding who’s able to what, what to anticipate, and what’s at stake. However, the worth of ignorance is the biggest land warfare in Europe since World Warfare II. We are able to’t assist considering that correct sources dedicated to Ukrainian and real Japanese European moderately than Russia-centric research within the earlier years may have saved many lives and billions of {dollars} invested by the Western governments into supporting Ukraine right this moment, through the full-scale warfare. This tragic warfare ought to spur universities to revamp their Japanese European curricula, give their college students a greater training, and hopefully make the world a safer place.




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