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  • ‘Students Consider Themselves the Intellectual Backbone of the Country’

‘Students Consider Themselves the Intellectual Backbone of the Country’

Mark Katz, a Professor and political scientist at George Mason University, the USA, recently visited the HSE Faculty of Applied Political Science for two weeks, delivering lectures and holding seminars. Prof. Katz talked to us about his visit to Moscow.

- Professor, is this your first visit to Moscow?

- No, I think this is my seventh or eighth visit to Russia. The first time I was here in 1983, when Konstantin Chernenko was the USSR leader. I came to visit different - at first Soviet, and then Russian - organizations, and always only for scientific purposes:research or lectures.

- After so many visits here, you must have a lot of friends and professional contacts in Moscow?

- Yes, I have many friends here, among my colleagues - political scientists as well as among Russian politicians. I met many of them before they became famous and I have followed their careers and research with keen interest, I read their publications. I know Georgy Mirskiy, chief research fellow of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences and one of the leading Orientalists in the world. Although he is 84, he continues his active and productive work and came to meet me a couple of days ago. I have known Georgy Arbatov, member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, since he was the director of the Institute of USA and Canada. I met Evgeniy Primakov when he was the director of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations. I met Mikhail Titarenko, one of the most prominent researchers of the philosophy and spiritual culture of China. To my great sadness, on March 7th, the day of my arrival to Moscow, Sergey Mikoyan died, a friend of mine, who was the chief editor of the ‘Latin America'journal.

- Could you tell us about your professional interests and what you've been doing in Moscow on this visit?

- At my university I teach a course on Russian domestic and foreign policy as well as delivering lectures and holding seminars on the theory and practice of revolutions. My research work started with the study of relationships and mutual influence between the Soviet Union and Marxist movements and parties in third world countries. On the first glance, those relations seemed to be smooth, constant and mutually supportive, but this was not true. These relationships had many ‘undercurrents'and fights for power. After the end of the Cold War, I focused on the study of revolutions, including the Islam fundamentalist revolution which also involves the violent internal struggle of nationalistically oriented groups. The sphere of my scientific interests also includes the analysis of the bilateral relations of Russia with the Middle East countries - Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

As for the programme of my Moscow visit, it has been very intensive. One of my lectures at the Higher School of Economics was dedicated to the comparative analysis of the measures of fighting international terrorism taken by Russia and the USA:what are their differences and similarities. The topics of my other lectures were research into the types of modern democratic revolutions, various aspects of Russian-American relations and the history of the appearance of the Great Powers and their decline in the 21st century.

Apart from that, at the invitation of my Russian colleagues and friends, I gave lectures at the Moscow State University, at the Moscow State University of Foreign Affairs, at two institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences - Institute of African Studies and Institute of Oriental Studies, and even took my time to participate in a couple of programmes for the Russia Today channel. I also published an article in ‘The Moscow Times'.

Honestly, I would be happy to work in Moscow for a longer period of time, say, for a term. In general, As soon as I get to know my students, it's time to leave. Unfortunately I had no time to talk to my colleagues - the political scientists at the Higher School of Economics. Among the staff I only know Mark Urnov, Dean of the Faculty of Applied Political Sciences. So, two weeks is a very short time, but on the other hand, it is better than nothing.

- What are your impressions of Russian students? How do they differ from American students?

- I am surprised how well the HSE students speak English. This fact helped me to hold a couple of interesting discussions with them. The students were actively and openly expressing their opinions. Sometimes I regretted that Americans are not very eager to study foreign languages. The American approach to languages comes down to one dreadful principle - ‘Let them speak English'.

Another important difference between American and Russian students is in their self-perception. It seems to me that unlike Americans today's Russian students consider themselves as the intellectual backbone of the country. American students are more earthly and practical young people. Once at a class at my university I asked which of the students though of themselves as an intellectual, and only one girl in the group raised her hand. This fact speaks for itself, but what is worse, later that girl was ostracized by her fellow students. Her self-evaluation was perceived by her classmates as a sign of arrogance. This is typical for Americans - trying not to show off and not to be different. The vast majority of students in the US work and pay for their education themselves. They have neither the time nor the energy to nurture idealistic aspirations. Their main worry is their future career, and education is not a goal in itself but a way to find a prestigious job. This is sad, because youth is the time when people should be interested in arts and philosophy, read and dream a lot. And Russian students in this sense are very different from the Americans.

- Have you faced any anti-American attitudes in Russia?

- I noticed a couple of nationalistically-minded young people, though it is sometimes hard to distinguish nationalism from patriotism. There were students in my classes who passionately criticized US policies in Serbia and Kosovo. We had a good discussion on the political situation in Georgia which is generally very painfully perceived by Russians. George Bush's administration pushed forward the processes of democratization in Georgia, Kirgizia and Ukraine too intensely, and we know where all those attempts led for the people in those countries. I believe that if the internal political situation in a country has not yet matured enough for democratic reforms, people become opponents of the changes as well as of the leaders trying to force those changes.

I did not face any open demonstrations of anti-Americanism. It is understood that the American foreign policy over the last year has irritated the world. There is much fair and unfair criticism of the USA in the Russian media. But on the level of simple human communication Russians are very friendly, curious and generally positive. I would say that Americans and Russians share a willingness to be liked by other nations. Now there is a large Russian community living in the US. There are many Russians at my university, students as well as teachers, and most of them for some reason are women. They adapt quickly, and become politically as well as academically active.

By the way, when a beautiful Russian student explains why exactly the Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili is guilty, it sounds much more persuasive than when said by Vladimir Putin. You just want to believe her.

- As far as I know, you plan some student exchanges between the HSE and George Mason University?

- Yes, as early as in July a group of American students will come to Moscow for two weeks. Unfortunately they do not speak Russian, so the Russian students will have to look after them and escort them throughout the trip. I feel sorry that they will have no opportunity to feel the special charm of Russian culture and traditions, since for that it is essential to speak at least a little bit of Russian. On the other hand, this trip may inspire them to study foreign languages and cultures.

Valentina Gruzintseva, HSE News Service

Photo by Vasily Begal