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National Research University Higher School of EconomicsNewsHSE Holds Largest Russian-Spanish Academic Congress

HSE Holds Largest Russian-Spanish Academic Congress

The International Congress on Russia and Spain: Politics, Economics, Culture was the first to bring together leading Russian researchers on Spain and Spanish scholars representing various fields of the social sciences and humanities.

In April 2016, the Year of Russia in Spain and the Year of Spain in Russia are coming to the end. One of the final events was the International Russian-Spanish Congress organized by the HSE Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs.

‘Spain and Russia are very close, and it’s important for us not to lose academic and cultural ties during this difficult political period’, said Sergey Karaganov, Dean of the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs, at the opening of the congress. ‘Our countries had similar histories during the last century, and we can learn a lot from the Spanish experience in terms of restoring historical memory’.

Karaganov said ‘Russian people love Spain and, most of all, Don Quixote’, since ‘quixotism is very strong in Russians’. An example of Russians’ quixotism can be seen in how Russians welcomed Spanish children to the Soviet Union during the Civil War, said José Ignacio Carbajal Gárate, Spanish ambassador in Russia. He said that the most important Spanish centre in Moscow is the centre that brings together the children of the Spanish Civil War.

‘Now is the moment when Russians and the Spanish are learning more about each other’, said Gárate. ‘I want everyone to know that in 2012-2013, when I came to Russia, 1.5 million Russians visited Spain. Then their number fell due to the economic crisis, but the huge interest of Russians in Spain and that of the Spanish in Russia will never disappear’.

Alexey Paramonov, Director of the First European Department at the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who also spoke at the congress opening, agreed with the ambassador. ‘Russia and Spain are two countries that are distant geographically, but have always been attracted to one another both in terms of international relations and in terms of ordinary people’s attitudes and feelings’, he said.

Previously, Russian-Spanish academic conferences were organized in specific research areas. For example, starting in 1977, when diplomatic relations between Spain and the Soviet Union were restored, joint colloquiums of historians were organized biannually.  ‘But such a comprehensive congress bringing together researchers of Spain in various fields – historians, political scientists, economists, ethnologists, diplomats, philologists, art historians, and linguists – has never been held in Russia’, said Olga Volosyuk, Professor at the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs and one of the forum organizers.

‘There aren’t many researchers in Russia who study Spain, and almost all of us know each other’, Volosyuk added, ‘and our Spanish colleagues came here thanks to our long-term friendly relations. Tatyana Koval and I have personally known many participants of the Congress for many years. But the event has also attracted those who learned about our previous “historical” colloquiums from their colleagues, who have an affection for Russia, and whose studies may be of interest to Russian scholars.  I hope that we’ll be able to develop these contacts into something bigger. I’m especially happy to see that the congress organizing committee included our younger colleagues, Maria Karaulova and Alina Shcherbakova, representatives of the new generations of researchers of Spain’.

The congress brought together over 100 researchers from more than 30 universities, as well as research and cultural centres in Russia and Spain. Participants presented their papers as part of three topical sections – History and Diplomacy, Economic and Politics, and Culture and Arts.

According to Volosyuk, the congress attracted the best and brightest in their profession. For example, on the first day of the congress, Vsevolod Bagno, a renowned researcher of Spanish literature and Director of the RAS Institute of Russian Literature (Pushkin House), gave a talk entitled ‘Cervantes Code of the Mediterranean. Don Quixote Code of Russia’. Ángel Bahamonde Magro, historian and professor at Carlos III University, spoke about the beginning of the Civil War in Spain.

‘You can listen to Ángel Bahamonde endlessly; this is a one-man show, he speaks without any drafts and gathers huge audiences in Madrid’, Volosyuk noted, ‘and our congress attracted a number of such researchers who are real celebrities in their fields’.

Alexey Meshkov, Russia’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, greeted participants at a reception organized by the Spanish Embassy in Russia after the congress opening. He emphasized once again that Russia and Spain are bound by special relations and that such events make a considerable contribution to preserving the ‘specialty’ of these relations.

Students also speak at the congress alongside renowned scholars and diplomats. Every year the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs holds student conferences in Spanish, which attracts representatives of various universities. This year the student conference was included in the programme of the ‘big’ congress. Students’ work was evaluated by a jury of lecturers that included Spanish professors. The authors of the best papers were awarded at the event’s closing ceremony.

Over 100 papers from the congress are planned for publication, although the format is still being discussed. HSE scholars and their colleagues are also finalizing the publication of a book entitled Russian Diplomats in Spain, which will be published in Russian and Spanish with the support of Santander Bank. ‘No one has ever conducted such research before, but it’s really important for the study of our diplomatic relations’, Volosyuk explained, ‘This work is also important for HSE in another dimension; in addition to the usual English-speaking audience, we are entering the vast Spanish-language academic environment’.

Organization of the Congress would not have been possible without the support of Vneshekonombank, Santander Bank, the Embassy of Spain in Russia, the Russian Foundation for the Humanities, and the Alexander Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund.