Coping with Violence: Patterns from the 20th Century
Has there been a process of de-Stalinization in our country? If there was, how was it manifest? How did our society cope, and how does it cope today with the consequences of Stalin’s repressions? What has been the experience of overcoming the legacy of mass repressions in other countries, like Post-Apartheid South Africa, Europe after the Holocaust, and Cambodia after Pol Pot? Can that experience teach us something? And what do Americans think about all these problems?
Starting on Monday, January 20, Professor Steven Barnes of George Mason University and Professor of the HSE History Faculty Irina Filatova will be addressing these questions in an international video-conference course. Using technology facilitated by George Mason University, HSE students will have an exciting opportunity to meet American students, have discussions with them, and make joint presentations. The course is a virtual study placement at an American university, and you’ll need good English to keep up.
Professor Steven Barnes is a scholar of Russian History and author of the award-winning book Death and Redemption: The Gulag and the Shaping of Soviet Society. At the moment he is working on a new book which will be called The Wives’ Gulag. He says,
‘The course is quite significant for creating enormously important opportunities for international collaboration between HSE and my university and between students at our two universities, but it is also a very meaningful topic for students at both universities, that gives us a way to explore in depth how the past impacts our lives in the present.’
It is incredibly beneficial to the students and the instructors to engage in conversations on these difficult topics with their peers in another country.
Professor Irina Filatova, who teaches Russian and African history and has lived and worked in South Africa for many years was surprised by the gaps in students’ knowledge when they ran the course for the first time last year,
‘We discussed the ways in which different societies were coping with violence in the 20th century. The cases (patterns) in question were South Africa, Europe (the Holocaust), Cambodia, USA (lynching) and Russia/USSR. We found that students, both American and Russian, knew very little on any of these topics. I was stunned to discover, for example, how little those Russian students, who were not historians, knew of Stalin’s purges or of post-Stalin developments in the USSR. They explained that school history programmes did not cover these topics in any detail, and nor did the University course in Russian history.’
Steven Barnes has tailored the course specially to deal with this lack of knowledge, but he explains that,
‘The course explores far more than that history of repression, as it more importantly focuses on what post-Stalinist and post-Soviet state and society have and have not done to come to terms with that repression.
Only then do we move on to discussing the experiences of the United States and Russia. And here, I should emphasize that the Russian students in this class are not the only ones forced to come to some accounting of their own country's past and the ongoing consequences of that past. In the United States, as well, young people know too little about the past history of repression and how it continues to impact their world today. In the American case, we deal primarily with the past history of racist oppression, and we explore how that continues to impact American society today.
We end the course with our case study of Russia. We look at the history of Stalinist repression, attempts at a partial ‘de-Stalinization’ under Nikita Khrushchev, and how Russia has and has not dealt with that past from the Gorbachev years into the entire post-Soviet period.’
Professor Filatova is eager to run the course this year as the experience last year was positive on so many levels,
We discussed the ways in which different societies were coping with violence in the 20th century. The cases (patterns) in question were South Africa, Europe (the Holocaust), Cambodia, USA (lynching) and Russia/USSR. We found that students, both American and Russian, knew very little on any of these topics.
‘Both Professor Barnes and I, as well as our respective students, thought that it was a very interesting and worthwhile experience. It worked as a combined videoconference Russian–American class in real time. American and Russian students listened together to either Steve’s or my lectures (taught in turn), participated in the same tutorials and prepared presentations in mixed groups. It was fun. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the whole exercise were the blog exchanges on the site of George Mason University (they use the Blackboard system). Of course, Russian students improved their English as a result, but perhaps more importantly, they learnt to debate and to work together with their American colleagues.’
Professor Steven Barnes is looking forward to it, too, recalling how technology provided a unique opportunity to overcome huge physical, geographical divides and learn new ways of thinking through discussion;
‘It is incredibly beneficial to the students and the instructors to engage in conversations on these difficult topics with their peers in another country. The students are able to directly converse with one another and with their instructors in real time as if they were all sitting in a single room together. Many students will never be able to study outside of their home country, but this course gives them an opportunity to experience some of the positive impacts of international study from their home university.’
On a practical level, Professor Filatova pointed out that,
‘Students are expected to engage actively during the semester with less stress on the final test. The main problem that we experienced was the time difference (our 6 p.m. is 9 a.m. in Washington, DC): it was difficult for students to find time to discuss their common presentations together. But those who attended enjoyed the course.’
Classes are twice weekly on Mondays and Wednesdays from 6:10 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.; venue: Maly Trekhsvyatitelsky Pereulok (TBC)
If you want to sign up for the course, send an email to Professor Irina Ivanovna Filatova: email@example.com
Anna Chernyakhovskaya, specially for the HSE news service