‘Free Market and Human Rights are Two Parts of a Whole’
On March 6th John Dale, Professor of Sociology at George Mason University, USA, was a guest at the HSE stand at the ‘Education and Career:21st Century’exhibition which took place in Moscow. His speech in front of prospective HSE students at the exhibition was part of the programme of his Moscow visit.
Students of the Higher School of Economics know Professor John Dale through a unique video course entitled ‘Political Analysis of Human Rights Realization in the Globalizing World', which he teaches along with Nina Belyaeva, Head of the HSE Department of Public Policy. His 10-day visit to Moscow also included a series of lectures on the problems of civil society and human rights. John Dale spoke to us about his attitude to these problems and about the co-operation of the HSE and George Mason University (GMU)
- How did the collaboration between your university and the Higher School of Economics develop?
- My professional interests at George Mason University include such areas as human rights sociology and the attitude to this practice in different countries of the world, its basis in traditions, rules and laws. I am interested in what the mechanism of influence on these processes by actors of the civil society looks like and whether it exists at all. These questions formed the outline of a course I taught at my university. I got to know the Higher School of Economics thanks to Nikita Pokrovskiy, Head of the HSE Department of General Sociology, who visited GMU more than two years ago. I told him about my idea of ‘globalization'of the student audience, of letting students from different countries exchange views, argue with each other and generally work together on understanding the problems of human rights despite the borders and distances which separate them. Nikita liked this idea and we started working on the practical aspects. We spent almost a year coordinating the technical and technological aspects of the video course. We had to arrange the schedule and time of the video conferences to be convenient for students in both Moscow and Washington.
- But it turned out that you are running this course with the Department of Public Policy...
- Yes. Overseas planning inevitably has multiple risks, and right up till the start of our course in Washington, it seemed that they couldn't include the same course in the schedule of the HSE Faculty of Sociology, despite Nikita Pokrovskiy's willingness. We were fortunate to discover that the Department of Public Policy was making preparations for a new specialization in its master's programme on human rights and democratization. And it turned out that the department had enough students interested in this topic who were able to study in English.
- Was it easy for you to find a common ground with Russian colleagues in professional terms?
- It turns out that Professor Belyaeva and I have similar approaches to human rights, and we think it is very important that our students also share their views on this issue. We do not set a task of bringing them to a ‘common denominator', to average them. Quite the opposite, we are interested in our students'ability to see and understand different points of view, even if it is unusual for them. This is what I mean when I speak about the ‘globalization'of the student audience.
- The current video course is over. What's next ?
- Now we are considering increasing the number of joint courses on human rights and creating of a series of courses where the participants from both the Russian and the American side would get an official certificate from the partner university upon succesful completion. In fact it would be a joint realization of our master's programmes. Of course it cannot be called a real double degree, but students who will have entered this course will study at least 6 courses, three of which are offered on our master's programme, and the other three - on the master's programme of the HSE. And one more course - the one we teach in video format - will be obligatory for both halves.
Generally, our university is very interested in extending this type of work, and my visit to Moscow is only the first part of an academic exchange between GMU and the HSE. In a couple of weeks Nina Belyaeva will come to Washington. We are planning to formalize the structure of new courses and discuss our plans for student exchanges. Initially we're talking about a one-year programme of students from the HSE Faculty of Applied Political Sciences at GMU and GMU students at the HSE.
- It is no secret that the Russian public opinion does not approve of human rights activists. Based on your video course experience, how do you see the Russian students'approach to this problem?
- There probably is a certain misunderstanding of what in fact we mean by ‘human rights'. But you know, once you lose those rights, you immediately understand their importance. Recently we discussed how the development of the market economy influences the human rights situation. And many students advocated the idea that building an open market is the most important task for Russia, and everything else will follow on naturally. Often the modern way of development in China is given as an example of this idea. But the situation is much more complicated than this. For example, how can we speak of a normal labour market when rights of the workers are not secure and many of them are in fact in the position of slaves? I believe that the free market and human rights cannot exist without each other for long, and it is impossible to choose one or other of them:they are two parts of the same whole.
- You said that experts in human rights will soon be in demand in the labour market. But at the same time, skeptics blame NGOs for turning human rights defense into a business enterprise...
- The fact that NGOs use some business methods for improving their structure and the efficiency of their work does not turn them into commercial enterprises. Yes, sponsors of NGOs often describe their support in investment terms, but it is merely semantics. All these activities have just one aim - to achieve optimal spending of resources and maximum social effect from these investments. NGOs do something more important than just earn money. They help to build civil society, they teach people, who then continue this work in their countries. It is impossible to get rich with this kind of ‘business', but it is quite possible to give an impulse to social development of certain countries and, indeed, whole regions.
- Meanwhile, in the last year it seems that the USA and other Western countries stopped paying attention to human rights violations in Russia and in some sense have let our authorities off the hook. Do you agree with this point of view?
- Human rights is a universal and basic thing, supported by many international laws and treaties, that's why it would be impossible for the US to turn a blind eye on this problem. Moreover, our countries have such a long history of influencing the human rights situation worldwide, and have so often accused each other of violation of those rights and have actually violated them from time to time, that they cannot just ignore the most egregious cases. It's a different matter that having used a broad set of methods in war on terror, the US have lost their moral right to judge the others, for example, in the use of torture on terrorist suspects. I think that both the USA and Russia should learn something not from each other, but from other countries. But enforcing human rights is a endless activity. Developing education, intersocial and intercultural dialogue, as well as the international human rights network - this is the way to progress. And it is social institutions, including universities, who can play an important role in this process.
Oleg Seregin, HSE News Service
Photos by Shota Kakabadze