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Russian Language and Slavic Studies in Germany and Europe

Russian Language and Slavic Studies in Germany and Europe

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In October, Professor Holger Kusse, who recently joined International Laboratory for the Study of Russian and European Intellectual Dialogue, lectured at the seminar ‘West and East: The Universalism of Culture’. We spoke with Professor Kusse about the perception of Russan language in Germany, his research, and his plans for the 2020-2021 academic year.

For 15 years, Holger Kusse has been Professor of History and Linguistics of Slavic Languages ​​at the Institute of Slavic Studies at the Dresden University of Technology in Germany. Professor Kusse is a full member of the German Academy of Sciences and Literature (Mainz), and editor-in-chief of Zeitschrift für Slawistik (Journal of Slavistics) and the series, Specimina philologiae Slavicae (Specimens of Slavic Philology).

This year, Holger Kusse, a leading European expert in Slavic studies, joined HSE University. He began collaborating with HSE after becoming acquainted with Professor Vladimir Kantor (Faculty of Humanities) at conferences of the Russian Philosophy Research Group in Germany. Together with Vladimir Kantor, Holger Kusse held a series of conferences in Dresden and Moscow dedicated to Fyodor Stepun, a Russian philosopher of German origin.

For the majority of the German population, Russian is a foreign language, less important than English, but about the same as French or Spanish.

In many schools Russian is taught as a third or even a second foreign language. In the new federal states of Germany, there are still many people who know Russian from the days of the GDR. However, their knowledge is very limited.

Thanks to the works of Russian-speaking authors, such as, for example, Vladimir Kaminer or Olga Gryaznova, the Russian language also has a certain exotic quality in Germany. This is also due to German migration from the former Soviet Union. Due to the repatriates, Russian became one of the most important non-Germanic languages ​​in Germany, along with Polish and Turkish.

Most major universities in Germany offer Slavic studies, which always includes Russian studies. The programmes are philological, and Russian is taught as a language course. In most places, you can start your studies without knowing Russian. The German Association of Slavists is, as far as I know, the largest association outside the Slavic countries.

In addition, Russian is offered as an elective course at many gymnasiums. The situation is similar in Austria and Switzerland. In Italy, there are many strong university Slavic programmes, but in other non-Slavic European countries, Russian language and Slavic studies play a lesser role.

Will Europeans Speak Russian and Know Russian Literature in the Near Future?

'There is a general crisis in philology, which, of course, affects Slavic studies,’ says Professor Kusse. ‘The number of students studying Slavic is declining before our very eyes. At the Dresden University of Technology, we have responded to this trend by developing and introducing new integrative curricula. For example, I am the graduate adviser of the linguistics master's programme in European Languages, which is popular and enjoys great success. We also have Russian students in this programme.’

In his upcoming lectures at HSE, Professor Kusse will discuss topics such as Lomonosov as a representative of German rationalism; German 19th-century popular literary portrayals of Russia, Russians, and Russian language (specifically in the work of Karl May); and depictions of Russia in ‘German’ memoirs, including those of Stepun, Gollwitzer, Leonhard, Kopelev.

Holger Kusse pondered the question of what to recommend to foreign students who are starting to learn Russian. He himself began studying Russian when he was preparing to become a gymnasium teacher in the subjects of ‘Protestant Theology’ and ‘Foreign Language’. For a long time, by the way, he vacillated between French and Russian, but he ultimately choice Russian and now has a nearly perfect mastery of it. Although he says that he experiences difficulties that are typical of Germans—a distinct accent, occasional problems with aspect, and difficulties with palatalization.

Therefore, the German professor of Slavic studies advises simply: ‘Find for yourself topics and directions that are close to you—culturology, literary criticism or linguistics. Don’t lose interest.’

Research and Publications

Holger Kusse is not fazed by having to teach and communicate over Zoom, although he is used to face-to-face communication with students and colleagues at international conferences. He is the author of many studies and publications, and continues to be actively engaged in research.

‘After a book on semantics that I wrote with linguist Boris Norman (Linguistics in the Garden, 2018) and a large study on aggression and argumentation that was published last year, I am currently working with Russian linguist Vladimir Karasik on a book about the discourse of wisdom. I am also interested in linguistic effects which are called "perlocutions" in linguistic terminology.'

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