April 25, 2024

A Cold War in Academia


A Cold War in Academia
Where the learning happens. The Russian Life files

In an interview with Meduza discussing his new book on American hegemony, historian Ivan Kurilla commented on the differences between Russians' perceptions of Americans and Americans' view of Russians within the context of academic and research institutions. 

Kurilla found that study of Russia increases in America during times of conflict; for example, while "Sovietology" was studied consistently through the Cold War, enrollments and interest dropped when relations between the two countries improved in the 1990s. In Russia, it is the reverse: Russian universities and research organizations turned toward the study of the United States during times of detente, and the 1990s saw a rise in the number of regional institutions focused on American Studies.

Kurilla argues that while the US primarily finds it necessary to study Russia in the sense of knowing the enemy better, Russian institutions avoid study of the US during conflict to prevent the influence of American ideology from entering Russian culture and thought. He also notes that China has gradually replaced Russia as the main "Other," or perceived threat in the eyes of Americans, giving study of Russia in American academia a lower level of importance, while the United States remains central to Russian interest.  

Institutions facilitating academic exchanges between the US and Russia suffered when the Kremlin put restrictions on organizations protesting Russia's War on Ukraine. One such institution was Smolny College, a liberal arts faculty of St. Petersburg State University, which was closed after its partner university in the US, Bard College, was named an "undesirable organization" and banned from the country. 

Kurilla was a professor at the European University in St. Petersburg until March 5, when he was dismissed over alleged "absenteeism." Last year, his name was found on a leaked government list of alleged "foreign agents." He is currently a visiting professor at Wellesley College in Massachusetts.

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