Monday, May 19, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Devotes Little Scholarly Attention to Ukraine Because There is Little Official Demand for It

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 19 – Russian diplomats in Kyiv don’t speak Ukrainian and have not studied Ukrainian history or culture, a reflection of a general conviction among officials that they have no need to do so, according to Viktor Mironenko, the head of the Center for Ukrainian Research at the Moscow Institute of Europe.

            And those attitudes, according to an article entitled “Unknown Neighbors” published today in “Kommersant-Vlast’,” mean that only a few dozen Russian specialists graduate each year with a knowledge of Ukraine and most of them remain in the few places in Russian academic life where Ukraine is studied (

            And that pattern shows little sign of changing despite the current crisis because as the article’s author Eliveta Surnacheva puts it, “there is no heightened interest in the history and culture of Ukraine not only among ordinary citizens but also in government structures” and the rupture of academic ties between the two countries is likely to make the situation even worse.

            The first Moscow higher educational institution to teach Ukrainian was MGIMO, the foreign ministry’s primary training center. It did so only in 1996. The Moscow Diplomatic Academy taught Ukrainian from 1997 to 2001, and in 1998, Moscow State University and Moscow State Language University followed. More recently, St. Petersburg State University has offered Ukrainian language courses as well.

            As far as the study of Ukraine as a subject is concerned, most Russian work is done at MGIMO, the Russian State Humanitarian University, Moscow State University, St. Petersburg University, the Institute of Slavic Studies and the Institute of Europe where a Center for Ukrainian Research has been set up. Only in 2009 was the Russian Association of Ukrainists organized.

            Since the 1990s, there has also been a Center for Ukrainian and Belarusian Studies in the department of history of the south and western Slavs at Moscow State University.  It was originally sponsored by the Academy of Sciences, but later funding came from the Institute of Slavistics of the Academy of Sciences, the Library of Ukrainian Literature and the Russian World Foundation.

            At the St. Petersburg State University, there is a Center for the Study of the History of Ukraine. It is currently graduating about five specialists a year, all of whom have Ukrainian.  According to its leaders, the St. Petersburg Center’s graduates are more likely to go into scholarly work in the field than are those receiving Ukrainian training in Moscow.

            The reforms of the Academy of Sciences have led to cutbacks almost everywhere. Mironenko says that now no one wants “fundamental research” on Ukrainian matters and consequently nothing much can be “expected” anytime soon, although those in the field say they continue to work even though almost all financing has dried up.

            And now the crisis, instead of stimulating work in the field, is having the opposite effect: According to “Kommersant-Vlast’,” Russian universities recommend that their graduate students and instructors not travel to Kyiv” and that they not try to attract Ukrainians to their own institutions, just one aspect of “the complete break” in academic ties and dialogue.

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