Professor of Russian in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures and the Director of Russian Studies Kathleen Parth, working with James Billington, the Librarian of Congress, just released a report on what the identity of the new, post-Soviet Russia is. The report, “The Search for a New Russian National Identity: Russian Perspectives” shows that Russia’s uniqueness and traditional national identity remains important, despite embracing Western democracy.
Russia’s world changed a great deal about a decade ago, and part of this report was to analyze just how it changed. “After 1991 Russia began changing on every level, and the Library of Congress thought it would be a good idea to see how Russians viewed their future,” Parth said. “We also wanted to see how the U.S.A. could be a part of that future.”
The report emphasized that for the first time in almost a century, it was possible to ask probing questions about Russian life and politics. “We were glad to take advantage of the fact that we could ask these things,” Parth said.
Russia and its history are unique mainly because of its recent transition from Communism to democracy. In 1991, almost overnight it transformed from one of the most restrictive and totalitarian countries in the world to, theoretically, one of the least.
Parth collaborated with Billington in this project. He was once a professor of Russian History at Princeton University and internationally recognized for his teaching.
As the Librarian of Congress, however, he could not devote as much time to this project as he liked, so he contacted Parth to work on it cooperatively. “Billington had read my work, and he asked me for help,” Parth said. She was involved with the project at all stages – conducting background research, traveling to Russia to interview participants and translating the discussions with Russians.
“After 1991, Russians were trying to figure out who they were and what ‘Russian’ meant, so I moved away from straight literary research to cultural identity,” she said. The change has been positive overall for her. “It was an exciting project that used my abilities and interests to the fullest.” It has already impacted the UR community – the “Russia Now” course came directly from the project’s research.
The project had several intended uses. One of which was as a research and teaching tool. Besides that, it should also be useful to people working in Russia and its people.
“[It is] an update for people who are working with Russia, whether in business or government. We’ve already had strong positive feedback from the State Department and Congress,” she said.
Originally, Billington had expected the report to finish with conclusions about Russia’s current state and prospects for the future. However, he and Parth were surprised by the complexity and scope of the subject.
The report as it stands is mostly a condensed version of their research and findings, and Billington hopes to publish a book in late 2003 that will bring this project to a conclusion.
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