Interview with Jefim Pivovar

On June 7, 2018, the first Czech-Russian Discussion Forum took place in Prague under the auspices of the Institute of International Relations in Moscow and the State Institute of International Relations in Moscow (MGIMO). The aim was to set up an apolitical, open discussion between academics, experts, and other non-state actors. Mezinárondí politika asked several questions to one of the participants, Jefim Pivovar, Rector of the Russian State Humanities University in Moscow.

After the first official Czech-Russian forum, what is the main message you take directly after the end?

I'm happy that it happened. From my point of view, the cooperation in the bilateral commission of historians and archivists is working. We have common projects. But from my point of view, we need a higher level of the forum. Especially level of discussion between societies, not only researchers. For me as a professor a very important thing is what will happen in the future. Education is a very futurologist project. Because it addresses the future. That's why I am very interested in our common research projects, our publications. But those publications and projects are interesting only for 50 colleagues in Russia and 50 colleagues in the Czech Republic. But nobody else knows about those projects and people are not interested in it. Especially the young generation could easily cooperate and participate in the projects, but we are not able to make use of this potential.

That's why, this institution (CZ-RU forum), if it will be, is very important, because of course, there are such forums already. There is a Russian-German dialogue, there will be French-Russian dialogue. Of course, we have a lot of problems on the way, first of all, financial problems. Neither Russia nor the Czech Republic has extra financial possibilities to stimulate wider scope of the forum. But step by step, we shall do it. If we think about the future, there should be a broader audience - students, young scholars, and maybe even school teachers from both sides. For me, the audience is very important.

You mentioned audience and the discussions among societies and students. I would like to ask you how popular is Czech language and Czech culture among Russians and Russian students?

You must distinguish between culture and language. Czech culture is very popular. Because first of all, there is a long tradition. Basically, we translate all the Czech writers into Russian and we consider Čapek or Bohumil Hrabal as much close as it would be our writers. And of course, Czech beer and cuisine are very well known and very popular. There are some breweries with factories in Russia, for example, Krušovice or Kozel, which makes beer in Kaluga, 200 km from Moscow.

The language, it's another case. First of all, as a result of globalization, practically only three languages spread out. English, Chinese and Spanish. All the others sometimes spread out, sometimes diminish. French, German, Russian by the way too and of course Czech too. Culture continues growing, language depends.

And what about exchange programs between the Czech Republic and Russia? For example, at your university.

It's a pity but we do not have so many Czech students in Russia, compared to French students for example. I tried, but Czech universities are more interested in double degrees with German or English partners. It's understandable, it enriches them. But they are not so interested in Russian universities. Previously, it was politically motivated, now it's market only. But of course, the business is growing, and it needs more specialists from both sides. That's why I mention that in both countries, English programs invite Russians to the Czech Republic and Czechs to our country. In any respected Russian university, there is a department of Bohemian studies. At my university, at MGIMO of course, at Moscow State, St Petersburg State and at some others. It's not so spread out but we would like to intensify it.

Are there some research topics which are more favourable than others? I mean, are there some topics on which you are more likely to receive a grant because they are in accord with the official government policy?

There are a few. For example, if we're talking about grants, there are grants for diasporas, Russian migration. Especially this year, 100 years after the revolution, it is more favourable.

As a professor, could you tell whether Russian researchers are under any political pressure?

It's a myth now. You see, of course, the political fear disappeared at the turn of the 80's and 90's. Real political fear. It's now something that is a common myth produced by media. Nobody wants to find out any evidence that we have done anything to cause Hilary Clinton to fail in the presidential campaign or that we helped Trump. Nobody wants to get any argument. It's already seen as something as obvious as the sun or the moon. But it´s nothing. It makes no sense. Russia couldn't do it. We are not so strong, you see, we are not a god. But it's already a common myth. That's the same about the political pressure. Political mass consciousness is one of the elements of democracy by the way, in any country. You find that populists in here, and elsewhere and in Russia too, it's nothing special. But if it is, for example in Austria, nobody talks about it. But if it's in Russia, it is immediately mentioned. It’s the same. And of course, from another side, you see, very new generation of politicians, maybe they have other education, maybe it's a result of the information revolution, maybe other, maybe it's change of generation of elites. They are not so educated from the point of view of understanding what Russia is. It's a pity. But to some extent, it exists. After all, it's impossible to explain them something. I am absolutely sure that the domination of persons who have force and money exists everywhere.

Further reading on the topic in our library:

Russia and East Central Europe after the Cold war -
LANDA, Václav - Rossija i Čechija 1985-1996 -
Česko-ruské vztahy v 19. a 20. století -