War and Language: The Russian Master’s Program in Prague

Machine assist­ed translation

Charles University opens a Master’s pro­gram in Russian. Why it was in demand amidst the war, explains Zhanna Nemtsova, co-direc­tor of the Boris Nemtsov Academic Center at the Faculty of Arts, Charles University.


Over the past year, Russian aca­d­e­m­ic struc­tures have been rapid­ly dis­ap­pear­ing from the European edu­ca­tion­al field. The gap has been painful. Intra-European pro­grams in Russian are com­ing in to fill the vacat­ed space. One of them is the new Master’s pro­gram «Russian Studies» at Charles University in Prague. It will be imple­ment­ed at the Faculty of Arts of CU with the sup­port of the Boris Nemtsov Academic Center for Russian Studies. Some of the fac­ul­ty mem­bers are recent­ly emi­grat­ed Russian schol­ars who were unable or unwill­ing to remain in Russia for eth­i­cal reasons.

The two-year Master’s pro­gram is now at the final stage of accred­i­ta­tion. The first enroll­ment will be 20 peo­ple. The main sub­ject of study is Russia and the post-Soviet region after 1991: polit­i­cal regimes, polit­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion, eco­nom­ic tran­si­tion, media and communication.

One of the most impor­tant prob­lems for Russia, the orga­niz­ers con­sid­er «undig­ni­fied gov­er­nance» — there­fore a sig­nif­i­cant part of the pro­gram will be devot­ed to state gov­er­nance and eco­nom­ics. Russia’s failed polit­i­cal tran­si­tion will be exam­ined in the con­text of Eastern Europe and the for­mer Soviet republics. Additionally, Central Asia will be studied.

The pro­gram itself is not his­tor­i­cal in spir­it, although the Faculty of Arts tra­di­tion­al­ly has a very strong his­tor­i­cal and lin­guis­tic basis. This is how Zhanna Nemtsova explains the pur­pose of the program:

«When you want to do the right thing, you look back at how not to do the wrong thing. Our pro­gram is for the future, not for the past. I don’t want to deal with the past. The past just needs to be known. I want to deal with the future.»

Russian-speak­ing fac­ul­ty mem­bers are invit­ed to teach the sev­en manda­to­ry cours­es of the Master’s program:

  • Ivan Fomin (for­mer­ly assis­tant pro­fes­sor at the Higher School of Economics), «Methodology of sci­en­tif­ic research»;
  • Andrei Richter (for­mer­ly pro­fes­sor of Faculty of Journalism at Moscow State University; OSCE, and pro­fes­sor at Comenius University in Bratislava), «Media Formation and Journalism in Post-Soviet Russia»;
  • Dmitry Dubrovsky (Faculty of Social Sciences, CU), «The Political System of Russia after 1991»;
  • Timothy M. Frye (Columbia University), «Political tran­si­tion in Post-Soviet Russia and beyond»;
  • Sergey Medvedev (for­mer­ly Professor at the Higher School of Economics; Open University), «Values of the Foreign Policy Orientation of Russian Society after 1991»;
  • Karel Svoboda, (Faculty of Social Sciences, CU), «Economic trans­for­ma­tion in the Post-Soviet area»;
  • Stanislav Tumis (Professor at the Institute for East European Studies, Faculty of Arts, CU), «Soviet and Russian Models of Foreign Policy in the 20th and 21st Centuries».

Like all for­eign lan­guage pro­grams in the Czech Republic, this Master’s pro­gram has a fee. But the top 10 stu­dents can qual­i­fy for schol­ar­ships from the Boris Nemtsov Foundation.

However, the biggest prob­lem is not the entrance exams or fees. Visa restric­tions for Russian cit­i­zens in the Czech Republic are among the tough­est in Europe. According to Zhanna Nemtsova, a fundrais­er for the pro­gram, the polit­i­cal atmos­phere in the Czech Republic has become tense since last February: Czechs fear Russian influ­ence and wor­ry about their own secu­ri­ty. Nevertheless, the Czech Republic has a civ­il soci­ety pro­gram to help sci­en­tists, jour­nal­ists, and activists who are at risk. Under this pro­gram, they can apply for res­i­dence and work per­mits. In con­trast to the pre­vi­ous sit­u­a­tion, when there were stu­dent visas and sci­en­tists need­ed only an employ­er’s invi­ta­tion to enter, now each case of employ­ment of a Russian cit­i­zen in Czech acad­e­mia is an indi­vid­ual effort. And every­one who invites an employ­ee not only under­takes to help him, but also takes respon­si­bil­i­ty for him.


Zhanna Nemtsova, co-direc­tor of the Boris Nemtsov Academic Center for Russian Studies, fundrais­er, and ini­tia­tor of the Master’s pro­gram, answered ques­tions from T-invari­ant.

T-i: Zhanna, why has coop­er­a­tion with Russian uni­ver­si­ties become impos­si­ble since 2022?

ZN: Rectors of many Russian uni­ver­si­ties signed the Appeal of the Russian Union of Rectors and sup­port­ed the war. Cooperation with such uni­ver­si­ties is con­trary to the aca­d­e­m­ic spir­it of Europe. In gen­er­al, if there were no author­i­tar­i­an­ism, no per­son­al­ist regime in Russia, and no war, there would be no need for this Master’s program.

T-i: When you were nego­ti­at­ing for your Master’s pro­gram, did you encounter neg­a­tive atti­tudes toward the idea of teach­ing in Russian in Europe?

ZN: Not yet. Our Master’s pro­gram is includ­ed in the Erasmus+ stu­dent and aca­d­e­m­ic exchange pro­gram. I went to Sciences Po on the exchange issue and asked Vice-Rector Sergei Guriev to help me meet with the head of the inter­na­tion­al depart­ment, Vanessa Scherrer. She said: «This top­ic is very rel­e­vant, because we have now stopped total­ly coop­er­at­ing with Russian uni­ver­si­ties, but we real­ly want to have aca­d­e­m­ic ties with the Russian-speak­ing aca­d­e­m­ic and stu­dent community.»

Russian-lan­guage pro­grams may be in demand in Europe right now. In the past, Europeans and Americans who want­ed to study Russian went to Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. Now for the sake of learn­ing Russian, they go to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. There is a large Russian dias­po­ra in Prague. I sup­pose that now such English-speak­ing stu­dents will come to us for the sake of lan­guage immersion.

T-i: Do you think grad­u­ate stu­dents have a chance to put their knowl­edge into prac­tice in Russia? Will the sit­u­a­tion change for the bet­ter in the com­ing years?

ZN: I believe that it is impos­si­ble to com­plete­ly rule out the chance for improve­ment in the future. And with­out human cap­i­tal, with­out qual­i­fied man­age­ment, with­out peo­ple who under­stand how a demo­c­ra­t­ic soci­ety and its insti­tu­tions work, you can­not. Even if things are still going to be bad for the next thir­ty years, peo­ple must have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to get an edu­ca­tion, also in Russian.

T-i: Are you sure that stu­dents, hav­ing stud­ied in Prague, want to leave Europe and return to Russia?

ZN: It all depends on the moti­va­tion. Many Poles who had long lived in America, in Great Britain, returned home after the Soviet occu­pa­tion end­ed. Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili was born in France. She is now the pres­i­dent of Georgia. This is a vivid exam­ple. Whenever there is an oppor­tu­ni­ty some­where, peo­ple try to go there. Because this is an oppor­tu­ni­ty to make a career or to imple­ment ideas. I have been liv­ing in Europe for sev­en years - five years in Germany, now in Portugal. If oppor­tu­ni­ties open up in Russia, if I can be use­ful there, I will go to Russia.

Text and ques­tions: MARINA STEINBERG


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