No repeat of George W. Bush's Chicken Kiev speech

No repeat of George W. Bush's Chicken Kiev speech

Science editor, VoxUkraine
23.06.2023, 08:55

Why did most Western politicians and analysts expect Kyiv to fall ‘in three days’? Why do we still see the defenders of ‘great Russian culture’?

Having examined the Slavic studies programmes of thirteen top US universities, we found a significant Russia-centricity – and not only in the number of courses but also in their quality.

82 percent of the courses in Slavic literature are Russian literature programmes, although Russia does not come close to 82 percent of Eastern Europe in terms of population or literary output.

By comparison, there are no courses in Ukrainian literature at all; courses in Ukrainian culture are offered by only five of the universities surveyed; and courses in the Ukrainian language, by eight of the 13 (Russian language, literature, and culture are offered by all the universities surveyed).

Over the last academic year, the universities slightly increased the number of Ukraine courses, but at the same time increased the number of ‘Russian’ courses, only deepening the imbalance.

The Slavic studies curricula are predominantly constructed from a Russian perspective and often appropriate the achievements of peoples oppressed by Russia.

For instance, Nikolai Gogol is seen as a Russian writer, even though he considered himself Ukrainian. Medieval Russia, the history of the Eastern Slavs, and the USSR are generally considered part of Russian history, which ignores the completely independent history of the peoples occupied by Russia at one time.

One of the courses on Russian literature covers the works of Isaac Babel (a Jewish writer from Odesa), Śviatłana Aleksijevič (a Belarusian writer), and Andrey Kurkov (a Ukrainian writer from Kharkiv).

Perhaps Mr Kurkov would be quite surprised to learn that he is being taught as a Russian author in US universities while the Russians are destroying his home city.

Several US universities surveyed offer a course on ‘Russian civilisation’, which is an oxymoron.

The result of the Russia-centric approach is, for example, that Samuel Charap and other Ukraine ‘experts’ – who are often graduates of Russian studies – predict Ukraine's decline and look at our country through ‘Russian’ eyes.

The same applies to media coverage of Ukraine. For example, the New York Times acknowledges that Andrew Kramer, the head of its newly established Kyiv bureau, who studied Russian in college, "...for years...was the primary reporter covering Ukraine from his perch of the Moscow bureau."

President George W. Bush's infamous Chicken Kiev speech – written by Condoleezza Rice, who studied Russian at Moscow State University – is the quintessential example of a complete lack of understanding of Ukraine.

Knowledge is power – in particular, the power to prevent wars by knowing who is capable of what, what to expect and what is at stake. Instead, the price of ignorance is the biggest war in Europe since the Second World War.

This war should prompt universities to review their Eastern European curricula to give their students a better education and, hopefully, make the world a safer place.

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