Conflict in Ukraine A problem to show an intruder

How to teach Russian history while the war is raging in Ukraine? And Russian literature? Vladimir Putin’s diet? At Quebec universities, professors are reviewing the content of their courses. Some are considering removing the word “Russian” from their program name altogether.

Posted at 7:30 p.m.

Lea Carrier

Lea Carrier

“I think the teaching of Russian politics, history and literature will change to some extent after this war,” said Maria Popova, an associate professor of political science at McGill University.

No, it’s not about burning books or banning Russian authors. As M. explainedyes Popov, the war in Ukraine is an opportunity to “decolonize Russia’s studies.”

First, and this is one of the most significant changes, professors from the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures at McGill want to remove the mention of “Russian” from the “Russian and Slavic Studies” program.

In recent years, Slavic studies, which cover Central and Eastern Europe, have come to the fore, says university program director Daniel Pratt Webster.


Daniel Pratt Webster, director of the university program in Russian and Slavic studies

At the turn of the XXIe In the 19th century, the interest and funding of Slavic studies declined in favor of the Middle East and China, which were gaining in popularity at the time. “In the end, we focused more and more on Russia,” he says.

However, Russia’s propaganda machinery, which has been in full swing since the war, reminds us of the need to place Russia “in a broader context”, including Ukraine, Poland and even the Czech Republic.

“When Putin talks about the Russian world, he focuses on the story of cultural history. We want to show that this is not quite a story, that there is more than one ethnic group in Russia, “emphasizes Mr Webster.

More minority votes

We do not teach the history of France without talking about its imperial regime, emphasizes Maria Popová. From the war, she predicted that the same would happen to the Soviet Empire.

“More attention will be paid to the fact that Russia was an empire and that it was the dominant force in the Soviet Union continued to be an empire,” explains a specialist in post-communist Europe.

This requires witnesses from the past, says Kristy Ironside. Historical documents that would allow him to teach a story told from the perspective of colonized nations.

The problem is that translated versions of these documents are rare. So the Russian invasion of Ukraine in all its tragedy may have something good.


Kirsty Ironside, a specialist in modern Russia at McGill University

There has been greater recognition that we need more views from these minorities, we need these voices in our teaching spheres.

Kristy Ironside, a specialist in modern Russia at McGill University

“I think there will be more publications. I know that there are projects underway that are trying to translate more Central Asian resources, “says an expert on modern Russia.

These documents also protect us from the trap of rewriting history according to the spirit of the time. “In the past, people understood their national identity differently, their language. That is why I think it is really important to have these documents, “she says.yes Ironside.

A revival of popularity?

Will Russian studies (or Slavic studies) be more popular with students invading Ukraine? Hard to say at the moment.

The University of Quebec in Montreal is not experiencing a surge of students, but Professor McGill, Kristy Ironside, has noticed an increase in enrollment in her introductory course in Russian history. Aurelia Campana, a political science professor at Laval University who teaches post-Soviet Russia, expects a lively session next autumn.

It is clear that this will provoke debates, which I will describe as passionate and fascinating. Our role as teachers will be to let students express themselves, but to put things right.

Aurélie Campana, Professor at Laval University

In the long run, Professor Daniel Pratt Webster hopes that the war in Ukraine will bring a new impetus to Slavic studies. However, universities are moving slowly and there must be more than a year or two before the money comes in.

“I can already see that some universities are heavily involved in the diversification of Slavic studies, and that is very good. »

Leave a Comment