St. Petersburg, 18 September 1998 (RFE/RL) -- In the midst of the financial and political crisis gripping the country, eight American and European students were welcomed into Russia's first English-language Master's (MA.) program in Russian Studies on Thursday. The event marks a watershed in the field of Russian Studies.
The one-year program has been organized by the European University in St. Petersburg (EUSP), a private institution founded four years ago by the city government and Russian Academy of Sciences with financial support from the MacArthur, Ford and Soros Foundations.
"We offer something to our international students which cannot be found in the West," Oleg Kharkhordin, an associate professor of political science and acting dean of the EUSP's political science and sociology department, told RFE/RL. "We have the same methodological precision as in the West, but we have insight into the culture and country that western scholars do not have."
"There is a very powerful faculty at the EUSP," said David Woodruff, an assistant professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who is teaching this year at the EUSP. "They have an MA. program that can compete with any MA. program in America."
Though chartered in 1994, the European University only began teaching its Ph.D. and Master's program in 1996, and up until now study was only available for Russians and taught in their mother tongue.
The EUSP offers students courses in five departments: political science and sociology, ethnology, history, economics and finance, and history of the arts, which cooperates with the State Hermitage Museum.
According to Kharkhordin, who completed his Ph.D. in political science at the University of Berkeley in California, "the general purpose of the EUSP is to give bright minds an opportunity to read books and write essays without the need to work in kiosks."
The EUSP's one-year Master's program, which costs $6,000, shows a coming of age for the social sciences in Russia, as until now the flow of students - like Kharkhordin for example - was decidedly from East to West.
These young Russians, such as the professors teaching at the EUSP, have become a sort of hybrid scholar. Equipped with insight into the country and Western analytical skills, they have the potential to revolutionize the field of Russian studies .
On the student side, the opening of the university's doors to foreigners from the West holds great promise for the field of Russian studies. "With the European University's program, we can live in Russia and study with many top-rate Russian-area specialists, something that you do not find in any other single university in the world" said Jane Zavisca, a Berkeley University Ph.D. student who is studying in the EUSP MA program in Russian Studies.