Russian language Universities

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

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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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