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Georgy Mirsky: 'No place for the MacArthur Foundation' (Ekho Moskvy)

posted 26 Jul 2015, 17:19 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 26 Jul 2015, 17:37 ]
22 July 2015

By Georgy Mirsky, historian, honoured academic of the Russian Foundation, winner of a MacArthur Foundation award

Source: Ekho Moskvy

I make a special point of introducing myself in this post not as I usually do, but as a person who has received a MacArthur Foundation award – because this Foundation has announced its exit from Russia. But I am proud of this award.

It so happened that in 1992 I was teaching at the American university in Washington as an invited professor and gave a course of lectures about Russia, the USSR, Stalinism and the post-Stalin regime, World War II and the fall of socialism. At that time Washington was buzzing with rumours that Russia would go the same route as Yugoslavia, Russians would kill Ukrainians, Tatars kill Russians etc.

I was running around the capital from morning till night, from one round table discussion to the next, persuading Americans that no such thing would happen in Russia. One seminar after the other, one dinner after the other, and at one of these the outstanding expert on the Middle East, Robin Wright, author of many books, advised me, shortly after we met, to apply to a MacArthur Foundation grant competition.

I said, “This is hardly possible, after all this is the Foundation that gives out 'genius grants' ”. But Robin insisted and I sent off my application with the title “International and interethnic relations in the former Soviet Union, with an analysis of relations in the Soviet period and after the collapse of the USSR.” To my surprise I won a grant in the competition. I was far from being a genius, but the issue was a very topical one. And so I was awarded the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship Grant.

After receiving the award, I immediately took a plane back to Moscow and then on to Ukraine, the North Caucasus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. I spent time in the hot spots, found out a great deal, spoke to a great number of people, and shored up my theoretical knowledge by attending seminars given by Professor Anthony Smith at the London School of Economics, where I was invited to spend three months in 1993. On returning to America I received an invitation to go to Princeton where I worked for three years and during this time wrote the book “On The Ruins of Empire”. It was published in 1997 by Greenwood, Connecticut, and was highly praised on the pages of Foreign Affairs.

I am describing all this to make it clear I am fully qualified to judge the activity of the MacArthur Foundation. And I say out loud: this remarkable organisation has brought nothing but positive benefits to Russia. There are so many people who will pronounce its name with gratitude, and there is nobody who, without going against their conscience, would accuse this Foundation of anti-Russian activity.

And the fact that this organization has been brought to the point of having to “pull up sticks” says just one thing: that reaction is attacking on all fronts. What we are seeing is an attempt to isolate our country, to build a new Iron Curtain, and to completely and utterly drum into everyone’s heads the one idea: we are surrounded by enemies, the West for hundreds of years has had the one aim of trying to annihilate Russia, and for that reason has been spreading dissent, preaching freedom of opinion, and feeding fifth columnists.

The exit of the MacArthur Foundation is a significant event. And, evidently, an inevitable one. It is enough to look at the faces of those who spout daily on the television shows, to hear what is said in the State Duma (making one want to call it a national disgrace and worldwide laughing stock) – and it becomes clear: we no longer have a place for such an organisation. But there is a place for those who keep silent so as not to put themselves at risk with a superfluous word, and for those who will not spare their voices, singing, from the times I can well remember, ‘I know no other country, where people are so free.” *

* 'Я другой такой страны не знаю, где так вольно дышит человек' - lines from the Soviet-era patriotic song by Vasily Lebedev-Kumach from 1936, ‘Широка страна моя родная’. 

Translated by Frances Robson