|Annual Newsletter of the Slavic Research Center,
, December 2006
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|From the Director
||SRC Winter Symposium in 2005 (Dec.)
||SRC Summer Symposium in 2006
||Joint Seminars with the
Kennan Institute, Woodrow Wilson Center and the Davis Center for
Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University
||Concluding an Agreement
with the Institute of Slavic Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences
||Concluding an Agreement
with Sakhalin State University
||The 21st Century COE Foreign
Visitors Fellowship Program
||Professor Hara Teruyuki
||Professor David Wolff Succeeds
Professor Hara's Deeds
Nominated as Vice-President of Hokkaido University
|Our Current Staff
||Ongoing Cooperative Research
||Visitors from Abroad
||Guest Lectures from Abroad
||Web Site Access Statistics
||Iwashita Akihiro Awarded an Asahi
Eight months have passed since I succeeded the Slavic Research Center (SRC) directorship from my predecessor, Professor Tabata Shinichiro. In other words, I have served one-third of my term in this position. This is sufficient time to become acquainted with the challenges and advantages of the SRC and Slavic Eurasian studies in Japan. First and foremost, the job market in Japan for young Slavic Eurasian specialists is shrinking dramatically. Competent young scholars with quality publications, who would have reached the position of tenure assistant professor ten years ago, cannot find a job and en masse apply for temporal assistant positions at the SRC and other universities. The Japan Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology appreciates the strategic importance of area studies, and the end of the Cold War has not damaged Slavic Eurasian studies in Japan as much, for example, as in the United States (since Slavic Eurasian studies in Japan were much less policy-oriented). However, the declining birth rate more damaged higher education institutes in Japan than in other OECD countries. In 2004, state universities in Japan were transformed into semi-public agencies (khozraschet) and the government is pressing them to cut their budgets and reduce their number of staff each year. The end of the Cold War led to the justifiable abolition of courses such as the “socialist economy” and “socialist pedagogy.” In addition, Russian as a second foreign language is becoming less and less popular among students. The generation of 1948 (i.e., the generation who experienced the epoch of student movement and preferred to become university teachers, rather than go into business) makes up a significant proportion among the Slavic Eurasian specialists in Japan, and they will stay at university posts for several years more.
In my view, the most important task for our academic community in the coming years is to assist young colleagues to survive until the expected improvement in the job market, lest they lose hope and switch job. Applying for competitive sources of funding and implementing university reforms boldly, we will try to introduce attractive non-tenure posts with an excellent research environment. Fortunately, the SRC’s performance and the world Slavist community’s constant encouragement enable us to enjoy an advantageous position in the quest for funding. In the SRC budget of 2006, fixed government funding accounts for only 27 percent, we obtain the remainder through competition. The ongoing five year program financed by the Japan Ministry of Education, “Making a Discipline of Slavic Eurasian Studies” (2003-2008), received the preliminary assessment of A, – a fact that makes the future quest for funding easier.
Today, the SRC has only ten faculty members (tenure professors) with about 30 research staff of various categories and ten office staff. This structure, i.e., a relatively slim core surrounded by a thick layer of academic and office staff is common, for example, the Kennan Institute of the Woodrow Wilson Center and the Davis Center of Harvard University.
A general tendency in Slavic Eurasian studies in Japan during the last ten years is the peripheralization of academic interest. For example, Ukraine is preferred to Russia, Moldavia is preferred to Ukraine, and Transnistria is preferred to Moldavia... There are several reasons for this tendency. Young colleagues wish to be the first to excel in new areas, hoping to demonstrate their language skills, even if this is not necessarily to their advantage when seeking a job. Russian studies require only two languages, Russian and English, and this fact discourages young colleagues.
The second reason is more substantial. The Soviet Union was worthy of study in any case, because of its status as a superpower. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, young colleagues began to find the study of the Slavic Eurasian territory attractive mainly because of its ethnoconfessional diversity. In terms of academic attractiveness, therefore, the ethnoconfessional diversity of the region has served as a substitute for the superpower status of the Soviet Union. In this context, the peripheries of Slavic Eurasia appear more interesting than Russia, and in Russia, the Volga-Ural region and North Caucasus appear more stimulating than ethnic Russian regions. This peripherization of academic interest has pluses and minuses and this tendency seems, to a significant extent, irreversible. Nevertheless, it might be time to focus on Russia again, and with the benefit of our knowledge of Slavic Eurasia, we will be able to understand Russia from fresh perspectives.
In addition, it is important to focus on the border regions between Slavic Eurasia and the neighboring countries. The interaction between the Slavic Eurasian peripheries and the neighboring countries is generating a huge belt of new, still unidentified regions around Slavic Eurasia. For example, the Shanghai Organization is neither a Slavic Eurasian nor an Asian association. The Baltic countries might have ceased to be Slavic Eurasia, but they have barely become Nordic countries either. Formerly, it was possible to study the South Caucasus with knowledge of Russian and local languages. Now, knowledge of Persian and Turkish are also required in order to study this region. The same can be said for the Baltic countries. In addition to Polish or German, which were traditionally necessary to study this region, it seems desirable to know at least one of the Nordic languages. We need not only new languages, but also new disciplines. For example, a good knowledge of Oriental studies will become essential for future Slavic Eurasian studies. It is necessary to create a system to teach young scholars new languages, disciplines, and analytical devices. Moreover, we need to establish close cooperation with the research institutes operating in the new border regions: Shanghai, Teheran, Ankara, somewhere in Greece or the Balkans, and Helsinki. I hope to accept graduate students from these new border areas, and send our young scholars there.
Thus, scholarly attention should be addressed to both Russia as a core of Slavic Eurasia and the border regions between Slavic Eurasia and the outer world. In this way, we will reconstruct Slavic Eurasia not as a primordial area, but as something like a magnetic field in which various gravities interact. Perhaps this is the task to which the SRC will be devoted in the coming years.