Will Slavic Studies be once again a Popular Concentration at Princeton?

About a week ago, the Daily Princetonian featured a cartoon in which a Slavic studies professor wished for the days of the Cold War when the student enrollment in Russian-related classes was sky high. To his disappointment, Princeton students are now learning Arabic and Chinese, hoping one day to be on the front lines of combat or collaboration with the rising “powers.” However, when one-steps back from the daily news about Ahmadinejad’s denouncement of the Holocaust and the ever growing trade deficit with China, one will likely see that the days of overcapacity in SLA 101 (Slavic Studies 101) are not so far away.

When Communism in Russia finally fell in 1992, the country embarked a rough transition into capitalism. The local tycoons grew richer, corruption surged, while the commoners’ standard of living didn’t improve. Then came Putin. A “dark-horse” with a vision, Putin aimed to reinvigorate the Russian economy and placing the country back on the map as a superpower. Fighting the country’s problems with very strong non-democratic means, Putin started replacing the country’s chaotic business environment with a more structured one and made sure the country’s enormous resources were utilized to produce strong economic growth.

Naturally, Putin’s politics and its aftereffects have not been restricted to internal affairs. The growth and normalization of the economy led to a rise of businessmen interested in foreign investment and American outsourcing, hoping Russia will become the next India or China. While this aim may not seem too hard to achieve since Russia has a much better educated labor force than both India and China, Russia’s global image as a country returning to totalitarianism is a major obstacle. Understanding this, Russia’s businessman have been attending conferences and other events to try to redefine the world’s perception of the Russian economy as a legitimate and lasting capitalistic economy

Not worried so much about the country’s business friendly image, Putin has been trying to counterweight Washington’s international policies, particularly in the Middle East. Not only making numerous anti-U.S. speeches that were jokingly termed by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as “Cold War Rhetoric,” Putin has been selling weapons to Syria and protecting Iran against harsh global measurements. With likely escalation of events in the Middle East, Russia could once again become the player it was in the 60’s and 70’s in the region. Of course, not everything is set in stone. Putin plans to step down in 2008 and he doesn’t yet have a clear predecessor, and Russia doesn’t yet have the capability to challenge the United States.

Considering the potential rise of superpower Russia, if Princeton’s students truly want to understand and influence international development in the next half a century, they shouldn’t chase the goldfish, but go after the shark. Don’t worry about Arabic; it’s once again time to learn Russian.

Sources: "Russia Turns to Spin to Redefine Itself and Reassure the West” & "Post-Putin"

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