Title VIII Funding at Illinois — A Letter From REEEC Director and Associate Director

Dear Colleagues, Community, and Friends,

 

It is now widely known that the Department of State Title VIII program has been suspended due to lack of funding for the 2013 cycle of applications. While it remains uncertain whether the program will be revived, the REEEC community of faculty and staff at Illinois intend to host the Summer Research Lab (SRL) in 2014 for its 41st session.  Unfortunately, this session will have fewer funding opportunities for participants. This is to say that while the loss of Title VIII support this year is detrimental, it is not devastating in the short term. Thanks to the foresight of past faculty and REEEC Directors, we have the means available to continue SRL while we search for new, perhaps more sustainable, funding streams. It should be noted that this news from the Title VIII program in no way impacts our status as a Department of Education National Resource Center, FLAS funding, our degree programs, or other academic year activities that REEEC offers as a center. 

 

Cutbacks can often lead to innovation and make way for new ideas to spring forth.  The REEEC community has already gotten to work on expanding, re-thinking, and developing ideas for what the Summer Research Lab can become in a world where future Title VIII funding may be completely unavailable. Because of the creativity and insight of the REEEC Executive Committee, plans are currently in place to expand SRL offerings in 2014 in partnership with our colleagues at the Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. Further reconfiguration and expansion is also in the planning stages, so please stay tuned to our website and blog for announcements.

 

Patrons of the Slavic Reference Service (SRS) should be aware that SRS will continue to provide support for reference requests as usual. Thanks to the leadership in the International and Area Studies Library (IASL), arrangements have been made to maintain staffing at the Slavic Reference Service. In addition, the IASL has been working towards developing an enhanced reference service modeled on the SRS to include expanded expertise and a broader range of materials and service to more scholars and specialists the world over.

 

In addition to new partnerships and programmatic developments, REEEC has embarked on a fundraising campaign to help replace funds no longer available from Title VIII. Part of this campaign includes an appeal for community support. If you have benefited from Title VIII in the past and want to help the next generation of scholars, please consider making a donation to the Friends of REEEC fund, indicating your intention to support SRL (http://www.reeec.illinois.edu/friends/). With these monies, we hope to provide housing and travel grants to graduate students and early career scholars to visit Illinois during SRL. The programmatic sharing of our remarkable library collection, which makes it a more vital resource for scholars than the few collections that outsize it, will thus definitely continue.

 

Again, it is with a heavy heart that we consider the ways in which the loss of Title VIII funding will impact the field of Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies. The program is responsible for funding countless hours of research, language training, and field visits, which has led to thousands of publications, hundreds of specialists in the field, and dozens of new and enhanced courses at American universities. It is our mission at Illinois to continue to serve as resource for those with limited opportunities for field visits and access to vernacular materials. While it is our hope that Title VIII funding will be renewed in the near future, we will also seek other sustainable means to continue to offer services and support for scholars and research professionals to the best of our ability. 

Please feel free to contact REEEC for any comments or questions regarding the contents of this message. We look forward to seeing many of you again for SRL 2014.  

With all best wishes,

Dr. David L. Cooper, REEEC Director  & Ms. Alisha Kirchoff, REEEC Associate Director 

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For further information, analysis and media coverage on the status of Title VIII, please visit the following links:  

RIA Novosti “US Defunds Venerable Russian Studies Program:” http://en.ria.ru/russia/20131023/184302924/US-Defunds-Venerable-Russian-Studies-Program.html

RIA Novosti “US Ambassador Alumnus of Defunded Russia Studies Program:” http://en.ria.ru/russia/20131025/184359108/US-Ambassador-Alumnus-of-Defunded-Russia-Studies-Program.html

Inside Higher Ed: http://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2013/10/23/federal-cuts-eurasian-and-eastern-european-studies

ASEEES Title VIII Alert: http://www.aseees.org/new/title8-alert.php

Russia Direct, “Why America Needs to Fund the Next Generation of Russia Scholars:” http://russia-direct.org/content/why-america-needs-fund-next-generation-russia-scholars

Russia History Blog: http://russianhistoryblog.org/2013/10/federal-defunding-of-russian-and-eurasian-studies/

Sean’s Russia Blog, “Defunding Title VIII:” http://seansrussiablog.org/2013/10/23/defunding-title-viii/

Sean’s Russia Blog, “Title VIII and Ambassador McFaul:” http://seansrussiablog.org/2013/10/26/title-viii-ambassador-mcfaul/

REEEC Director Discusses Russian Protests with Illinois International

Richard Tempest is the director of the Russian, East European and Eurasian Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an associate professor in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, where he was acting head in 2006–07 and 2000–02. His research interests lie in the area of Russian culture, history, and politics and their intersection with disciplines such as the history of religion, cultural theory, and the semiotics of the body. He also writes on Bulgarian history and culture. Here he discusses the recent protests in Russia regarding parliamentary elections in early December and Vladimir Putin’s presumed return to the Russian presidency.

Tens of thousands of Russians have taken to the streets in recent weeks to protest what they consider the rigging of the December 4 parliamentary elections. What evidence do they suggest exemplifies this claim?

Video evidence, much of it posted on the Internet, showing the stuffing of ballot boxes and other violations. There are also numerous eyewitness accounts which, again, are available online. Just check out YouTube. Beyond this, there is also the sense, confirmed by independently conducted opinion surveys, that the election results for the ruling party, United Russia, were implausibly high in Moscow and St. Petersburg, known opposition strongholds.

Putin is yet again running for the Russian Presidency. How do the protests possibly undermine Putin’s bid to again become President? What do you think is the likelihood that Putin is reelected? How popular is Putin in Russia?

Right now, Prime Minister Putin’s victory in the first round, that is, with more that 50% of the votes cast, looks unlikely. His party, United Russia, was unable to reach that level of support in the December 3, 2011 parliamentary election, despite widely reported violations designed to favor its electoral chances. Yet failure to win outright in round one would be a major blow to Putin’s standing in the country and, perhaps more importantly, among the governing elites, and thus another pointer to a decline in his political fortunes. On the other hand, any perception that his first-round performance was boosted by underhand or dishonest means would create more anger among opposition supporters, particularly in the big cities. Should a second round of voting be necessary, Putin would face a single opponent, possibly the communist leader, Gennady Zyuganov, around whom the opposition electorate might then coalesce. However, Zyuganov, a holdover from the 1990s, is a flabby apparatchik with no charisma whose party has offered tacit support to the Putin-Medvedev governments for years. Be that as it may, a purely electoral calculus would suggest that as things stand, Putin should be able to win the presidential election, even with his diminished level of support. As for his popularity with voters, recent opinion polls indicate an approval rating in the mid-40s. Looking at the big picture, one can say that since September 2011 the prime minister has been losing — and perhaps has already lost — what the Chinese call “the mandate of heaven.”

The protests in Moscow and around Russia have been compared to those in the Middle East during the so-called “Arab Spring.” Could protests in Russia lead to the type of change presumed for Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, et. al.?

In themselves, no. The government still enjoys widespread support, particularly in the provinces, and major political and financial players among the elites continue to back Putin. The Medvedev-Putin administration has extensive security resources that still function, and the institutions of government still obey it. Street demonstrations in a square in downtown Moscow, even if they bring together tens of thousands of opposition supporters, will not result in a collapse of the government. Also, Putin is not a dictator per se, but rather an essential mediator or interlocutor for the power groups that run the country in a semi-authoritarian fashion. He is a trusted intermediary among political and security clans that, were he not there, might fall out among themselves and engage in internecine warfare, as happened regularly in the 1990s. It almost happened in 2007 as well, when Putin’s second presidential term was nearing its end. Powerful players in the upper echelons of the regime were unsure who was going to take over and began maneuvering for advantage, even placing each other’s clients under arrest.

One plausible scenario is the Egyptian one, where in response to mass demonstrations the powers-that-be remove the country’s strongman from office and try to take control of the political transition. But for that to happen, the current political crisis in Russia would have to develop much further.

What is Russian President Dmitry Medvedev role in the current and future Russian government? Is there really any less of an indication that Putin has essentially circumvented the Russian Constitution by installing a puppet to bridge his presidencies, or is Putin really brazen enough to be so transparent?

Unlike Putin, who is a big-picture leader bored by the minutiae of government, Medvedev is a competent technocrat, though a clunky politician. He advocates the modernization of the economy and has a reputation as a reformer, though he does not have many concrete achievements on either front. “Brazen” is a good word to describe Putin’s actions since September 24, 2011, when the Putin/Medvedev presidential “swap” was announced. Lack of competition can blunt one’s political skills, countries and electorates change, and so Putin’s populist, bare-chested appeal suddenly looks old. His recent Botox, which made him look like an onion, didn’t help. Actually, this is an important point. In authoritarian systems the ruler’s body is the cynosure of all eyes, it embodies the regime, and by the same token (the same torso), when things go wrong, his appearance can become the focus of popular resentment. Since the parliamentary elections, Russia’s prime minister has been reacting to events, rather than setting the political agenda, which is a new experience for him. A large segment of the country has moved on, and he is scrambling to catch up. As for the constitutional issue, the presidential “swap” is technically legal, subject to endorsement by the electorate, which was always the plan. Putin made a mistake, however, in being so nonchalantly — brazenly — open about it: he took it as a given that this next iteration of the regime would be passively accepted by the country, just like the earlier ones. He was wrong.

This article was originally posted on the Illinois International Website  on 2 January 2012 by Matt VanderZalm