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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Discuss Yukos and Chechnya (In English, Please)

MTThe Higher School of Economics' rector, Yevgeny Yasin, left, and its president, Alexander Shokhin, fielding questions on the school's new courses in English.
Up until now, the vast majority of foreign students enrolling in Moscow schools to learn more about the country had to do their classroom time in Russian.

But a new range of courses at the Higher School of Economics is set to change that situation, offering English-language courses in such topical subjects as Russia's bureaucracy, the rise of nationalism, Yukos, the Chechen conflict and the threat of terrorism.

They join a mere handful of economics and political science courses in Russia taught in English, including at St. Petersburg's European University, which offers a master's degree in Russian Studies.

Last week, the school publicly launched its School of Russian Studies, which is set to accept its first foreign students this August. Both Russian and visiting foreign professors will teach in English, and prior knowledge of Russian is not a prerequisite, organizers said.

The school aims to offer a master's degree by 2007, which will cover courses as diverse as the fate of Yukos -- "The Life and Death of a Russian Corporation" -- and "Russian Politics: A Drift to Authoritarian Rule, Or the Construction of a Strong Democracy?"

"There are no closed topics for us," said the school's rector, Yevgeny Yasin, a former liberal economics minister under President Boris Yeltsin. "We will talk about our pluses and minuses."

Yasin said the courses would help "debunk the myths" and encourage international students to take a different look at Russia. "We are a normal country. Less developed than the United States, but a normal country."

Political science professor Yevgenia Albats, whose course, "Five Centuries of Russian Bureaucracy," runs this summer, said that an understanding of bureaucracy was integral to Russian history. "It can be presented as an endless war between the bureaucracy and elites that lean on it, and a weak civil society, which has always lost to it," she said.

Organizers said courses would include field trips and meetings with prominent figures, plus visits to editorial offices of the country's leading newspapers, while those studying bureaucracy would meet with past and current decision-makers.

Maxim Bratersky, the school's executive director, said prospective students would be encouraged to stay with a Moscow family rather than take a room in the school's dorms. "That's the only way to understand the country -- from the inside," Bratersky said, adding that living with a Moscow family would be a great chance not only to get to know Russians but also to hone language skills. "If you don't explain to a host what you want to eat, you won't be fed."

Alexander Shokhin, the school's president and Russia's former chief debt negotiator, said that the students would also have a chance to undergo "a cultural and psychological adaptation."

Ali Ghaleb Ahmed Ghaleb, a diplomat at Moscow's Egyptian Embassy, said the courses would be a good opportunity to better understand Russia. "Most people outside Russia don't have a clear idea of what's happening here," he said.

Russian-born Yelena Vinarsky, who lives and studies in California, said she was thinking of taking a course at the HSE this summer.

"I feel like everything I learned about Russia in the United States was one-sided and did not give me a true feel for what the culture and atmosphere is really like," she said. "A course on bureaucracy sounds much more realistic and in-depth than anything I learned about Russia in my world history courses."

For foreigners preferring to study in Russian, internationally accredited courses in the country include Middlebury College's immersion programs in Moscow, Irkutsk and Yaroslavl, and the American Councils' linguistic and cultural immersion programs.