On October 14, Secretary Clinton helped unveil a statue of the American poet Walt Whitman at Moscow State University in Russia. The Whitman statue was conceived as a companion to a statue of the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin that was placed on the campus of The George Washington University (GWU) in 1999. Both the University and the Pushkin statue are just a few blocks away from the U.S. Department of State headquarters in Washington, DC. To learn more about the impact of this kind of cultural exchanges, DipNote Bloggers spoke with GWU’s Professor Peter Rollberg.
DipNote Bloggers: Do cultural exchanges like this help foster international understanding and cooperation?
Professor Rollberg: The Pushkin monument is a symbol of the varied, continuing efforts to promote a better cultural understanding between the United States and Russia. It is also an inspiration for the many people who notice it on our campus, stop by, sit on one of the benches, and read the inscription. Many GWU freshmen who are unfamiliar with Pushkin and his legacy ask about Pushkin and are fascinated by the story of his short but rich life, his struggle for values such as honor and freedom, and his enormous output as a poet, prose author, and playwright. Of particular interest is Pushkin's African heritage of which he was proud: his great grandfather was an Abyssinian prince. On various occasions, I also have emphasized that Pushkin was a diplomat, too: his first job was at the Russian Department of State.
DipNote Bloggers: Do U.S. universities such as GWU benefit from links to international institutions and cultures?
Professor Rollberg: Here at GWU, my colleagues and I share in the conviction that a person cannot claim to be genuinely educated without exposure to foreign cultures, be it through literature, film, or music. Regardless of their major, students should develop a perceptiveness toward other nations and their cultural values, a respect for their great writers and artists. This perceptiveness will make their future dealings with foreign business people, diplomats and other representatives more trustful and mutually enriching.
DipNote Bloggers: Has the Pushkin statue become a fixture of the GWU campus over the last ten years?
Professor Rollberg: At the time of the monument's dedication, I chaired our Slavic Department and remember distinctly what a joy it was for faculty and students to welcome this statue to our campus, how much encouragement it gave our efforts to promote Russian language and literature here at GWU. The Russian foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, was present, as was Ambassador Strobe Talbot and many other dignitaries. In my experience, the GWU student body has accepted the statue as one of our most distinct intellectual landmarks. We all are proud of it.
Peter Rollberg is Professor of Slavic Languages, Film Studies and International Affairs at The George Washington University in Washington, DC. His main field of interest is Russian literature and film.