Friday, February 28, 2014


As avid readers of Soviet Roulette will recall, I recently launched a Russian history reading club at a center for troubled teenagers.  I wanted to use the book, Russian Short Stores from Pushkin to Buida, tell the story of modern Russian history to this group of young people.  On the way to my first session of the club, I called a friend to ask her what I might expect on the first day of class.  This friend had a lot of experience teaching the language arts to diverse groups of people.  But I forgot that she also had very specific experience teaching students who were ordered by one governmental agency or another to live away from home.  I asked her:  Was I being overly ambitious?  Would my students be able to relate to Russia?  Would they be able to handle difficult readings?  My friend gave me a lot of good advice.  She told me it would take some time to build up trust with a diverse community of learners.  Some were very gifted learners, others had severe learning disabilities:  but almost all would have issues related to abandonment, loss, betrayal, or victimization.

How bad off were some of these kids, I wondered?  She said I could expect to see children with all levels of reading ability, and all sorts of emotional and behavioral dispositions.  What was the worst I could expect from these students, in terms of the difficulties they had encountered before they arrived at a center such as the one I was getting to know? She gave me this story to tell me about the kinds of kids she would sometimes encounter in her work twenty years previously.  She said that in one particular culture, children frequently made "suicide pacts."  I started to express my horror but she interrupted me.  This wasn't the heart of the tragedy.  The fact was that the local society shunned anyone who didn't follow through with a suicide pact.  The survivor would inevitably be isolated, abused for having failed to meet his or her obligations to the lost friend.  And so it was that one young person was her a friend when that friend shot herself.  Worse was to come.  After witnessing the death, the traumatized teenager waited for adults, parents of the dead girl, to return.  When they did, they were so angered by what they perceived to be the betrayal their dead daughter that they locked the survivor away for a weekend, to share a room with the murdered girl for two days.  While this was perhaps an extreme form of tragedy, my friend said this was the type of experience some of her charges had experienced, either immediately prior to their arrival at a group home, or at some point in their troubled biographies.

 Knowing all this, I wondered whether I wasn't being overly ambitious, and accordingly I prepared to modify my lesson plan for the evening.  On the first day of class, I tried to demonstrate my interest in them by asking them open-ended questions about their interests, about their experience with reading, and about their existing knowledge of Russia.  The conversation was revealing insofar as I had not (but perhaps should have) guessed at the extent to which each of them bore some level of antipathy for school, and for reading in particularly.  Although the conversation was lively, and the students intelligent, very few of them could admit to any level of interest in history or literature.  Trying to broaden the conversation, I asked if people had ever learned something important from somebody who was different from them.  Perhaps my students didn't understand the question, but few expressed any interest in getting to know new people.  Moreover, almost nobody had even been out of the county. 

On the second day of class, I came prepared to talk about Pushkin's short story, "Queen of Spades."  However, I was not surprised when not a single student had read the story.  Fortunately, I had already resolved to focus more on a general discussion of concepts which are related, however loosely, to the story I had assigned so futilely.  That is to say, I wanted them to think about the nature of aristocracy but indeed autocracy.  The best I could do with this was to ask questions related to power.  Who rules in a society, and why?  What does the term aristocracy mean?  What is a peasant or serf?  How do societies change?  What kind of classes are there in America?  What is a citizen? What is a subject?  What rights do citizens have?  What rights, if any, does a subject have?  What is democracy?  The goal, of course, was to contrast modern American society with Russian society in the age of Pushkin.  However, the discussion was meant to suggest some similarities as well.  If nineteenth century Russian society was undemocratic and unfree, is American society entirely free of surveillance, censorship, and militarism? 

In two weeks this reading club with meet to discuss Mikhail Lermontov's "The Fatalist," drawn from his Hero of Our Times.  While I don't really expect anybody to have read the short work, I will once again try to get the students to engage in a general discussion which toggles back and forth between their lives, American politics and culture, and the Russian past.  In this case, we'll discuss military and aristocratic values in more detail.  We'll also some general philosophical questions about predestination and free will.  I can only hope that over time the Russian theme will germinate.  In the meantime, I am hoping that intelligent conversation about social science will have a value in helping these students to see themselves as citizens rather than subjects of these United States.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Role of Terror in Russian History

Recently I've delved into a variety of different books dealing with the subject of terror.  I've looked at Terry Eagelton's Holy Terror, which traces Europe's fascination with violence back to its Greek origins (See my posts on the book);  Hannah Arendt's short study of the subject, On Violence, which opens, appropriately enough, with reference to Lenin's statement that the twentieth century would be a century of wars and revolution;  and Slavoj Zizek's short treatise on the subject, Violence. Obviously, the question of terror is central to the history of twentieth century Europe and, more particularly, Russia.  Stalinism is of course terror personified.  We need only read Robert Conquest's masterwork, The Great Terror:  A Reassessment, to gain a true picture of the extent to which the trajectory of a people can revolve around criminality and violence.

Yet Stalin didn't invent revolutionary violence. Lenin and all other Old Bolsheviks accepted, or rather embraced, the idea of terror as well.  So too did rival socialist and anarchist parties.  The Bolsheviks saw terror as a legitimate vehicle for establishing and maintaining revolutionary gains against all comers.  Although the idea of terror seems to be discredited in modern political discourse, most revolutionary theorists and thinkers believed that real social change required a large measure of violence.  In fact, almost everybody who opposed the status quo, who opposed the worst excesses of either medieval or modern (ie, capitalist) life, believed that violence in defense of liberty was, to paraphrase Barry Goldwater, no vice.  People looked back in particular to the model of French Revolution's Reign of Terror.  Who could gainsay the fact that violence had secured the country against its enemies, both internal and external?

Sophie Wahnich's book, In Defence of Terror:  Liberty or Death in the French Revolution, reminds us of the fact that nineteenth century radicals had few qualms about celebrating the Reign of Terror as perhaps the only weapon which could sustain revolution and keep kings and aristocrats at bay.  Of course, knowing that politics was a sterile arena, late nineteenth century Russians radicals openly embraced terror as an engine of change.  By the onset of World War I, certainly men like Lenin were unlikely to regret the use of violence to effect social change.  Could things get any worse than they were in the Great War?  Perhaps Lenin can be forgiven for thinking that they couldn't.  Zizek's contemporary analysis of global inequality illustrates this line of thinking.  Zizek believes in two kinds of violence, subjective and objective violence.  Subjective violence is revolutionary violence, or any form of popular insurrection.  The other kind of violence is objective violence.  Zizek argues that objective violence is the invisible, structural violence of capitalism and neo-colonialism.  While we tend to focus on seemingly random outbreaks of subjective violence, we seldom see the objective conditions which make these outbreaks inevitable. 

One interesting way of looking at revolutionary violence is found in Antoine de Baecque's book, Glory and Terror:  Seven Deaths Under the French Revolution.  De Baecque's original contribution to the study of violence is to show how violence tells an important story in any revolution, or perhaps competing stories.  For De Baecque, dead bodies are scripts which narrate a revolutionary story of justice.  De Baecque does a close reading of seven different macabre stories from the French Revolution.  The interesting thing about these famous deaths is that in each case the revolutionaries move very far away from the known historical "facts."  That is to say, revolutionaries invented very elaborate and richly told tales of horror that surpassed the events as they occurred.  These collective fantasies (and its interesting to see that counter-revolutionaries also engaged in collective fantasies about dead bodies) tell us a great deal about the importance of violence to the mental act of rebellion. 

Thinking of the literature on revolutionary violence, I'm reminded of a presentation I recently attended on the subject of the academic peculiarities of veterans.  The presenter, an expert on advocating for the veteran population, spoke of their defining traits, almost all of them positive.  Veterans were hard-working, respectful, service-oriented, etc.  They also demonstrated an extraordinary capacity for aggression.  The thought disturbed me.  How could this group of heroes, the embodiment of everything good in our country, also be a group of killers?  On some level, I knew that veterans are, almost by definition, killers.  They are, at least, all potential killers.  If this is so, why did the term veteran sound so innocuous, so friendly, so positive?

I think the term revolutionary must be seen in the same light.  A revolutionary is, almost by definition, a killer.   Inspiring fear in others is part of the job.  In some eras, people have celebrated the positive aspects of the revolutionary, purposefully overlooking the murderous ones, or seeing murder as an aspect of social change.  To some extent, this explains the Great Terror.  We can't understand this tragic phenomenon if we don't see how and why so many former revolutionaries accepted the idea of violence as something positive. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Sergey Radchenko's Unwanted Visionaries

Sergey Radchenko's new book, Unwanted Visionaries:  The Soviet Failure in Asia at the End of the Cold War, closely scrutinizes Gorbachev foreign policy in Central Asia, the Indian Subcontinent, and the Far East.  Radchenko's deep familiarity with Russian, Chinese, American, and Indian diplomatic history, to say nothing of Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese foreign policy traditions, is impossible to gainsay:  the polyglot Radchenko is a master of his diverse sources and he is therefore remarkably comfortable with the decision-making processes of each of the region's key players, never hesitating to explore the diplomatic overtures of even some of Asia's lesser powers, such as Afghanistan, Cambodia, and Sri Lanka. 

Radchenko's analysis of this period in diplomatic history transcends the confines of Soviet history, revealing a complex and evolving international system with few or no fixed diplomatic certainties.  Its lessons should be equally applicable to historians of American, Japanese, and Chinese foreign policy.  Nevertheless, certain key themes in Soviet "national" history emerge from this chaos of shifting diplomatic rivalries.  Most importantly, Unwanted Visionaries suggests that the Soviet Union was seriously taxed by its efforts to maintain, or even improve, its status in Asia during this period.  First, the Soviet Union was engaged in a losing war in Afghanistan.  Second, its allies, North Korea and Vietnam, were isolated and impoverished.  Third, its economic decline prevented it from offering its longtime ally, India, much in the way of international trade or economic aid.  Fourth, Japan remained unwilling to improve relations with the Soviet Union so long as Gorbachev remained unwilling to part with at least two of the disputed Kurile Islands.  Fifth, and most importantly, China continued to resist the Kremlin's longstanding claim to leadership within the socialist community of nations, and worried about (and sometimes resisted) the Soviet Union's diplomatic and military activities in Mongolia, Afghanistan, and Southeast Asia.

Unwanted Visionaries is a meticulously researched book.  Its detailed chronology of events is also impressive.  One couldn't hope for a more elaborate and careful description of key moments in Asian diplomatic history. Radchenko's one mistake may be that he sometimes favors chronology at the expense of sustained analysis.  While Radchenko explains the context for the individual decisions of Russian statesmen, he seldom gives readers a broad for evaluating the nation's broad diplomatic goals.  Radchenko's strength as a diplomatic historian is that he is remarkably free of ideological bias, but without ideology it may be difficult to evaluate the overall basis for Soviet decision-making.  Radchenko doesn't entirely neglect the biases of the Soviet foreign policy elite, either before or after Gorbachev's ascent to power.  Nor does he ignore some of the democratic and economic imperatives of Glasnost and Perestroika.  But notwithstanding the book's title, Radchenko doesn't really give us a handle on any Soviet foreign policy expert's vision for either Asia or the Far East, whether that vision be wanted or unwanted.  Perhaps that's the point.  Gorbachev never really had such a vision, but to the extent he did, it was incompatible with the realism required of a Soviet statesman.  For if Gorbachev had articulated a clearer Asian policy, and indeed even if he had pursued that vision more aggressively, surely that policy would have been overcome by the deteriorating political situation at home.  When one a nation considers selling islands to Japan, or asks for loans from China (beware, America), what chance does it have?

Unwanted Visionaries is perhaps less than the sum of its parts but the book offers readers wonderfully illuminating insights into a number of intriguing chapters in Asian diplomacy. The sections dealing with the Soviet Union's rapprochement with China in the wake of Tienanmen Square are particularly enlightening.  At this point, the roles of the two great powers were reversed:   The Soviet Union lent Russia a degree of diplomatic support, while China hoped that Russia would somehow remain under its wing in the socialist camp.

The conclusion of the book is suggestive as well, and one only wishes its themes were examined in more detail.  As the Russian Federation replaced the Soviet Union, the influence of Moscow in Asia declined precipitously.  In the past, Russia had used Asia as an area of influence whenever its ambitions were checked in Europe.  When Russia was checked in the Crimean War, it attempted to expand in Central Asia.  If Revolutionary Russia was blocked in Europe, why not stoke the fires of revolution in China?  Even Stalin turned toward Korea when further European expansion seemed too costly.  As Radchenko points out, Russia has never had any qualms about exploiting its proximity to Asia, and indeed its own claims to be "part Asian," when Europe seemed too formidable to her.   But if this formula was already out of date when Japan defeated Russian in 1905, how much more out of date was it when Gorbachev took power?  Today, comparatively few Russian citizens actually live in the Asian portion of the country, and Russian economic activity in the region is largely limited to the exploitation of natural resources.  This stands in stark contrast to the economic vitality of Japan, South Korea, China, and other emerging economic giants.  Radchenko's final thought is that this isn't such a bad thing.  If Russia is no longer competing for the title of regional hegemon, it might at least attempt to benefit from low-key participation in the Asian economic miracle.  The key, Radchenko argues, is to avoid grandiose diplomatic gestures and militaristic sloganeering in favor of the quiet, sustained diplomacy of cooperation. 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Arthur Koestler's The Invisible Writing

Once upon a time, every bookish American seemed to have a copy of the postwar phenomenon, The God That Failed. As a bookish as well as politically active person, my mother naturally had a copy of the book on her bookshelves. As an emerging atheist, I liked Richard Crossman's title and read The God That Failed before I was old enough to make sense of it. Looking back, I suspect that this compilation of six essays about the evils of communism, including a famous entry Arthur Koestler, helped to keep liberal-minded Americans like my mother firmly on the side of America and her democratic allies. Or, if the confessions of these particular former communists didn't necessarily sway people like my mother to steer clear of communism, then the logic behind these essays surely did.  For those who believed in social justice, communism had its allurements, but these allurements weren’t offset by the creed’s anti-democratic and indeed totalitarian tendencies. 

Arthur Koestler's brilliant examination of the logic of the Soviet Show Trials of the late 1930s, Darkness at Noon, was even more damning.  The book revealed that even communism’s best and brightest defenders, men who resembled Old Bolshevik cosmopolitan thinkers such as Nikolai Bukharin, were ensnared by the vicious sophistry of Marxist-Leninist logic. There is something truly astounding about Koestler's ability to get inside the mind of the Bolshevik victimizers/victims. But then Koestler was once a die-hard communist, so it's not altogether surprising that he should be able to accurately depict both the enchanting but ultimately malevolent aspects of modern Europe’s greatest quasi-religious faith.

Koestler’s perspective on communism remains educational.  Reading the second half of his memoirs, The Invisible Writing, one is reminded that communism transcended Russia’s frontiers.  Koestler, a Hungarian communist with intimate ties to Hungarian, German, Spanish, and British communism, to name just a few dimensions of his truly transnational political activity, even spent a considerable amount of time in Stalin’s Russia during the 1930s.  What’s remarkable about his sojourn in the Soviet Union is that the outlines of Stalin’s criminality were already so clearly visible.  Although a “true believer” at the time, Koestler’s independent habits of mind never entirely left him. True to his profession as a journalist, Koestler witnessed a backward, bureaucratic, and secret police-infested society in close detail.

Visiting Russia for the first time, Koestler didn’t intend to critique the Soviet experiment. In fact, his ties to the German Communist Party and Comitern meant that he was expected to praise the Soviet Union at nearly every turn.  Some friendly criticism could be tolerated, but only as a smoke screen to cover his fundamental support for the Soviet Union’s political trajectory.  If he encountered any signs of poverty or technological backwardness, Koestler was expected to attribute these failings to the legacy of absolutism or capitalism more generally.  But Koestler’s encounter with Soviet reality was devastating, and may have led to an open rupture much earlier, if the rise of the fascists in Germany hadn’t overshadowed his Russian observations. 

Koestler’s brilliant description of the Soviet Union is particularly valuable insofar as he was given the opportunity to travel to many of the country’s diverse regions, including the Caucasus, the Ukraine, and Turkish republics.  Incredibly, even before the Great Terror, Koestler's description of the country revealed many of the Terror’s adumbrations, as well as many of the Soviet Union’s other faults, including provincial-level show trials, social prejudice, concentration camps, censorship, propaganda, cultural philistinism, extreme centralization,poor economic planning, consumer goods shortages, overcrowding, housing shortages, long lines, famine, party privilege, political disenfranchisement, and the hyperactivity of the internal security organs. 

Koestler's Soviet travel writing is perseptive, trenchant, critical, and wickedly truthful.  Most interestingly, Koestler juxtaposes his original, sympathetic, depictions of his Soviet adventures with his subsequent, post-Soviet analysis, of the same phenonomena.  The contrast is striking.  Originally, Koestler, like most communists and fellow travellers, went out of his way to explain Soviet failings as bourgeois or even feudal atavisms. If something didn't work well, this was a legacy of tsarism which the modern, Soviet government was diligently working to correct. 

Some quotations from The Invisible Writing:

"The history of mankind would start with the World Revolution;  all that went before was merely a choatic, barbaric overture."

"It is not the Terror, but the existence of this ubiquitous organization without which nothing can be done, and which alone is capable of getting things done, that defines the structure of the totalitarian police state."

"There has never been a society in which a rigid, hierarchical order so completely determined every citizen's station in life and governed all his activities."

"This traditional hierarchic system, formerly confidened to the civil service, now embraces the entire nation."

"The only goods easily obtainable in Kharkov in 1932 were fly-paper, contraceptives and postage stamps."

"I have always had a deep longing for the primeval chaos, a nostalgia for the apocalpyse;  and here I found myself in the middle of both."

"...for the tradition-bound people of Asia the enforced voyage in the time-machine amounted to their deportation into a disconsolate and incomprehensible world."

"The G.P.U., like the gods, are capricious."

"In Russia it is not considered a sign of cowardice to behave in an affable manner towards people of whom one is afraid, and personal pride is not considered a virtue."

"To complete the nightmare, there was my own deep-rooted feeling of guilt towards the proletariat of which Werner was the perfect symbol--the deformed street-urchin, the cat-killer, the hunted and persecuted..."

" all the men whom I met in Tiflis, he was a heavy and expert wine drinker."

"Why," she asked pathetically, "Why is it that the leaves die wherever we go?"  In retrospect my overall impression of life in Russia has become tinged with the sadness and desolation of this remark."

"...even a travelling salesman may notice that a sunset lends color to the sky."

"This twin policy of centralization--plus atomization is a basic feature of the Soviet regime."

"The drab streets, the unrelieved shabiness and poverty, the grim pomposity of everything said and written, the all-pervading atmosphere of the reformatory school.  The feeling of being cut off from the rest of the world."

"The overwhelming bleakness of an industrialized Neanderthal."

"And yet I remained a Communist. I had learned that facts had to be appreciated not on their face value, but in a dynamic way."

"Why do you talk in a whisper?" he asked. "Do I?" I said, "I thought I was talking normally."  "In Berlin you used to yell, and now you whisper," he said.  "That is all I want to know about Russia."

"Berlin and Moscow were distant abstractions, and their two dictators shadowy, legendary figures like Nero and Caligula."

"Our association was to end in a ghastly scene which still haunts my imagination."

"His deatg was, fittingly, announced to his sisters by the giggling and spluttering village idiot."

"...the Kremlin Borgias."

Pushkin's Queen of Spades

My new book club meets tonight.  I am excited to introduce Russian short stories to a small group of students who are under some form of court-ordered lock down.  I am nervous about my lack of experience educating teenagers, and worried by my lack of knowledge about the reading levels of this particular group of students.  However, I am going to give them serious readings, namely, the Penguin Classics book, Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida.  Hopefully, with the right support, they will find some level of satisfaction in learning new things while conquering difficult texts.  I will also use the book club also has a vehicle for enhancing my own knowledge of Russian literature.  To date, I’ve never really read all that many short stories, so this particular genre will be new territory for me. 

As a form of introduction to the club’s theme, Russia, I will ask students a series of questions related to their current knowledge of Russia, which may be limited to the Olympic Games or Soviet spy themes in American cinematography.  Drawing on my previous presentation to a grammar school, but adjusting the sophistication of the answers to my high school audience, I will ask students some basic questions such as the following:  Is Russia an old country or a new one?  Is it hot or cold?  Is it flat or mountainous?  Is it far or close to the United States?  What language do they speak in Russia?  What religion do they practice? 

After giving students a general framework for a discussion of Russia, I will try to give them at least a couple of broad reasons for my own personal interest in Russian history and Russian literature.  While passions may never be fully rationale, I will explain that Russia bears sustained scrutiny because it is a large country (in terms of both geography and demography), an influential country (in terms of its cultural legacy, communist past, and historic military might), a complex country (in terms of both diversity as well as its ambivalent relationship to Europe), and a unique country (in terms of both its religious history and almost unparalleled record of revolution, war, and upheaval). 

After covering Russia’s value as an object of study, I’ll say a few words about Russian literature, focusing on the global impact of its novelists, poets, and short-story writers.   While the reasons for Russia’s deserved literary fame aren’t necessarily easy to explain, I will say a few words about Russia’s claim to fame in the annals of world literature.  First, I’ll mention just a few of the “great names” of Russian literature, which include Pushkin, Gogol, Oblomov, Schredrin-Saltykov, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Turgenev, Chekhov, Bunin, Gorky, Pasternak, Tsveteva, Brodsky, Solzhenitsyn, and Akhmatova.  Second, I’ll say that Russian literature has a reputation for being profoundly serious, moral, philosophical, and eschatological, if not also egregiously dark and Manichean.

Next, we’ll review some of the reading comprehension techniques we’ll need to be developing as we tackle a series of difficult Russian texts.  One slide from my first night’s presentation will be entitled, “How to read like a college student.”  This will entail a number of overlapping strategies, including underlining, rereading, note-taking, dictionary use, marshaling textual evidence in defense of an opinion, paraphrasing, and collaborative discussion and problem-solving.  I will also give students some basic tool to keep in mind as they approach a complex new plot for the first time.  For instance, even serious readers need to figure out one or more of the following questions:   who, what, when, where, and why?  The overall theme will be that students need not expect reading to be easy in order to see it as rewarding.  In fact, the reverse is at least sometimes the case:  the harder the text, the more difficult its narrative and complex its symbolism, the more satisfying and important it may turn out to be. 

Our first story will be Pushkin’s “Queen of Hearts.”   After asking students to explain the basic plot of the story, and after asking them several open-ended questions about what they liked or didn’t like about the story, I will use the text as a platform for introducing students to historical themes.  I will ask students, for instance, to identify passages that demonstrate something about the society Pushkin was describing.  We will, specifically, focus on what the short story reveals about the role of the Russian aristocracy, specifically focusing on Russia’s female aristocrats.  What were Russian aristocrats expected to do with their time?  What constituted an ideal aristocratic man, or an ideal aristocratic female?   We will of course examine Pushkin’s story-telling devices as well, including those related to suspense.  By the conclusion of the discussion, which will only happen two weeks after today, I’m hoping the class will have jointly diagnosed and rehearsed the story’s plot, and then explicated some of the elements of Russian aristocratic society related to militarism, leisure and gambling, gender, class and rank, and elite Russian identity.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Russian History Outreach

Generally speaking, this blog is a personal, self-reflective, and indeed idiosyncratic undertaking.  Placing little emphasis on public dialogue, I document my own investigations into Russian, and especially Soviet, history and literature.  The result is personally satisfying but also somewhat isolating and indeed solipsistic. Therefore, in recent months I've started thinking about interacting more intentionally with a greater variety of actors in order to enrich this project.  With this end in mind, I've applied for, and received, a short-term (i.e., two-week) Fulbright to Russia for this coming April, entitled the Fulbright Russia Community College Administrators Seminar.  As part of a small group of American community college administrators, I'll travel to Moscow, and then a regional city, in order to learn more about the Russian system of higher education. Needless to say, I'm extremely grateful for the opportunity to travel to Russia, and even more grateful to participate in a dialogue on education with my counterparts in Russia.  My hope will be to bring back some of this knowledge to my home campus in order to continue the process of internationalization we've already begun.  

My second effort to interact with others on the subject of Russian history is very different.  Yesterday, I had my orientation to become a volunteer book club facilitator to seriously troubled teenage boys.  In this book club, we'll be reading a book entitled, Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida.  My goal is to introduce students to Russian literature, but also to history and, more broadly, "college readiness" concepts.  Of course, my experience with troubled teenagers is very limited, and I may not be able to get these students interested in reading Pushkin, Gogol, Leskov, and Babel.  Perhaps the texts will prove to be too complicated for them, or the subject matter far too remote.  But I have a hunch that perhaps my own passion for the subject will translate into something positive for them, over time.  

Many years ago I used to go to Zen teacher once a week.  The teacher arrived at a Unitarian church and set up a circle of pillows and began his meditation.  He did this whether students showed up or not, and he charged no fee.  Often, I was the only student to arrive.  Sometimes I would regret the fact that the instructor's spiritual practice didn't have an audience, but over time I started to see that his willingness to show up each week for no ostensible reward was itself part of the spiritual message he was delivering, either to himself, or to his few students.  This Zen teacher's self-discipline and generosity were the most important education he offered us.  In this way, I  hope that somehow offering my own fascination with Russia to students will somehow touch them, or inspire them.  My goal will be to make these students a little more interested in history, a little more knowledgeable about Russia, and a little more willing to believe that people care about them.  I doubt many of them will develop an active and sustained interest in Russia, but perhaps some of them will develop their own equivalent, life-sustaining interests and passions.  

While I'm sure my preconceived notions of doing a book club on Russia to this particular student population will quickly be altered or overturned, I am presently hoping that I'll be able to bring back some of what I learn on my Russian Fulbright and share it with them.