The war has changed the direction of research
“We are witnessing a watershed moment. It affects, and will continue to affect, everything that is happening in my field. A change of perspective is inevitable,” says Marja Sorvari, the University of Eastern Finland’s newly appointed Professor of Russian Literature and Culture.
The timing of her professorship couldn’t be more relevant. Already now, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is reflected in what will be studied and focused on in Sorvari’s field in the future, and what the general stance towards Russian culture and literature will be like.
“Although my own research doesn’t focus on this change, it will have an impact on the development and direction of the entire field, i.e., how Russian literature will be studied from now on.”
With Finland closing its eastern border and the Iron Curtain descending between Russia and the West once more, the terminology used from now on must also be reconsidered.
“Among other things, we need to think about whether we’re talking about Russian literature or about Russian-language literature. With everything around us changing so fast, it’s hard to put things into words, especially when words seldom are unambiguous.”
In Finland, people’s attitudes towards Russian-speaking culture have always, and especially lately, been more or less conflicting.
“And this year has sharpened attitudes even more. It’s also visible in academia. Researchers are working hard to figure out how to conduct research pertaining to Russia, when all official collaboration is completely cut off.”
Education, too, is faced with new. According to Sorvari, students currently studying Russian are surprisingly calm about the situation, and there’s been no drama in the classroom.
“We are also waiting to see how the situation might be reflected in the next joint application round. On one hand, society is clearly aware of the value of expertise related to Russia and the Russian language, but on the other hand, Russia’s brutal image currently also has an impact on people’s enthusiasm to study the affairs of that country. We Finns are also burdened by our recent history with Russia, and this will affect future generations, too.”
However, the university is confident that there will always be those interested in learning about the culture and language of the neighbouring country, and in becoming an expert on them.