Dyczok: Beaming academic expertise across the globe

When I received an invitation to speak to students in Moscow, I immediately said yes.

The invitation came from professor Igor Klyukanov of Eastern Washington University. He edits the British-based Russian Journal of Communication, actively follows events in Ukraine and is involved with scholars in Russia. One such initiative is organizing lectures by Western scholars to students in Moscow. They can be pre-recorded or live via Skype. I wanted to do it live.

It took a while to set up, and until the Skype call came through, I didn’t know if we’d connect. And then, 9 a.m. Moscow time/1 a.m. London time, I was face-to-face with a class from Russian New University, sort of. About to deliver a lecture on media representations, public opinion and Ukraine, I had no idea what to expect.

I began, as I often do, by asking a few questions. When no one answered, I talked about media models, active audiences, framing, agenda setting, normative theories of media and how media function in different political systems.

Most eyes remained turned down, looking into personal computer screens. A number of my students do the same. But when I started speaking about Ukraine, and the different media narratives about the events over the past year, eyes began looking up.

I deliberately finished early to leave plenty of time for discussion. It was interesting for me to hear what students in Moscow asked me, and how they answered my questions.

A number of them seemed convinced that 98 per cent of the residents of Crimea voted to join Russia. One said events in Ukraine are being funded by the Americans. One was concerned about people in Ukraine who have been left homeless in the winter because of the war. One expressed faith in the role of journalism. When I asked what they thought were the greatest challenges facing Russian media, a student answered, “The same as media in other countries.”

They seemed more interested in what Canadians think about Russia than theories of framing and agenda setting, but that’s understandable. They were unaware journalists were being persecuted in Crimea, so I promised to send some information – and later sent a link to Public Radio Ukraine’s special series on Crimea.

Before signing off, they invited me to come and visit them and deliver a lecture in person. Of course, I agreed. Later, this was mentioned in a report about my lecture in the News about University Life in Russia (Новости университетской жизни России).

The first time I visited Moscow was in May 1991, when it was still the capital of the Soviet Union. Then, the air in Moscow was freer than in Kyiv, full of energy and optimism. I wonder what the mood will be like if I make it there after my semester finishes in May 2015.

Marta Dyczok, a Western professor joint appointed in History and Political Science, specializes in international politics and history, with a focus on east central Europe and Eurasia, and specifically Ukraine.