Advertise - Print Edition

Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Fifth Russian Culture Week brings together community

Published: March 9, 2012
Section: News

In the works since the beginning of the year, the fifth annual Russian Culture Week aims to increase the visibility of the Russian-speaking community at Brandeis through a combination of talent, high culture, activism and free food.

“When I was a freshman, Russian Culture Week was really more like a day, where we just had a single day talent show for International Women’s Day,” former Russian Club Vice-President Matt Kupfer said in a phone interview. “Every year it gets better and better and every year we get more events in, and more organized,” he continued.

International Women’s Day, the holiday which provides the backdrop for the week’s festivities, was originally a socialist holiday that called for the “emancipation” of working women celebrated throughout Europe and established as a national holiday in the Soviet Union on March 8, 1917, before becoming a working day off in 1967. It is currently observed worldwide as a way to promote women’s rights (with the exception of a few countries, including the United States).

“March 8 is not a holiday that is recognized in the United States even though March is Women’s History month, but there are no holidays that just celebrate women,” Professor Irina Dubinina said in an interview. “It is a very significant holiday in Russia—people get a day off and the parents of many of the students here grew up in this culture and as such the holiday has significance to the students as well, so I suggested to them that they organize a concert where they can showcase their talents and give visibility to that part of the world.”

It was apparent from the events themselves and from Dubinina’s further statements that Russian Culture Week was not simply intended to represent ethnic Russian culture, but anybody sharing a linguistic, cultural and historical connection to Russia. The former Soviet Union consisted of a large plurality of ethnic groups and nationalities that shared a common affiliation through language, many of which were represented in Russian Culture Week without lying within the boundaries of the modern-day Russian Federation.

“What I always care to mention in all my speeches is the complexity of the word ‘Russian,’” Dubinina said. “In America, ‘Russian’ actually means ‘former Soviet’; it means ‘Russian’ as a language-identity … as in you can be Ukrainian or Jewish and still be ‘Russian.’”

The first event took place on Tuesday in Rappaporte Treasure Hall, when anti-Putin activist Olga Golovanova gave an informal, albeit spirited, account of the recent protests against alleged fraud in Russia’s elections. Following a slide-show explicating the full range of political ideologies behind the protests, from hard-left communist to borderline fascist, a question and answer session took place followed by free food.

Wednesday’s event in the Lown auditorium was a viewing of the classic 1967 Russian war film “Ivan’s Childhood” (Ivanovo Detstvo), a heart-wrenching and symbolically heavy dramatization of a child’s wartime trauma by director Andrei Tarkovsky. The film was preceded by a speech by Dubinina about the atrocities experienced by everyone in the territories carved out of the USSR by the Nazi invasion, and followed by a discussion of the film’s symbolic motifs.

The highlight of Russian Culture Week was the fifth annual talent show showcasing Eastern European, Caucasian, Central Asian and Russian emigre culture in Rappaporte Treasure Hall. Greeted immediately by large bowls of Russian salads and appetizers, the atmosphere was generally convivial. Classical instrumentalists performed well-established pieces in the repertoire, including Bach’s Allemande from the Cello Suite No. 3 and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Sonata in C-sharp Minor, while others sang Russian and Soviet folk songs with occasional audience participation adding to the sense of nostalgia. Kupfer demonstrated traditional Kazakh instruments followed by a recitation of “The Knight in the Panther’s Skin,” a Georgian 12th-century poem. The concert ended with a series of presentations by Dubinina’s various Russian classes and a few encore performances.

“In terms of financially and administratively supporting the events we do work with the Brandeis Genesis Institute and the Russian Studies Program,” referring to the scholarship fund sponsored by the university meant to support and educate leaders of the Russian-speaking Jewish community. “It has become a three-way partnership between the BGI, the Russian Studies Program and the students themselves; but the drive is from the students and I can’t repeat it enough.”

“Russian Culture Week has changed over time since I’ve been here, but we really hope to make it a tradition since it just gets better and better every year,” Kupfer said.